West: Oruawharo River Trail by bicycle

Much of the park still operates as functional farm.

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There are plenty of gates to negotiate. Be sure to disinfect your tyres as well as your shoes at the kauri dieback station. The steers had no intention of moving. The trail offers stunning views. An imposing custodian of land and sea. It’s an uphill slog on the way home.

With magnificent scenery, spectacular coastlines, unspoiled beaches and fascinating caves, Mahurangi offers plenty to see and do and plenty of ways to do it. For his summer adventure, Mahurangi Matters editor James Addis decided to explore the north, south, east and west of the region by foot, bicycle and kayak. 

Given the choice, my favourite mode of transport is bicycle. So when I discovered the Oruawharo River Trail at Atiu Creek Regional Park could be done by bike I was naturally delighted. The wife and kids were also keen, so that settled it. The trip got off to a bit of a rocky start because my wife had to pick up our car from the repair shop in darkest Penrose. She was supposed to be back early but got stuck in traffic. Once she returned, I had to figure out how to attach a new bike rack to our vehicle. All this to say, we didn’t start the trail until about 4.30pm and given we weren’t entirely sure how the children (aged 11 and 8) would manage or what the terrain was like, that made me a little uneasy. But like a lot of mishaps when travelling, it all turned out for the best. It was a lot cooler when we set out and given there is not a huge amount of shade on the trail, this was a blessing. Atiu is reached by heading west along SH16 from Wellsford. Travel for 4km then turn right onto Port Albert Road. Continue for 17km and the park is on your right. The Oruawharo River Trail takes you right around the inner perimeter of the park. In addition to doing it by bike, much of it can be completed via horseback, or you can simply walk it.         

A noticeboard in the carpark explains Atiu Creek was gifted by Jackie and Pierre Chatelanat, who wanted to ensure that all New Zealanders could enjoy access to the Kaipara Harbour.  And it’s at the carpark that you will also get your first panoramic view of the stunning Oruawharo River, which flows into that harbour. You will see it from numerous different angles throughout the trail, and it never fails to impress.

The trail is a loop and can be tackled in either direction but we chose to head west. Pretty soon, you will encounter two carved Maori warriors guarding the entrance Don’t be alarmed, they are there to welcome visitors and protect those who enter.  

Biking is easy-peasy at first on gravel, but this soon turns to grass – a little challenging going uphill. I wondered how my son would fare on thin road tyres, but he was fine. Of course, you might have to think twice if it’s been raining.

In addition to being a regional park, much of Atiu Creek operates as a functioning farm. We were soon reminded of this on being obliged to cross a paddock full of distinctly hostile-looking steers, determinedly blocking the trail and showing no inclination to move out of the way for impertinent cyclists. We were within metres of a head-on collision when my wife cried out loudly “Ya ha” and they reluctantly shuffled aside.  They eyed us menacingly as we proceeded up the steep hillside. It was so steep that we all had to dismount, taking away the option of a quick getaway.

The steep bit proceeded until we reached a stand of pine trees. Then there’s a long glorious downhill bit on wide grass tracks towards Solomons Bay. The kids threw caution to the wind and belted down at great speed, much to their delight and despite the bumpiness of the track that could have sent them flying. That’s the great thing about biking – you can mix a bit of quiet contemplation as you drink in the views, with a bit of high-stakes drama.

Talking about the views, this is where you will want to pause again and admire the river, very wide and grand at this point.

As you reach the lowland closer to the water’s edge you will switch to a gravel track again. If you have been making slow progress on the grass and are worried about running out of time, relax. You will soon make up time on the gravel, which pretty much continues back to the car park.

With time worries out of the way, you will have time to take at  look at another great carving, this one depicting Solomon – a local chief of Ngati Mauku and Ngati Kauwae. You will find him clutching a spear, and his body covered with depictions of dolphins, kiwi and eels – an imposing custodian of both the land and the sea.   

Continuing, you cross numerous paddocks most with a little noticeboard on the gate, which gives an insight into the park’s history. I was intrigued by Airstrip Paddock, which once served as a take-off point for top-dressing pilots. It struck me as the steepest, most uneven and most airplane-unfriendly paddock in the entire park. The pilots must have had nerves of steel.

It’s a bit of a slog uphill to reach Airstrip Paddock and there’s more uphill grind before you are back at the car park. But that just helps nurture that pleasant feeling of exhaustion after all the exercise and a ravenous appetite. We stopped for McDonalds in Wellsford on the way home and, boy, their hamburgers never tasted so good.


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