The Waikato River Trail: Part 1 Cycling New Zealand

Cycling New Zealand
Ned and I setting off from Tauranga

If I’m honest I wasn’t feeling that enthusiastic about leaving the comforting fields of Southland. I was however looking forward to getting off the sofa and back on a bike with the hope of loosing my festive food baby. I needed to get my bike in Tauranga and my friend Martin (pseudonym Ned) was over from Aussie to do some cycling around the North Island. Ned and I first met on the Otago Rail Trail last year. This time I met him in Mount Maunganui where he had kindly collected my bike for me. Our quest is to cycle from Mount Maunganui to Mount Taranaki. I’m not used to paying rent let alone $32 a night for a bed in a hostel dorm, sleeping with strangers, it seemed steep but I couldn’t be arsed to cycle 5km out of town and camp. It pays to be social. Sometimes.


Cycling New Zealand
Reunited with friends I met around the world

That evening we cycled 7km to the Mount to meet Rosie, an English chick I met whilst cycling in India last year. I love meeting up with people again half way across the world. We were joined by some other backpackers and Ned’s new Scottish friend David for $4 beers. After a few cold ones we cycled back to the hostel in the dark, Ned a bit tipsy. I had the worse nights sleep with an Asian family’s phones going off half the night, the standard hostel dorm snorer next to me and people faffing about with packs as early as 5am. It certainly doesn’t pay to be social. The next morning we met my friends Myra and Ken for a walk, coffee and cake. I met them whilst cycling The Coromandel last year. We said farewell and after a quick car-park-constructed ham roll from the supermarket we pedaled off into the distance.


Cycling NZ
On top of the Kaimai Range

It was a good 60km cycle over the Kaimai Ranges. At the top a truckie waved us over and showed us a fresh waterfall where we could refill our bottles. It was a fair climb over the ranges but we were rewarded with great views and a spiralling decent. We got chatting to a weird American guy up the top who preached to us about Mormons. That gave us something to talk about on the way down. Myra and Ken suggested we freedom camp at the Blue Springs on Highway 28.

Waikato river trail
Fashion Icon. My sandfly protection suit

It was a pretty decent spot with crystal clear water where 70% of New Zealand’s bottled water is sourced. It provided us with a refreshing bath albeit a bloody cold one. After a good scrub I laced up in my sexy anti-sandfly suit. Alas there were no sandflies but I still managed to get destroyed by mosquitos!


Cycling NZ
Over The Moon cheese tasting

I had a decent nights sleep although we were regularly woken by a fair few trucks and tankers going past. Unfortunately we had to cycle alongside them the next morning to Putaruru. Here we stopped for cheese tasting and spent what we saved on accommodation on 400g of cheese! We spoke to a few people around town, all very friendly, and continued on to the Waikato River Trails, a purpose built mountain bike trail. It was a lovely ride but pretty tricky with my thin tyres and heavy luggage. At the top of one climb there were 42 switch backs down again, all of which I managed to stay on the bike. We stopped at a waterfall for cheese and tuna pitta for Ned and peanut butter jam pitta for me, Ned was very cautious about our spork contamination due to his peanut allergy. It was touch and go at times.


Cycling New Zealand
Waikato River Trail

Most of the Waiakto MTB trail through the forest was graded Intermedimate and for a reason. After the switch backs there were some stairs which we had to wheel the bikes down a thin bit at the side. There was much falling and cursing.


Cycling New Zealand
Delightful stairs. Nine sets of them!

I got a bit cocky whizzing round one bend and slipped on some mud falling sideways over the handle bars. I landed on my new glasses scratching them and the whole of my left shin and arm. I thought I’d broken my collar bone. I laid on the floor for ten minutes waiting for the pain to arrive. It didn’t. I lifted my bike off of me and moved my arm. I was fine apart from a few cuts and bruises.


Cycling New Zealand
Headley ripped off his shirt and fixed up my entire bike

I must have been a little hard on my gears on one of the climbs. The sound of the snap I knew. A broken chain is a cyclist’s worst nightmare, especially when you don’t have a spare link or much experience of replacing them. We faffed around for half an hour removing a link and trying to put it back together, failing miserably. I had no choice. It was a 10km walk to the road side where, if I was lucky, I may be able to hitch a lift into town – one without a bike shop. “Listen. There’s people“. I excitedly said to Ned. We hadn’t seen anyone all day. I joked that they may be able to fix my chain. The chances were slim as the track was used by walkers too. The next thing we knew, two guys on mountain bikes hurled towards us and like fellow cyclists do, stopped in their tracks to say hello. Headley (45yo) ripped off his half open jersey and shouted “I’m going to fix this“. Within seconds, Headley, who was as mad as a hatter, was working hard on my bike. Four links and only one gear down my chain was fixed. He also fixed my breaks and slipping gears. Amazing. His openness about his recently deceased wife was surprising for a guy we had just met. It certainly must have affected him greatly.


Cycling New Zealand
Stopping for a wash and a cold drink

We battled through the rest of the mountain bike trail and stopped at the dam for some cheese and crackers. Guess who came whizzing around the corner? Headley and Dan! They stopped for some “my body needs protein” tuna and a chat with us. They were camping ahead of us so we wouldn’t see them but joked that they would be waiting at the next town with beers for us. Our wish came true! Dan and Headley had driven around town to find us to offer us a cold beer. After a couple of cold ones we excused ourselves due to our need to set up camp before dark.


Waikato river trail
Camp for the night

We cycled down to Lake Maraetai and set up camp besides other cycle tourists. It was dark by now so Ned cooked his standard oily pasta dish, while I washed my cuts. My bike and I had survived some tough MTB trails so I was feeling confident about our next move..The Timber Trail……



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