Elisabeth Easther heads to the Far North to bike the Twin Coast Cycle Trail.
ELISABETH EASTHER HOPS ON A BIKE AND RIDES THE FAR NORTH’S BREATHTAKING TWIN COAST CYCLE TRAIL
Connecting the Bay of Islands with the Hokianga Harbour, the Twin Coast Cycle Trail has been rolling out over the last few years, section by section. And now those pieces all join together, from Opua to Horeke, I reckon it’ll soon be recognised as one of the nation’s most accessible and admired rides.
It’s true you need to be a little bit fit, but no Lance Armstrong and – at just under 90km from end to end – you can easily knock it off in two days.
With support from Paihia Mountain Bike Hire, our genial host Jonny suggested we split the ride into two parts, starting on day one outside Kaikohe riding 45km to Opua. Rolling off through the back of town, past pine trees and headless ponga, livestock, peacocks and chooks, words like “pastoral” and “bucolic” sprang to mind.
Riding past woods of bamboo and through 100-year-old rail tunnels, I paused beside large random rocks that pocked the pasture and contemplated the land’s volcanic adolescence. As for the wobbly suspension bridges, they’re works of art with the murmuring waterways beneath adding another dimension for the senses.
Continuing deeper into the country, trundling past groves of olives, macadamias, toi toi, blackberries and persimmons, cycling allows a person to admire every branch and bloom. There were hawks wheeling above the occasional carcass of a broken car, caravan or digger – this is a really authentic New Zealand and all the more interesting for it.
When we arrived in Kawakawa, as if on cue, the historic steam train Gabriel rumbled down the main street while we dined at 39 Gilles, the café opposite Hundertwasser’s famous loos.
Fortified with wholesome food, from Kawakawa the trail continued to delight as it followed the remains of old rail lines, beside the silvery serpentine waters, where the Waikare Inlet meets the Kawakawa River. Now riding on boardwalks above mangroves, there’s one more ancient tunnel before we’re spat out at Opua’s pretty little boat yard.
Waiting for us in his trusty red van, Jonny whisks us off to Okaihau Rail Stay. Ensconced in a genuine vintage train carriage called Earle, bunking up with a mate – it felt like boarding school but with wine – and we’re in our pyjamas by 5pm. Friday night in Okaihau, saddle weary and snug, it’s lights out at 9pm. And, oh, those stars.
The next morning, the lowhanging morning mist draped itself across the valley as we set off from the same spot we’d started at the day before, this time heading the other way, towards the Otakura Valley.
It’s an ornithological bonanza around Lake Omapere and points are scored for spotting herons, kingfishers and turkeys and, thanks to the interpretation panels, we learnt all manner of groovy bird facts. On this leg, you’ll also find the longest of the tunnels, built in 1915. It pays to take a torch. And then
back through Okaihau, stop in at the café for a cuppa if you fancy, before heading to the end of town to turn in at the macadamia orchard where the next 10km are just heavenly. Descending via steep switchbacks in winter’s perfect light, when you reach the bottom of the valley, you’ll be faced with magical glades, native bush and a smooth rocked river.
It’s hard to beat the view of the world you get from a bicycle seat with cycle trails like this one granting riders access to parts of the country we’d never see any other way. Arriving in picturesque Horeke,
I promised myself I’d return again and again because this route is full of surprises and you really feel you’ve been on an adventure.
My favourite quote from the interpretation panels said, “There are times when we become breathless and other moments that take our breath away.” And The Twin Coast Cycle Trail does both.
WHERE TO STAY Horeke Tavern, an enchanting, comfy and friendly pub, right on the water and steeped in history. BEST COFFEE: 39 Gillies on Kawakawa’s main street.
They do delicious kai too, and Catherine the owner is a high- energy treasure. Perhaps it’s the coffee?
BEST NEW EATS Charlotte’s Kitchen in Paihia is a waterfront charmer. The menu is all about fresh, imaginative, contemporary food.
NOT TO BE MISSED The Mangungu Mission House at Horeke. New Zealand’s fourth oldest building, this was a major Treaty signing location and is a fascinating window into the past.
WHERE TO HIRE Paihia Mountain Bike Hire makes it so easy. Brilliant bikes, great service and excellent advice. WHEN TO GO All year round. Depending on the season, there’ll be different things to experience and enjoy.
DON’T FORGET Be sure to take an old pair of togs for a dip in the newly revamped (but still homely) Ngawha Hot Springs.
The Orauta Stream suspension bridges are works of art. The last section of the trail, heading towards the charming and historic Horeke.