I am not usually one to re-trace my steps and go where I have been before, but last week a second visit to the Karangahake gorge turned into a pleasant surprise!
I had first visited the area a year ago with my sister and her family on a short cycle ride. Back then the Hauraki cycle trail was still incomplete and the children were having to be strapped onto to mum and dads bikes.
This year the cycle trail is finished. The children are older, no longer strapped in, one helps mum pedal while the other cycles independently. The 14km leg of the Hauraki Rail trail seemed perfect as it would suit the childrens little legs!
The Hauraki Cycle trail begins on the banks of the river which flows silently beside the town. Our arrival creates a hum of noise as we loose the trail – we miss the signs and find ourselves puzzled on the back streets of Paeroa.
A helpful local comes to our aid and points us in the right direction. We back track and find the signs that take us over the bridge and out of town. The children holler in delight!
The trail quickly follows a quiet back road away from the busy main road. Farmland surrounds us as the gravel trail cuts onto farmers land and has us cycling with the cows and over bumpy cattle stops.
My nephew pedals furiously to race along beside his dad as the dust spins out from the back of his wheels. My niece is more interested in what is going on around her. She does not bother to pedal as my poor sister blatantly pedals on continuing to pull all the extra weight.
The cycle traffic is busy at times. We give way to all the oncoming cyclists cheerfully greeting each other. The children throughly enjoy shouting out ‘Hello’ to them all.
The open farmland is replaced with a trail that takes us through areas of spindly native bush , layers of flax bushes and fluffy toe-toe grass that tickles us as we cross its path. The earth begins to climb around us as we enter the Karangahake gorge.
The river can be heard below gushing its way towards a new environment. We pass a few fragile dwellings before pedalling up and over a bridge that takes us through the dark, damp 1km tunnel. Even our bicycle lights do not help.
My nephew pedals behind the safety of his dad as we all try to avoid walkers and other cyclists trying to find their way . Lots of train hoots are initiated by everyone and the echos are fabulous… It is more fun that frightening!
Once through the tunnel we all disembark down by the river. The children happily throw pebbles into the river while we laze in the sunshine. You can never tire of the beauty of this gorge as it winds itself high into the sky, seducing you with its aromatic greenery and its rushing river.
Back on the bicycles we follow the noise of the river. We pause at the Victoria Battery which resemble remnants of a battle field. The children play on the concrete ruins as if they are giant toys.
We then continue to pedal a short distance to the Waikino railway cafe. The place is buzzing with activity. The train from Waihi has arrived – it gives you a sense of how busy this place might have been in its heyday.
Once the children are fed and rested we clamber back onto the bicycles and pedal back towards the Karangahake gorge keen to do the ‘Windows’ walk.
Having missed it on our last visit the ’Windows’ walk is the perfect way to end the day.
Once inside the heights of the old crumbling mine shafts we stop to look through the rock windows down at the depths of the gorge.
We are all transfixed – clumps of emerald ferns nest among the vertical cliffs where they meet jagged rock. This jagged rock climbs to dizzying heights helped on by moist dewy moss. Below Craggy rocks and hefty boulders create an expedition for the busy bubbling river to erupt and churn its way further into the unknown.
As I said at the beginning - my second visit was a pleasant surprise!