Matamata, NZ to Waikino, NZ

43.0 mi / 10.4 mph / 1160 ft. climbing
Home: Dickey Flat DOC Campsite

Tenting it was a “risk” since there was supposed to be rain in the morning (a bike touring couple who looked more-hardcore than us had taken one of the rooms at the holiday park), but the hope was that it would be done by the time we woke. The “rain” was done, but an annoying mist/drizzle persisted for the hours before we left camp. Luckily we could park the bikes under a gazebo next to the kitchen, and the outdoor table for breakfast was under an overhang, and, despite the wet, it was warm enough to sit outside in shorts while eating. And by waiting to pack up the tent last, I found a dry-enough window in which to get it taken down.

Matamata is at the southern end of the Hauraki Rail Trail, one of New Zealand’s “Great Rides”. We had come south (and east) on the northern portion way back in November, and now would be picking up the parts we missed. Well…except that our campground had put us a couple miles east of the trail, so instead of backtracking to a gravel trail that shadows a fairly-busy road, I decided to just continue east to the next road (Old Te Aroha) and ride that north instead.

The morning mist has mostly dried up for us, but still isn’t quite ready to leave the mountains.

Everything runs north-south here: the mountains, just to the east, the Waihou River, just to the west, and then these two roads (one with a trail) sandwiching the river. With our road being closer to the base of the mountains (and, not being graded like a former rail line), we definitely had more ups-and-downs than if we’d taken the rail trail. But nonetheless it was surely the superior choice, since we were then…closer to the base of the mountains! And, able to ride smoother-rolling pavement rather than feeling “forced” onto the gravel trail by drivers who would guilt us into using the trail “provided for us”, even if it slowed us down. Here, the drivers would know our only option was the road, or at least they would if there were any drivers on this road!

A tantalizing gorge cutting through the mountains. There were signs for a waterfall, which was probably in that gorge, that we probably should have gone to see (ah, except now I see that the trail was closed anyway. Perfect miss!)
Jurassic Park, New Zealand.
A black Highland cow, the Labradoodle of the moo-cow world.

As we neared the town of Te Aroha, the rail trail crossed over to our side of the river, and soon after I noticed the (concrete) path appear on our left side, a cyclist leading a group on the path coming the other way waved frantically to us and pointed to the trail. Maybe it’s our own hangups that caused me to see emotions that weren’t really there, but it felt like he was angry that we weren’t on the trail, just like a driver might be. Well, first of all we hadn’t even noticed the trail until a few seconds ago, and second, there was still barely any traffic on the road, so there was no reason to get on a potentially-pain-in-the-ass trail. Rett was for just staying on the road, and she was proven right a quarter mile later when the trail’s concrete returned to unnecessarily hilly gravel. If you make your trails as safe/efficient as the roads, New Zealand, we’re happy to use them, but often you don’t!

The gorgeous park in Te Aroha, where we ate lunch on a bench and dried out the tent. It’s strange the the town is sited at the spot where the mountains pinch in closest to the river, rather than somewhere in the miles of open valley, but it does make it more scenic!

After Te Aroha, we were finally “forced” onto the Hauraki rail trail, because a busier State Highway was the only road option. At this point it was nearly-identical to the northern sections we had done earlier: flat, decent-ish gravel, and a million cattle guards as the trail cuts straight across private farmlands. At least the cattle guards are well-designed for bicycles to pass over, and Rett was definitely flying through them, and around all the other trail-related obstacles, with more confidence than four months ago.

While it makes it a decent way to get from Point A to B, I thought of the shop clerk outside Tauranga who told us months ago that she was scheduled to ride the Hauraki Rail Trail sometime in the future (maybe right about now!) Sorry to say it’s…not very exciting? Or at least it’s the least-awesome of the three Great Rides we’ve done, by far. The fact that we encountered zero other cyclists in the 13 miles between Te Aroha and Paeroa does show that most Kiwis know it isn’t something to go out of their way to ride.

Two of the many rideable cattle guards on the Hauraki Rail Trail.
“Palm trees” are relatively common on the North Island, but this type is very unusual, and their setting in a farm field even more unusual. Also, how do they talk to each other to match their heights so precisely? It seems like a small difference in soil/water would make a big difference in height, but I guess not!
Plenty of bridges as well as the cattle guards.

When we got to Paeroa, I took us off the trail and a few blocks out of our way over a busy bridge, because I had to take Rett to the giant Lemon & Paeroa bottle. L&P (the sugar-free version) has been Rett’s drink-of-choice for months in New Zealand, and we had actually gone right past the bottle in November, but she hadn’t seen it, or even cared about it, because at that point she hadn’t even heard of L&P. Ironically, it was the very next day that we were introduced to it (by our WarmShowers host in Tauranga), and from that moment Rett was hooked, and now even has L&P socks that she got as part of a promotion! So a stop and photo was mandated this time around. L&P is now a Coca-Cola product, available literally every place that sodas are sold in New Zealand, but the town of Paeroa (and its mineral-water spring) is the origin.

An L&P addict wearing her L&P socks in front of the giant L&P bottle.

Paeroa is thus our return to charted territory, and we would now be repeating the rail trail’s spur off to the east that we did in November. A series of north-south mountain ranges (including the one we had been riding alongside all day) run across nearly the entirety of the North Island, and while they’re never extremely tall, very few roads cross the barrier, and even fewer that are reasonable for cyclists to use. So it’s not surprising that the topography and traffic has funneled us through the same crossing twice.

Last time we did a short section on SH2 heading into the gorge because we needed to get to our AirBNB, but this time we could take the trail the whole way, which both was more-relaxed, and gave us some more uncharted territory to pick up. Even though it’s an offshoot from the main Hauraki trail, it’s by far the most scenic and interesting section, and that was reflected in the dozens of cyclists and walkers who suddenly appeared here late in the afternoon.

Pausing on our way into the Karangahake Gorge for a late-afternoon apple refueling.
Riding through the long Karangahake Tunnel for the second time.
Even when you can’t see the mountains above or the river twisting below through the gorge, the trail itself is just prettier.

We actually pedaled only three miles through previously-charted territory, because this time our gorge-accommodation was off-trail to south, at a DOC campsite. I knew there were some hills over the last 2.3 miles (we were exiting a gorge, after all!) but in retrospect I should have looked at the elevation profile more carefully. Not that I could have decreased the 10% grades, but I could have at least planned for us to eat more, which was really the main source of Rett’s frustrated anguish. The last day before this when we’d spent 4 hours in the saddle was our introduction to the Alps2Ocean trail, six weeks ago, so we’d just gotten out of the habit of on-the-bike refueling.

Rett pushing up one of those 10% grades.
At least the hard work was taking us beautiful places.
I like how this photo looks like it’s been twisted in a funhouse mirror, but no, that’s just how the ground flows!

I was starting to wonder if all the effort to get to this campsite was worth it, so after we did the final steep descent back into a mini-gorge (on gravel again), I was relieved to see that we were the only ones here, and thanks to our bikes, could roll down to a pitch our tents at a great spot right on the river (cars are confined to a parking area higher up).

We cleaned up in the river, cooked an easy dinner that made us feel better, and I did an exploratory hike downstream (if I had kept going, I would have gotten to the spot where we had turned around on our upriver hike back in November, showing how much easier this campsite would have been to reach on foot, if we didn’t have to take the long way around!) Eventually cars and campers began turning up in the parking area, and some of their exploring occupants walked by, envious of our site.

But the only riverside company we had was a late-arriving Belgian-sounding couple of fellow bike tourers, who had just come from Hobbiton this morning. Oh, and a rat. Nibbling away at a bag of our garbage. The fact that it was a ziploc-sealed bag of garbage perhaps should have set off some alarm bells, but those bells would not sound until long after dark…

Our riverside campsite at Dickey Flat.
There was even a picnic table (a DOC rarity), and as the first ones here, we were able to claim it as our own.


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