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Waikato River Trails : Karapiro Section

April 30, 2016
Wetland boardwalk after Little Waipa Domain.

Riverside boardwalk after Little Waipa Domain.

Part of The New Zealand Cycle Trail, the Waikato River Trails are divided into five sections that run 100km from the Pokaiwhenua Bridge carpark south-east to Atiamuri.

I checked-out Section One last time I was down that way as it’s not too far from Karapiro, although the start-point at Pokaiwhenua Bridge proved elusive! I couldn’t for the life of me find it so I drove to the far end of the section at the Arapuni Dam, parked-up and rode to the start (and back) from there.

Tip: 2 Degrees has almost no coverage in this part of the Waikato. Without a hard-copy map I ended-up doing a tiki-tour of the countryside before I eventually located Arapuni. Vodafone wasn’t much better, so after a similar experience last month in North Otago I’ve swapped over to the Evil Empire (Spark) and sacrificed some of my cool points for a chance at survival!

Later that afternoon as I pedalled up to Pokaiwhenua Bridge it’s lack of international renown made total sense. This is no Grafton Bridge or Golden Gate, simply a section of Horahora Rd bridging the Pokaiwhenua stream. Have a snoop along Horahora Rd on Google maps/satellite and you’ll see the little gravel carpark starting point nestled in a bend on the snaky waterway.

The elusive Pokaiwhenua Bridge.

The elusive Pokaiwhenua Bridge (behind 3rd bush from the left).

Enough talk of navigation, lets talk about the trail…

Section One (at 13km) is the shortest of the five legs and pretty easy going. I reckon coordinated kids as young as 6 or 7 could ride it “downstream” from the Arapuni Dam end (back towards Cambridge), and children with geared bikes would cope with the “upstream” direction, there’s no significant climbing. The trail has a mix of gravel, boardwalk and dirt that in dry conditions you could ride on a road-bike, certainly a hybrid. The fat tyres on a mountainbike will make things more comfortable however, and that’s what I recommend.

Gravel-grinding besides Horahora Rd.

Gravel-grinding besides Horahora Rd.

Don’t be put-off by the initial 4km. From Pokaiwhenua Bridge carpark to Little Waipa Domain you are riding a thin gravel path beside the main road. You can see where the river is, but it’s in the distance across farmers’ fields. The road is not busy, making it a pleasant countryside ramble, but it’s nothing to write home about (see above).

When you reach Little Waipa Domain things improve significantly and the trail proper takes-off across wetlands at the edge of the river itself. The Waikato, while never far way, is obscured for much of the ride, so suck-up the views on this section of riverbank before the trees start closing-in.

Karapiro Section

I could ride this stuff all day.

As the boardwalk peters-out you climb gently through bush and farmland working your way up towards the Power Station at Arapuni. Before you get there though the trail deposits you on Powerhouse Rd, and you have to ride 100m or so (on the actual road) before rejoining the trail. Watch the kids here, it’s not a busy road but is well used by station staff and contractors.

First commissioned in 1929, Arapuni is an impressive edifice and is actually on the Historic Places register, not many power stations can claim that! It sits towards the “brutal” end of the Art Deco scale, more concrete box than Chrysler Building, but in such a setting, with the sun beating down and millions of litres of water thundering below, it made quite an impression.

Arapuni Power Station

Arapuni Power Station

During construction a suspension bridge was built to gain access to the “top camp” (which eventually became Arapuni township), and unless you have a fear of heights it’s a must-see. When I first rolled-in I had the place to myself and rode to the other side and back. On the return trip a coach-load of English tourists had beaten me to it. Suspended high above the river working on their tans and looking for tearooms, things were a bit crowded, so I abandoned my steed and legged it across, still good fun!

Arapuni Suspension Bridge

Arapuni Swing Bridge, viewed from the trail.

If you’re after a cuppa yourself, a cold drink or something to eat, Arapuni township is but a two minute ride away. There’s a little café on the main road (closed the day I visited) and a delightfully bohemian chip-van/ice-cream truck ensemble parked on someone’s front yard across the road from that. I devoured the biggest, yummiest and cheapest ice-cream I’d ever encountered there, and will certainly return.

Arapuni Spillway

Looking upstream from the bridge at the bottom of Powerhouse Rd.

With half a litre of raspberry ripple now spiking the blood sugar you’ll finish Section One in record time a couple of hundred metres up the track at Arapuni Dam.

Section Two (the Arapuni Section) starts across the road from here, but at 36km, and with more climbing, it sounds less of a “family” ride than the Karapiro Section you’ve just completed. I’ll check that one out next time.

Arapuni Dam

Arapuni Dam

Interesting Fact: A stone’s throw from Pokaiwhenua Bridge, submerged at the bottom of the river lies the ghostly remains of Horahora Power Station. When opened in 1913 it was the largest generating plant in the country, providing power to the mining operations at Waihi, 80km away.

Horahora_Power_Station2   horahora_villagers

In 1947 Lake Karapiro was formed behind the Karapiro Power Station Dam, completely submerging Horahora. It kept generating until the last possible day due to power shortages, with two turbines still rotating as the rising waters covered them.

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