Cycling the Coromandel

From December 28th – January 1st, together with my wife Stephanie, we did a 281km, 5 day cycle tour, of the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula, on the east cost of the North Island of New Zealand. The Coromandel is special for lovely beach and bush scenery, great seafood, locally brewed beers and quaint small towns to stay in. There are a number of hills however and also a great deal of rain when we were there.  A great trip all the same!

We started and finished in Thames, and rode in a large anti-clockwise loop.

We hired bikes from the Paki Paki bike store: (535 Pollen street, Thames, Ph +64 867 9026, pakipaki@xtra.co.nz ) for $25/day each.  The bikes were 21 speed Trek touring cycles with no suspension. Stephanie’ s was set-up minimally with no panniers. Mine had front and rear panniers and a front box, however we carried so little I left the front panniers off. The service from Paki Paki bike store from Helen and Nig was superb and I highly recommend them. Helen even added a cycle computer to my bike and some energy gels for free.  Their store is located right on the main street of Thames.  They can supply everything required for cycle touring, helmets to panniers and puncture repair kits etc.

With Nig Paki Paki from the Paki Paki bike shop – highly recommend their friendly and professional service!

We carried very little as we slept in motel accommodation. I just carried:

Cycling gear: cycle pants, reflective cycle top, running shoes and socks to cycle in, helmet, sunglasses, water bottle, winegums (very important).
After cycle gear: jandals, 2 pair undies, 1 pair shorts, 1 tee shirt, toothbrush, toothpaste, wallet, blackberry phone(which doubled as a camera), phone charger, book, wallet.

Day One

Arrived in Thames, picked up bikes from Paki Paki bike store, stayed in the peaceful Rolleston Motel (105 Rolleston Street, Thames, rollestonmotel@paradise.net.nz) in Thames at NZ$118/night. Very clean with good cooking facilities in each room, quiet with no traffic noise, and friendly staff who also allowed us to leave our car there for the 5 days we would be cycling.

Day Two – Thames to Waihi (55km)

Stephanie at the start point – only 280km to go!

Set off at 9:15am on the way to Waihi. A 55km ride in total. The day was overcast and the first 30km was gently rolling through green farmland as we headed to Paeroa. Nice wide road shoulder with not too much traffic. Stopped in Paeroa at 11:15am for a drink the town is famous for: Lemon and Paeroa.   After half an hour sitting in the sun, half a litre of L & P, a banana and some winegums we headed off for the remaining 25km towards the gold mining town of Waihi.

The start of the spectacular Kerangahake Gorge

We decided to get off the road here and take the track along the opposite river bank for 6km

Track follows an old railway line through the gorge, with lovely native bush and the river to your left.

Don’t ride off the edge here!

Coming into Waikino on the old rail line

This is a really lovely ride, beside the river, with beautiful native bush through the gorge. You actually follow an old railway path for some of it so the gradient is mellow. At Waikino we got back onto the road for the last 8km uphill into a headwind into Waihi. Stephanie was knackered by this stage and going slowly. We reached our motel (the Waihi motel NZ$118/night on Tauranga road) about 1:30pm. Hotel is clean and very central to the main street (2mins walk)but a bit noisy with traffic from the main road. We had a shower, some spaghetti on toast and a sleep, then Stephanie felt better so we went for a walk up to the gold mine, very close to the centre of town. Waihi is a an old goldmining town so much of the history is centred around its previous mining culture dating back to 1878 when gold was first discovered here. The current mine is a very impressive, a 260m deep, HUGE hole in the ground.

The Waihi open pit mine has a nice walking track around the outside – 3km in total which I ran around one morning.

Day Three – Waihi to Paunui (66km)

I went for a short run for 6km up around the Waihi mine on the Pit Rim Walkway. I wished I had also done the Blackhill track as well, as there is meant to be great views from the summit. Oh well, next time.

The first 12km out of Waihi are our first introduction to the hills of the Coromandel, takes a bit over one hour to do just over 10km, lots of uphill and we both chug up in low low gear. Road shoulder is ok to ride on most of the way, but there is no shortage of holiday traffic whizzing past. After reaching what I thought was the top after one hour, we gratefully whizzed downhill for a couple of km only to be confronted by another big uphill, this took about 20mins then we were finally truly on top. A fun 4km windy downhill followed, stopping every now and again to let traffic backed up behind us clear. A lot of drivers today honking their horns in encouragement, the occasional carload of young people drive past yelling insults(was I once like that?).

Heading down to the meet the east coast of the Coromandel

Reach Whangamata at 1:15pm. Lots of head wind today so far and overcast sky almost raining. Ride into town and stop at the Thai Kai restaurant in the RSA building (324 Port Road, Whangamata). Cheap lunch at NZ$6 each, and very tasty!

Thai Restaurant in the RSA in Whangamata – authentic taste and value for money – a must stop!

Chugging along towards Paunui – hills, hills and more hills!

The last stage of the day was another bigggg hill, the Opotuare saddle – Stephanie was starting to get pretty tired on this one, so we slowly worked our way up it with plenty of rest stops. We had a welcome surprise when halfway up our friend Matt stopped off for a chat. Stephanie had the opportunity to throw her bike into his car and get a lift the last 20km, but she chose to ride on which was very strong of her as she was getting really sore legs. After finally reaching the top we had a much too short cruise down the other side. Turned off for the final 11km into Pauanui. Had one moré steep hill which Stephanie walked the bike up. 66km later, arrived in Paunui and mate James met us and showed us the way in. Stayed with friends Goose and Louise and a warm shower, bbq food and a few beers were very welcome at the end of a hard day.

A well earned beer and univeristy reunion in Paunui. L to R: Christian May, James Bentley, Johnny Short, Me, Matthew Johnson (Speedy). Photo credit: Christian May

Day 4 – Paunui to Hahei (45km with ferry shortcut or 69km by road)

Woke to torrential rain. Went for a 1.5 hour stroll with Matt and Louise to the top of Mt Paunui. Not much view in the cloud and rain but nice walk.

With Louise May and Matthew Johnson on the summit of Mt Paunui. Pouring rain, but good fun.

I then cycled 2.5km down to the ferry to check the times. By taking the ferry 500m across the river to Tairua, it saves 24km of biking, making it a 45km day instead of a cruisy 69km! Unfortunately the ferry was broken down.

Damn Ferry – this 300m stretch of water can save 24km of back tracking around to get across to Tairua

Stephanie was really tired from the last two days so Matt offered to give her a lift over the first big hill outside Tairua, which would chop 35km off the day for her. I also threw my bike in his car and was planning to get out at Tairua (where the ferry would have dropped me if it was working), then continue cycling from there. We had a short rainy tour of the Pauanui canals and the millionaire properties on mate Johnny Short’s boat first before heading off. Unfortunately the rain got worse and and we got stuck in a huge jam trying to get into Tairua (a one way rod bridge causes the jam). Time was running out for the day as it was now 2pm, so we decided to get a lift all the way to Hahei, have a rest day from cycling, and use the afternoon time to explore the famous hot water beach.

Some of the amazing holiday houses on the Paunui canals

We checked into the Tatahi Lodge at $150/night. This is a great location, only 20m walk from the shops right in the centre of the small beach settlement of Hahei. The motel was well run, clean and quiet. Matt then dropped us at hot water beach which is 5km from Hahei. You can only enjoy the hot water seeping up through the sand 2hrs before and after the low tide, we were there at 4:30pm, low tide was 6:30pm, so we were slightly early. We found some area’s where the water was so hot it burned our feet, however it did not stop raining and we had the last shuttle at 5:05pm to get back to Hahei. The shuttle bus service costs $3 per person one way. So we headed back soaking wet without the luxury of lying in a self dug spa pool. Was very nice to have a hot shower and relax in some dry warm clothes in the room.

Stephanie digging for hot water on hot water beach – make sure you get the timing right with the tides!

Day 5 – Paunui to Coromandel town (60km)

Rained heavily all night. Still raining in the morning as we set-off for the 3km walk from the motel into Cathedral cove. Raced in and back in 1.5hours. The cove is lovely and was used in the film Nania.

Raining again on the walk into Cathedral Cove – took us 1.5 hours return from the Hahei shops.

Standing inside the Cathedral

Had a nice bfast in our motel room then set-off in the pouring rain for Whitianga. 12km easy ride to Ferry Landing where we took the small ferry 200m across to Whitianga. ($3/person one way plus $1 per bike). There is an enourmous hill to cross today (I.e the Coromandel range) at over 450m elevation. Stephanie opted for the bus option at $22 plus $10 for her bike. Go Kiwi is the shuttle service(Ph: 07 8660336). Her bus left at 3pm from the visitor centre in Thames and arrives Coromandel at 3:50pm. We had lunch in a cafe at Thames, and I waited for the torrential rain to ease before setting off just after 1pm on my own for Coromandel. It was not a nice day for cycling, heavy rain with a headwind, but the traffic was bearable and I put my head down and got on with it. 16km to Kuaotunu was over one large hill(about 170m). Then another 16km to Te Rerenga was over two smaller steep hills before hitting the Coromandel range and the biggest hill of the trip. This was 380m vertical height gain over 4km. My thighs were getting sore on the hills and I gave up early on this last hill. Pushed my bike for about 2.5km up the steeper parts, and reached the top at about 3pm just as Stephanie came past in the bus! A relaxing cruise down the other side into Coromandel town and I caught up with her 5mins after she arrived by bus.

Start of the big hill up over the Coromandel range to Coromandel town on the opposite side. I pushed the bike 2.5km up the steeper parts!

Ice cream time after lots of hills after arriving in Coromandel town.

Coromandel is really relaxed,especially compared to the tourist jaunts like Whitianga. It has great fish and chips, especially mussel fritters. We stayed in a motel room at the Coromandel motel (part of the holiday park on 636 Ring road) for $150/night. Had a short stroll into town for mussel fritters, fish and scallops for dinner. Fantastic! Relaxing New Years eve spent watching TV in the room. We even saw the sun this afternoon for 5 minutes – the first time in 4 days!

Day 6 – Coromandel to Thames (55km)

A little rain in the morning and the first 20km had two major hills to cross. My legs are really tired now, so any hills are hard work for me. After that though its a really relaxing 35km along the coast beside the sea all the way into Thames. Stopped at Tapu for lunch. We bought some smoked mussels, scallops and Kahuawai fish from the Coromandel Smoking Co. and ate these for lunch in the small town of Tapu. Really delicious – highly recommend the garlic smoked mussels!

This place is a MUST STOP! Freshly smoked seafood – the garlic smoked mussels rock!

We finally got some nice coastal views on the last day ride from Coromandel to Thames

Arrived in Thames about 2pm and straight back to the Rolleston Motel – our favorite motel of the trip. Had a nice soak in their outdoor spa pool, very nice for tired legs! Were craving for some Thai food for dinner, unfortunately the Thai Restaurant was closed so we settled for Chinese Takeaways which were rubbish and the fish not fresh. A great feeling to be finished the trip and looking forward to some R & R.

Day 7

Returned the bikes to Paki Paki bike store in Thames. Drove to the small town of Miranda for a dip in the hot pools. Very nice for sore legs!

The Miranda hotpools – very relaxing after some hard work on the hills of Coromandel

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