Karangahake Gorge is a gateway to memories of my childhood holidays, opening the door to the seemingly endless days spent on Coromandel’s white sand beaches. The long trips from the Waikato with my parents were shared with my sister who continuously teased me in the back of the family Datsun. As always on these trips the ‘cream machine’ was packed to the hilt with camping gear as it struggled along with a boat in tow. As we weaved through the gorge I would peer out; in part as a distraction from my sister’s stirring, as well as to watch the river plunge though this mysterious passage with its mining tunnels, shanties, and gold-mining relics.
Sometimes we would stop in Paeroa, ‘world famous’ in NZ for its giant L&P bottle, and for those massive triple-cone ice cream scoops that would threaten to topple or melt away before we devoured them beside the river – never did see the lemons there, though. The place was a break in the journey rather than journey’s end. Over the period since the 1970s, the riches of the area have been revealed, in part due to the Hauraki Rail Trail that sits on the bones of the old railway line. My journey was twofold: to cycle the unexplored treasures of my youth and to collect yet more data for The Great Rides App.
As a cartographer, my first step for such a trip is to review a map. My imagination goes wild as I plot which of the four sections to ride first and what I might see on the 126-kilometre purpose-built trail. Each section is an easy half- to full-day flat ride. The time it takes is greatly dependent on the wind direction, personal fitness, and how often one breaks from the saddle to grab a bite from the local cafés dotted along the trail.
My wife and I start our ride from the south at Te Aroha (Māori for ‘place of love’). It is indeed a lovely place set below the towering peak of Mt Te Aroha (953m) with its forested walks and mountain-bike rides. On our mountain-bike ride the trail we follow is somewhat flatter, in fact dead flat. It follows the former rail line to Thames on the Hauraki Plains. Not only is this section an easy grade but it is as straight as my bike’s top tube. At times I check my GPS to ensure it is still tracking rather than drawing a straight line between the small settlements we pass. Our ride is peaceful and carefree as we travel past herds of cows grazing on the lush pastures – it’s one of those mornings where the light is right, and life is for living. Sweet! Before long we reach Paeroa, where the trail branches inland to Waihi via the Karangahake Gorge and northward to the Firth of Thames. No monster icecreams for us as we elect to turn inland.
After a few pedal strokes we leave the bustling township and head for the hills. The trail snakes beside the Ohinemuri River before crossing over the highway on a former rail overpass. As a child I would wind down the window and be mystified at this bridge seemingly terminating at a rock face above the roasting Datsun. It’s a tunnel! My mind would conjure up all sorts of underground secrets that portal might hold.
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