4/1/16. A day without luggage! Wonderful! Christine was zipping up the hills like Chris Froome. (Well, sort of. They were only very short hills but still….)
We gave most of the bags a day off and took a side route off the main rail trail to another old gold mining town called Waihi. It was lovely not having the weight and, of course, the front wheel felt especially light and twitchy without the front panniers but we soon got used to that.
The track followed roads out of Paeroa to start off with but soon we were heading across fields on the gravel track. Ahead there appeared to be only steep hills but gradually a small gap started to appear between them which we guessed (and hoped) was where we were headed. We were climbing gradually (it was an old railway line after all) and also heading into the south easterly wind but neither of these concerned us particularly as we knew we would be coming back the same way.
Gradually the hills closed in and the track was joined by a river and SH2 to run through a lovely gorge. We had seen a few bikes already but, as we approached a car park adjoining the track, it became very busy with walkers and bikes. It seemed that people were attracted by a 1km tunnel, where the track took the direct route while the road and river went the long way round, and, not much further along, an attraction based on the gold mining past.
We followed the gorge as it meandered its way for the next few kilometres (although of course we didn’t really have much choice as we were hemmed in by steep cliffs). The lush vegetation, full of tree ferns, agapanthuses and other exotics, made it feel very different from European gorges we have visited which tend to be rocky and rugged.
At some point the cycle route left the old railway track and followed the river more closely. This meant there were some minor ups and downs but nothing too strenuous and much easier without panniers, although understandably Christine continues to be a little nervous on the loose gravel surfaces.
Approaching Waihi the rail track reappeared but now had rails as there is a tourist service running back down to the town near the mining attraction we had passed earlier. We watched the last train for the day leave (at 1.45! The New Zealanders do like to finish early – many cafes shut at 3.00 pm) and then had a late picnic lunch on the platform before heading into town for an ice cream.
The way back was, if anything, even more pleasant as it was slightly downhill and the wind was behind us. Also the clouds had started to break up. As we approached Paeroa we went through two milestones (not literally thank goodness!) – 800 km/500 miles in NZ and 4,000 km since we left home in April.