Exploring the Twin Coast Cycle Trail: A 2-Day Adventure

Douglas Paul
Jun 4, 2024

The Twin Coast Cycle Trail is an 87 km cycling route between Ōpua in the Bay of Islands and Mangungu Mission on the Hokianga Harbour. It can be comfortably ridden in two days, but you may want to take longer to fully immerse yourself in the stunning scenery and rich history along the way, with the potential for short side trips.

The trail offers a perfect blend of history, culture, and stunning landscapes, making it an unforgettable two-day adventure for cyclists of all levels. As you pedal through this fascinating region, take the time to explore its rich heritage, from ancient Maori sites to colonial-era missions and the remnants of its industrial past. The trail provides a unique perspective on the Bay of Islands and Hokianga Harbour, immersing you in the natural beauty and captivating stories that define this part of New Zealand.

Here's a suggested itinerary for a two-day ride starting in Opua, with an overnight stop in Kaikohe and ending at Mangungu Mission.

Day 1: Ōpua to Kaikohe

The trail begins in Opua, next to the wharf, with two options for the ride to Kawakawa. The easiest 11 km route (grade 1) is to follow the picturesque Kawakawa River, the second oldest railway line in New Zealand, which dates back to the late 19th century. The trail includes a short vintage train ride with Bay of Islands Vintage Railways from Te Ake Ake to Taumarere, then a final 3.2 km ride into Kawakawa. You need to check the timetable and book the train in advance.

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For experienced riders looking for a more challenging route (grade 3), take the path via Whangae & Oromahoe Roads. This covers 17 km and takes around 1.5 hours to complete. Some hills require a reasonable fitness level, especially when riding from Kawakawa, but you'll also enjoy plenty of downhill freewheeling. The route takes you through picturesque farmland and the stunning Ōpua Forest. You will see ancient Kauri trees, some over 1,000 years old, and panoramic ocean views. To ride this route, start at the Top O' The Hill Reserve on the corner of State Highway 11 and English Bay Road in Ōpua and follow the signs along Oromahoe Road and Whangae Road before crossing the Kawakawa River Plain to arrive at Te Hononga in Kawakawa.

Kawakawa is an interesting rural town known for its quirky Hundertwasser toilets, designed by the eccentric Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. The town is also famous for the vintage train, which travels along the main street. Unique for NZ, it travels along the main street. Grab a bite at one of the cafes before heading towards Moerewa. The trail to Moerewa passes by an old wood mill and industrial areas, offering a glimpse into the region's logging and manufacturing past.

From Moerewa, the next 25km is a gradual incline to Kaikohe, mostly in rolling farmland. There are also waterfalls and impressive suspension bridges over the Orauta Stream. Before reaching Kaikohe, you'll pass the historic Kaikohe Aerodrome, built in 1942 as a US Marines bomber base during World War II. It is now the largest grass airfield in the Southern Hemisphere.

Arrive in Kaikohe, the trail's highest point, where you'll find many accommodation options, eateries, and supermarkets. The Kaikohe Pioneer Village is a highlight., This is a 5-acre outdoor museum filled with historic buildings and treasures that showcase the area's early settler history.

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Day 2: Kaikohe to Mangungu Mission

Leaving Kaikohe, the Twin Coast Cycle Trail follows a disused railway corridor, climbing gently to the highest point 280 meters above the coast. Ride through an 80-meter-long curved rail tunnel built in 1915 before descending to the serene Lake Omapere, Northland's longest lake and a significant site in Maori mythology. A taniwha, Arai-te-uru, who arrived with Kupe in Aotearoa, gave birth to children who proceeded to dig up Hokianga Harbour. One of the children dug the lake when it thrashed his tail around. Lake Omapere is a volcanic crater, so it is a reasonable analogy!

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Once past the lake, stop in Okaihau, a small settlement with a café, takeaways, and market. As you continue, enjoy the views of the dunes in Hokianga Harbour to the west and Mt Hikurangi to the south.

The trail then leads you through farmland, offering stunning views of the Utakura Valley. A series of switchbacks takes you down to the Utakura River, surrounded by bush-clad hills. The final stretch includes a 1 km boardwalk through a mangrove estuary to Hokianga Harbour before you follow the coast to Horeke, the second oldest town in NZ. The oldest hotel dates back to 1833. Today, the hotel focuses on servicing cyclists!

End your journey at the historic Mangungu Mission House, a Wesleyan mission built in 1838-1839 that overlooks the breathtaking Hokianga Harbour. The mission significantly impacted early interactions between Maori and European settlers. If time allows, consider visiting the nearby Wairere Boulders. You can get a boat ride to Rawene or Kohukohu from the jetty near the trail's end. You will need to book by calling 022 644 3599.

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