Hamilton to Waitara

Hamilton to Te Kuiti (82k)

Tent sites and camping huts are available 2 km from Hamilton town centre at the quiet and well-equipped Hamilton City Holiday Park. The impressive Hamilton Gardens, featuring examples of typical gardens from a dozen or so countries world-wide, are well worth a visit, even if you're not usually interested in horticulture. The Waikato Museum in the town centre has interesting displays, and next door is the Museum's art gallery, housed in the old Post Office and featuring a good selection of quality artworks, many for sale.

The road shoulder between Hamilton and Te Kuiti is good for most of the way, but occasionally rather narrow. The road passes through attractive, rolling farming country, with moderate rolls and undulations all the way but no real hills. There are two sizeable towns along the route, Te Awamutu and Otorohanga. The latter describes itself as NZ's Kiwiana Capital, being home to NZ's first Kiwi house and having more recently expanded its scope to include all things typically Kiwi - a good place to explore during an extended lunch break.

Waitomo Limestone Caves About 10 km before Te Kuiti is the turnoff to Waitomo and its famous glow-worm caves (14 kms return diversion). Waitomo is situated in a pretty, limestone area that is riddled with caves and underground rivers. Several operators offer underground caving and rafting trips of varying durations, but reckon with at least half a day if you decide to be so adventurous. For the less ambitious, there are several options for walking dry-foot in caves with spectacular displays of stalactites and stalagmites. Inquire at the Waitomo Caves Museum, which has an informative display and sells various packages of tours. The glow-worm caves are situated about 500 m away from the museum and the very popular tour takes 45 minutes or so. The other caves are further away, accessed by road or a very pleasant walking track.

If you intend to visit only the glow-worm caves, the side-trip and cave tour can probably be done on the way to Ke Tuiti. If you're tempted to do other tours in addition, you'll need more time and may prefer to stay at the friendly, well-equipped but rather expensive Waitomo Top Ten camp site opposite the Museum. It offers both tent sites and cabins.

Te Kuiti to Mokau (78k)

Awakino valley There's a small but friendly and well-equipped council-run campsite at the north-east corner of the Te Kuiti domain. It has tent sites but no cabins. There are supermarkets, shops and cafés/take-aways a few hundred meters away on Rora St.

The road to Mokau starts with a fairly steep, 150 m climb, and then settles down to moderate undulations that increase in severity between Piopio and Mahoenui. The scenery is predominately rolling farmland. After Mahoenui, the cycling becomes easy, as the road follows the Awakino River all the way to the sea. There are fine views along the way, particularly through the scenic Awakino Gorge.

There's a café/pub at tiny Awakino, but you'll probably want to continue the final 3 km to the well-situated, moderate-standard sea-side camp site 2 km north of Mokau, or to Mokau itself, where there's another, rather small camp site which also houses the village's only, poorly-stocked shop. There's a small café/take-away offering good-value, typical road-side meals about 100 m north of the shop, along the main road.

Mokau to Waitara (70k)

SH3 between Mokau and New Plymouth is heavily trafficked, often narrow and with many blind corners. Keep yourself highly visible and ride defensively!

Seaside at the Mokau Campsite After undulating along the coast for 10 km or so, the road to Waitara turns inland. Except for Mount Messenger, with its fairly-steep climb on the north face and its definitely-steep descent on the south, the road stays almost flat as it twists and turns through the valleys, until it nears the coast again at Mimi. From there, the gentle undulations change into rolls and the height differences increase somewhat as the road continues to Waitara.

Waitara is a slight detour off the SH3, and has both shopping centre and camp site, the latter next to Marine Park at the mouth of the Waitara River (west side). The large, reasonably-priced camp site is of moderate standard but unfortunately lacks an indoor kitchen table or lounge area. There are tent sites but no cabins. From Waitara one can continue along the SH3 to New Plymouth and the SH45 "Surf Highway", or along the SH3A towards Stratford or the NZ Cycle Trail Forgotten World Highway.