Two beautiful harbours, charming wee towns and towering kauri forest are all highlights on this road route along Northland’s west coast.
The northern end of the trail is the pretty town of Rawene on the edge of tranquil Hokianga Harbour. The route then heads inland through the magical Waipoua Kauri Forest before winding through farmland to Dargaville and out to the mouth of the Kaipara Harbour.
Highlights of the trail include the twin settlements of Omapere and Opononi set alongside the beautiful Hokianga Harbour, Waipoua Forest and Trounson Kauri Park.
The whole route between Rawene and Dargaville is 113km over hilly terrain. An overnight stop is recommended to allow time to savour the sights and experiences along the way.
You will inevitably want to get up close with the mighty kauri trees. Please note, however, that Kauri Dieback disease may mean you can’t access all kauri forest walks; please respect all signage, staying well clear of any areas off-limits.
Starting in Rawene, this route heads out on Parnell Road to the T-intersection with State Highway 12. Then turn right and cycle to Opononi and on to Omapere. There are a couple of short hills in this section but good coastal views as well. Opononi and Omapere have places to eat and stay.
There is a sharp 110-metre climb out of the far side of Omapere.
Twelve kilometres on from Omapere is the small settlement of Waimamaku, which has a café and Four Square grocery store.
Beyond Waimamaku, the road climbs into Waipoua Forest. A small descent leads to the car park and takeaways caravan at the start of the one-minute walk to New Zealand’s most famous tree, Tane Mahuta. New Zealand’s largest living kauri and known as the 'Lord of the Forest', this imposing giant has a 13.77m girth, a trunk height of 17.68m and a total height of 51.5m. Please respect all signage in relation to this, and other, forest reserves.
From Tane Mahuta, the road is mostly downhill for 10km.
Just after crossing the Waipoua River bridge, it is possible to detour 1km to the right to Café Forest, which is part of a visitor complex with information, camping and cabin options.
The touring route continues straight ahead on SH12 and up a 5km climb through forest and across farmland.
About 7km from the bridge, either continue to follow SH12 or turn left onto Katui Road. This alternative to SH12 is a similar distance but mostly gravel, has much less traffic but will take longer.
If taking the gravel route: follow the road down to Donnellys Crossing, turn right onto Trounson Park Road and cycle 8km to Trounson Kauri Park. Just after the kauri park, veer right to continue along Trouson Park Road and back up to SH12. Turn left to continue towards Dargaville.
3.5km after passing Kaihu Tavern, turn left onto Ahikiwi Road and take the following quiet country roads to Dargaville. Turn left onto Maropiu Road, then right onto Maropiu Settlement Road. Then 10km from Kaihu, at a T-intersection, turn left onto Waihue Road, then 200 metres later, right onto Opanake Road. This is the quintessential Northland country road, providing expansive views over the Kaihu Valley and beyond. Almost 13km down Opanake Road, turn left onto Parore West Road and soon after, right onto Waihue Road to cruise into Dargaville and down to the main shops.
For a small town, Dargaville boasts a lot of art and craft, a prime example being The Woodturners Kauri Studio, which showcases kauri carvings and gives access to a workshop to see how it’s done.
And as this is New Zealand’s ‘kumara capital’, it’s no surprise to find a museum dedicated to farm machinery here. Harding Park is home to vintage tractors, harvesters and logging equipment.
For amazing views of the area, it’s also worth taking the short, sharp walk to needle-like Tokatoka Peak.
A helpful source of information about this ride, and other Heartland Rides, is Classic New Zealand Cycle Trails by the Kennett Brothers.
The riding surface is around 90% sealed road and 10% gravel road, with some significant climbs.
The roads are relatively quiet on weekdays but can get busy during the summer holiday period and weekends with an increase in tourist traffic. Riders should have good road sense and be prepared to encounter traffic at any time, and particular care should be taken on the winding roads through Waipoua Forest.
FITNESS & SKILLS
This ride is grade 4 (advanced) with a mixture of steep and long climbs, and is best suited to reasonably fit riders with some cycle touring experience.
TYPE OF BIKE
A touring bike, mountain bike or e-bike is suitable for the terrain. Riders should ideally have basic mechanical skills and carry a tool kit and spares.
MAPS & NAVIGATION
New Zealand’s country roads are well sign-posted, but a map will help prevent wrong turns, help you time your ride, and identify points of interest along the way.
Warm summers and mild winters make it possible to ride this trail all year round. However, Waipoua experiences a lot of rain so a good raincoat is essential at all times.
There are various accommodation options along the route including at Rawene, Opononi, Omapere, Waipoua Forest, Trounson Kauri Park, further along Trounson Park Road at the Top 10 Holiday Park, and in Dargaville.
FOOD & WATER
Food is available at the start and end points – Rawene and Dargaville – and along the route at Opononi, Omapere and Waimamaku. Free water is available at the Dargaville Museum. There is also a tavern at Kaihu.
To follow the trail, catch a bus to Kaitaia and follow the Far North Cycleway to Kohukohu on the northern side of the Hokianga Harbour where you catch the car ferry across to Rawene (it runs every 45 mins between 7.45am and 8pm).
The route also links up with the Twin Coast Cycle Trail at nearby Horeke, which can be reached via the Ranui passenger ferry on weekends, or by road (40km).
Alternatively, you can catch a bus to Dargaville and ride north. Dargaville is also the northern end of the Kaipara Missing Link Heartland Ride through to Auckland.
Coverage is available at main towns but limited along the rest of the trail.
There are public toilets at regular intervals.