Auckland to Kawhia
There's really only one sane way to head south out of Auckland - and that's to take the train. The service to Pukekohe takes around an hour and gets you safely out of Auckland's motorway madness, but the train doesn't run in the weekends and with a bike in tow is best avoided during rush hour.
After having a look around Pukekohe head south on Manukau Road through Buckland and onto Tuakau and the start of Highway 22. There's a bit of traffic dodging to be done as this route is initially quite busy, and soon after Pukekohe the road margin disappears altogether. But once you're safely over the Waikato River the main bulk of the traffic veers off to Port Waikato, making the riding immediately more pleasant.
Pleasant... but plain is probably the best way to describe it, passing as it does through rolling farm land, with no services except a lonely service station at Glen Murray (closed Sundays). After Naike, though, the ride becomes increasingly enjoyable as mature trees start to line the road, first as wind breaks, then as strands of forestry and native bush. Find a spot of shade at Naike to see out the midday sun with a book, then enjoy the final descent into Waingaro in the cool of the early evening. Here there is a hot-pool complex with a campground attached. Don't leave your run too late as the pools close at 9pm.
A friend had warned me that the Waingaro pools were a bit run down and while that may be true - there's nothing Ritzy about the place - I found it instantly likeable; like stepping back a few decades to a bygone era where lasting summer holiday memories are made.
At just 32 km this is undeniably an easy day, again along quiet, rolling country roads until you join State Highway 23 at Te Uku. Te Uku has a great little café (The Roast Office) and a 4 Square store. Just after the 4 Square turn right into Okete Road and make a slight detour through Okete to avoid the busy highway, rejoining it again about 5 km out of Raglan.
Raglan is a small town with a supermarket, garage, internet access, and plenty of cafés and watering holes. A Mecca for surfers as well as day-trippers from nearby Hamilton and Auckland, the place is now well and truly on the map, yet it still manages to retain some of its village feel.
There are a few ways to start your trip to Kawhia. You could head out along the main highway for a few km then take a right into Te Mata Road. Arguably nicer, though, is to take Wainui Road east across the causeway then turn left, following Te Hutewai Road up through the quieter back-country. It's a fair climb, but leave early in the day and most of the hard work will be done in shade. About 4 km in you reach the first peak and here the tarmac gives way to pretty rough gravel, which remains until you reach Te Mata.
At Te Mata there is a picnic table nestled under the shade of some trees. A good opportunity to break out the billy and make a fortifying cup of tea. Tar seal returns as you pass through Te Mata, but only briefly, and soon after your first glimpses of the Aotea Harbour below, the gravel returns and remains until you join Highway 23 about 5 km out from Kawhia.
Although only 53 km in distance this ride will take you a full day, as your pace is slowed considerably by the rough riding surface. But equally, this road-less-travelled rewards with sumptuous scenery.
Kawhia is like a smaller version of Raglan - only minus the tourists. A real gem of a place with that small-town New Zealand charm. There is a garage, general store, cafés and several campgrounds to choose from. If you still have the legs then ask your host for the loan of a shovel and take the 3 km trip out to Ocean Beach where - just like Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel - hot springs rise from the sand at low tide.