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The Hauraki Rail Trail is one of the most varied and culturally-rich cycle paths of New Zealand, offering not only 82 kilometres of scienc trail, but hidden historic landmarks, suspension bridges, and abandoned railway tunnels. Get insights into the historic legacy and local character of this region by stopping at a few of these hidden gems along the way:
Inside the historic Bus Depot, housing a handful of hip shops and a French bakery, you'll find Cafe Melbourne. Some of the best coffee for miles, and a locally-sourced menu that tastes hearty and presents elegantly. The attention to detail and impeccable balance of the smoked pork belly with apple slaw salad was a much-welcome change from my breakfast of trail mix. Their menu changes daily and seasonally; a must-stop in Thames.
You might have to circle the block a few times to find it, but tucked behind the city square you'll find this bespoke bistro, with gorgeous whole grain breads and decadent patisserie. Enjoy lunch outside on the leafy patio, or inside under the high ceilings of the restored gold refinery. I had a crispy panini and quite certainly the best long black within 20 kms. The Refinery also houses a boutique B&B, but reserve early because the cozy cabin and cottage book fast.
By this point you might be feeling a bit saddle sore. Here I parked my bike in the bush and climbed the windy terraced trail up the side of the Kaurangahake Gorge following rusty mine rails. Although I was armed with my bike headlight, that was not enough for the unsettling darkness of the gold mining tunnels. I clung to a family with iPhone flashlights as we fumbled through the darkness. The caverns are pinholed with "windows"—deep set holes chiseled out of the tunnel wall overlooking the yawning gorge below. Thrilling and fun, and a must-do side trip off the bike trail.
What is better after biking 20 kilometers through farmland than a pit stop for an aged gouda in a country meadow? The cheese is organic, non-GMO, award-wining, and—in a word—divine. Pack extra for a late afternoon snack, and stay for a cold drink underneath the farm house rafters. The detour is well marked on the bike path, just north of Paeroa.
A sleepy tavern worth the pit stop for their friendly staff, cold draughts, and a scenic side trip across the Ohinemuri river suspension bridge. Housed inside the historic Waikino Hotel, it's one of the last remaining relics of the nearly forgotten gold mining town of Waikino.
Waihi Motor Camp
For those looking for more budget-conscious accommodation without losing local character. Nestled between a babbling creek and a steep hillside of lowing cattle and bleating sheep, this friendly motor camp has rustic cabins, sprawling lawns, and a wing of backpacker bunks. The stars here are bright, and the company is kiwi as.
For more tips and tricks about the trail, check out this fun recap video from my trip, including footage of the abandoned train tunnel (and why you can't forget your bike lights).