Tour Aotearoa Day 6 – Paeroa to Mangakino – ‘The First of the Longer Days’

Achieving my ambitious target of cycling the Tour Aotearoa in 24 meant I would have to dig deep and get some big miles done today. My tactic was to get an early start, ride hard on the paved roads – hopefully hitting 18mph – and take it steady on the gravel. Above all, I wanted to survive the blistering 38 degree weather forecast.

I left at 7am while the temperatures were cool and pleasant. Today’s route to Mangakino promised to be a remote ride through the centre of New Zealand. After riding with friends and then eating dinner with the cycling community in Paeroa yesterday, today would be quieter and more solitary, and an opportunity to get some miles done.

Today started with a gift in the form of the Hauraki Rail Trail, offering some effortless miles. When the old railway was abandoned, it was converted to a cycle path. Utilising all the infrastructure of the railway, the gradients are flattened into gentle inclines, and the vacated tunnels and viaducts help avoid the worst of the hills and valleys. I loved rolling along the traffic-free gravel track, spinning my legs with ease, as if meditating. Sadly, I’d only be riding a short section of its total 160 kilometres, though I’d love to return to visit more. It would be a great bikepacking/bike touring route for families with children!

From Te Aroha, a village famous for its mineral hot pools, I veered from the rail trail and made some fast distance along a paved road, feeling the sweaty temperatures rise around me as morning wore on. Finally, I reached Pokaiwhenua and joined the cool Waikato River. As New Zealand’s longest river, the Waikato glides lazily past some of the North Island’s most spectacular scenery; native forests, remote farms, and sleepy riverside villages, and best of all, a network of cycling trails brings you along for the journey.

From Arapuni, I passed one of the world’s largest swing bridges, at 152.4 metres long and suspended 54 metres high, and then continued through native forest. A highlight was the boardwalk section that twisted and turned like a rollercoaster, through Huihuitaha Wetlands. Having too much fun, I dared to pedal harder, but careful not to fall in!

This region of central New Zealand is steeped in cycling history because I was riding in the wheels of Harry Watson who, in 1928 teamed up with three Australians to form the first English-speaking team in the Tour de France. Lacking racing experience, he was largely ridiculed and expected to drop out within a few stages, but he managed to go the distance and finish 28th out of 168. As I came close to hitting the wall after a long day on the bike, thinking of Harry’s determination inspired me to keep spinning the pedals and reach Mangakino.

The final few kilometres into Mangakino were as wild and dramatic as the rest of the day. I was proud to have tackled the first of the longer days across every type of terrain, covering a total of 152 kilometres, with 1,400 metres elevation gain in a total of nine and a half hours.