© 2021, The McGees

Cycling Along the Twin Coast Trail

July 11, 2019

Guest Post by Emma

In honor of dad’s birthday this year (and the many birthdays I’ve missed in years past), we set out on a two-day bike ride along the Pou Herenga Tai, or Twin Coast Cycle Trail, which stretches all the way from the east to the west coast of northern New Zealand. At 87 kilometers, it’s the longest cycle ride either of us has ever undertaken.

We begin in Opua, a sea-side town ensconced in morning fog. Yellow and black bumble-bee birds (true identity yet to be determined, though they may have been tomtits) flit across the trail as we embark. The trail follows the tracks of an old railway for 11 kilometers, weaving in and out of shrouded marshes and mossy forests. We arrive to the town of Kawakawa in time to watch the 10:45am departure of the Bay of Islands Vintage Rail train and to use the renowned Hundertwasser public toilets–a community project led by Austrian artist Frederick Hundertwasser complete with mosaic tiling, glass bottle windows, a grass roof, and a living tree. The result is the most beautiful public toilet I’ve ever seen. It is said that Hundertwasser believed a toilet should be a special place of meditation. Well, if a toilet ever made me feel like meditating, it was definitely this one!

We encounter few fellow bikers on the trail but do meet several four-legged friends, including an escaped horse and a newborn calf who (almost) takes its first steps as we cheer it on.

After pedaling the first 45 kilometers, we arrive in Kaikohe where we treat ourselves to dinner at an early 20th century bank transformed into a restaurant and hotel. Perhaps we are just hungry, but everything (pumpkin soup for both of us, chickpea and potato curry for me, steak for dad, and chocolate mousse and ginger crème brûlée for dessert) tastes spectacular.

Setting out the next morning, we have a steady incline before we reach the highest point of the trek, an old 1915 train tunnel now turned into a muddy, pitch-black stretch of bike path. Equipped with headlamps, we make it out the other side. As we pass through another small town, a man heading out on a day ride asks us how far we are going. “To the end,” dad says. “Wow, and where did you come from?” “The beginning,” dad replies. Which is where we are always coming from and going to in the end, isn’t it?

The second half of the ride is a mixture of steep downhill stretches of varying grades, including switchbacks down the side of a rust-colored mountain, a few stretches of Jurassic-looking forest, and steady twists through bucolic pastures filled mostly with birds: paradise shell ducks, pukekos, fantails, a giant kereru seated on a telephone wire.

We stop for lunch at a lily pond and pass Lake Omapere, ancestral home of the indigenous tuna (or eels) which swim thousands of miles each year to their spawning grounds somewhere between Tonga and Fiji–a fact which makes our coast to coast trek seem humble, at best.

The ride finishes with raised platforms winding through an auburn-tinted marsh dotted with toetoe, a tall, feather-topped native grass. Finally, we reach the end of the ride with mom waving from the old mission overlooking the Hokianga harbor. The harbor was the departing place of the ancient Polynesian navigator, Kupe, who, as legend has it, never returned. Although I suppose it’s likely we’ll never return either, I like to think we might.

Starting out along the Twin Coast Cycle Trail - only 87 km to go!

Riding right next to the old railway tracks

Shrouded marshes remind us of Lord of the Rings

The fog begins to clear over a mossy forest

Our first stop is Kawakawa with an old vintage trail running right through the center of town

Bay of Islands Vintage Rail train

Exterior of the Hundertwasser toilets in Kawakawa

Interior of the Hundertwasser toilets in Kawakawa

Dad makes a new four-legged friend

The cycle trail includes several beautiful hanging bridges

Emma stops to admire the view from another hanging bridge

Posing for a selfie with a picturesque waterfall

Enjoying a well-earned dinner (and beer for Dad) in Kaikohe, the half-way point

Setting out on day two of the cycle ride

Getting ready to cycle through the tunnel


An outdoor cycle-centered mural of sorts

Cycling down the mountain

Jurassic-looking forests

The trail passes through many green pastures

Don't forget to look up!

Lunch at the lily pond

Our first full view of Lake Omapere

Cycling through a patch of toetoe

We made it!

The mission overlooking the Hokianga harbor

At the end our journey, we are rewarded with exceptional views of the harbor

Written by Julie and Tim McGee who live in Sonoma, California, USA and frequently elsewhere...