Elis­a­beth Eas­ther heads to the Far North to bike the Twin Coast Cy­cle Trail.

New Zealand Woman’s Weekly - - LIFESTYLE WEEKLY -

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.

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