Growing up in Hamilton I cycled to school on busy roads in a time before cycleways, lanes or trails … dedicated bicycle routes were only a twinkle in the eye of the future. Spending time in the Waikato recently, I found the future is now! Cycling is booming in the heart of the Waikato. No other northern region has such a choice of official Great Rides, can claim Cycling NZ’s HQ, or has such long river-hugging rides. In the Waikato, cycling is where it’s happening and the Te Awa (The River) Trail may have helped make the region ‘Cycling Central’. Known as the Great New Zealand River Ride, the newly formed Te Awa has emerged quicker than a taniwha rising onto a riverbank. In due course, the cycle trail will not only link Ngāruawāhia to Cambridge but may meet up with the Waikato River and Hauraki Rail Trails becoming a truly glorious bicycle network.

Urban riverside riding at its best

Before starting, with GPS in hand, I considered how I might ride Te Awa. The easy river ride currently consists of two sections. The northern section between Ngāruawāhia and Hamilton Gardens is 27 kilometres, while the southern section of 15 kilometres travels from just north of Cambridge to Lake Karapiro. A country-road route that currently connects the two parts will likely be an off-road section by the time I next return. I decide to ride from north to south; to Hamilton today and Karapiro tomorrow. But first I need wheels, so I visit River Riders in central Hamilton who fit me out with a sharp looking e-bike – the first time I have properly used one of these newfangled wiz-bang bikes. Help me – I’m sounding like my dad!

The Perry Bridge at twilight is stunning. Photo River Riders Ltd

I start my journey in Ngāruawāhia at the base of the Hakarimata Range, the junction of the Waikato and Waipa Rivers – the Waikato River’s largest tributary. Looking at the forested range across the river, I elect not to scale the 1349 steps to the lookout and instead save my energy (and e-bike battery) for the ride ahead. Studying the map and powering up the GPS unit I head off upstream beside the river. Upstream might conjure an uphill climb but I do not fret.

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