For the past few years members of the public have been able to enjoy a growing number of different hikes, with some of the trails even geared up for biking and a section of one trail suitable for wheelchairs.
The wending trails encompass the magic and beauty of native bush, exotic forest, historic landmarks, grassed farmland, open reserve, boardwalks through significant wetland, and they offer tranquil lake and river views. Interesting rock formations and geological delights are also on show, such as spectacular views up Lake Whakamaru to Pohaturoa Rock. This 530 metre-high rhyolite dome is an eye-catcher with its bald top and skirt of pine-trees.
Many hikers and nature lovers have already discovered that these trails also offer close encounters with all manner of indigenous plants and birdlife. Walk the trial linking Whakamaru Christian Camp and Snowsill Reserve, for example, and its not uncommon to find a cloud of as many as 70 or 80 fantails at your feet. Local Maori say they have never seen so many piwakawaka (fantails) in one place. Far less common is the sight of the popokatea (whitehead) and bird spotters will be excited to know this infrequently seen bird has been spotted along this trail.
Access to all these magical moments is thanks to a committed band of volunteers who form The Waikato River Trails Trust – and the support of local landowners and sponsors such as Mighty River Power. This Trust was established in 2006 to plan, construct, promote, find funding and maintain river trails along the Waikato River and the region’s hydro lakes.
Once completed the trails will cover about 100 kilometres from Atiamuri in the South up to just North of Tirau. The plan is that the trails will reach Lake Karapiro in time for the World Rowing Championships in 2010.
To date seven trails varying in length between 400 metres to 13.5 kilometres have been opened, with two more ready for action early next year. The opening of a further two will complete the project.
News of the trails is spreading. Tramping and hiking clubs from various parts of the country are coming to the district specifically because of the trails. While in the area hikers can also enjoy the splendour of the Maungatautari Ecological Island and the crystal clear waters showcased by Te Waihou Walkway.
Looking for a beautiful off-road place to bike? This is also on offer. There’s 25 kilometres of mountain biking (low grade) beckoning in the Southern reaches of the district. Five linked Whakamaru and Atiamuri trails combine to provide a one-way track 25 kilometres long. This starts at SH 1 in Atiamuri (and is signposted from the highway) and finishes were SH 30 and 32 intersect at Whakamaru.
The Waikato River Trails is inarguably a grand endeavour, especially given the initial plan was to create one short walkway, lakeside in Arapuni.
But, as Waikato River Trails Trust chairperson Ali van der Heyden says, it was quite simply too great an idea to be contained.
“If people have the chance to experience the wonders of this mighty river, then they will take more time caring for it and appreciating that it’s such an important life force.
“On a more personal level, it’s about preserving for the future. I am involved because I want my grandchildren to walk along this river and see the value of what is there. It’s like being able to hear the kiwi at the Maungatautari Ecological Island. You can’t put a dollar value on these sorts of experiences – it’s just magic.”
Fact File: Introducing the Different Trails
From Arapuni Dam to Jones’ Landing
Estimated Time: One hour, 45 minutes walk one way
Access: From Arapuni Rd at the Dam or from Lake Arapuni Rd to Jones’ Landing.
Highlights: The public has access to a long stretch of Lake Arapuni. Interesting rock formations and small islands. A lookout built on the rocks overlooking Jones’ Landing gives an expansive birds eye view across the lake to the distant skyline.
From Arapuni Village to Arapuni Dam
Estimated Time: 45 minutes walk one way
Access: From the swing bridge access in the village or Arapuni Rd at the Dam
Highlights: See the historic Arapuni swing bridge and power station dating back to the 1920s. Follow the old Arapuni gorge where the river flowed before the hydro lake was developed.
Whakamaru Dam to Whakamaru Reserve
Estimated Time: 60 minutes one-way
Access: From Whakamaru Dam or Whakamaru Reserve off Ongaroto Rd (Sate Highway 30)
Highlights: Amazing views of ancient rock outcrops. Trail wends its way through native bush and tall pines planted in the 1920s. Train ends at an extensive, grassed, lakeside reserve.
Estimated Time: Two hours one-way
Access: From Whakamaru Reserve or Dunham Point Reserve, both off Ongaroto Road (SH 30). Includes one short section of steps.
Highlights: Native bush, lakeside walk. Views ranging from Pohaturoa Rock downstream to Kaahu near Whakamaru. Towering rocky ignimbrite bluffs.
Whakamaru Christian Camp to Snowsill Reserve
Estimated Time: One hour, 40 minutes walk one way
Access: Off Ongaroto Rd (SH 30) via Snowsill Reserve, Dunham Creek Reserve or Whakamaru Christain Camp / Dunham Point Reserve. All well signposted.
Highlights: Enjoy great views of Lake Whakamaru. Stroll the boardwalk over significant patches of wetland. Enjoy the birdlife – fantails are particularly prolific. This trial is suitable for family biking.
Length: 800m return
Estimated time: 40-6- minutes
Access: Dunham Creek Reserve bridge
Highlights: Mobility “trail-within-a-tail” access crossing troutstream, through lush wetland with lake views of Pohaturoa Rock in the distance. Plentiful birdlife especially Korimako (bellbird) and Piwakawaka (fantail).
Snowsill to Atiamuri Bridge
Length: 13.5 km
Estimated Time: 4 hours, 30 minutes one way
Access: Off Ongaroto Road (SH 30) 250m from SH 1 or via Snowsill Reserve
Highlights: Bush trail, some boardwalks and open pasture sections. Sheltered lake-edge picnic spots. Magnificent views of majestic Pohaturoa, from changing moods of river flow to lake and forest/bushwalks with a myriad of birdlife.
NB: Remember, the Whakamaru, Ongaroto, Dunham and Atiamuri trails link to offer a longer walk and are also suitable for a family biking excursion.
For more trail information, and ways to support Waikato River Trails endeavours, visit Waikato River Trails