Cycling Te Ara Ahi
Te Ara Ahi - Waiotapu to Lake Ohakuri and return.
We couldn't find much information on this stretch of Te Ara Ahi, so decided we'd better check it out and write it up. Parking at the Waiotapu Tavern, we set off at 11am in mid-summer on the 28km of road ride to the Lake Ohakuri. Straight into a hill, but it was an easy incline, followed soon after by a long steep downhill to Waikite. Holy cow, we'd have to come back up that at the end of the day.
A wee detour down to the thermal area (which has a nice little camping area too). Onwards to the corner of Te Kopia road, hang a left and continue pedalling. An undulating road led us past the Paeroa Thermal Bluffs where we dismounted and wandered a few minutes up to see the free display. Note that the sign was easy to miss, and invisible when coming from the other direction.
Then more pedalling, and still more, until the tarseal turned to unpaved forestry road. After a couple of kms of this, look for the small cycleway sign on the right directing you down a rutted vehicle track to Lake Ohakuri. It's a little gem - pack your togs or make sure you have at least a paddle even if it's winter.
For us, the temperature was a toasty 30 degrees by this stage, an icy cold drink would have been superb. Alas, after a warm cordial and soggy sandwich, we retraced our journey. The road was so hot by now that the tar was melting, so by the time we got to the killer hill 6km from the end we were well over it. Didn't even try to cycle, just got off and trudged.
Finally back at the Waiotapu Tavern, our home for the night, and bliss! an open bar and refreshing shower. The verdict? - do this part of Te Ara Ahi if you're a purist who likes to do things start to finish, otherwise, it's really just quiet rural roads connecting thermal areas together.
Te Ara Ahi - Waiotapu to Waimangu and return.
Having already completed the section from Rotorua to Waimangu, this 12km section was the missing link. We left the Waiotapu Tavern early in the morning, ducked through the tunnel under SH5 and did a quick 2km detour down to the Waiotapu thermal area. If you're not going to pay to go in, just go about 1km down to the free boiling mud pools on the left, they're well worth a look. If you do intend to visit, be there for the 10.15am show when they chuck a bit of soap in the Lady Knox geyser, and there she blows. So, back on the off-road trail, shadowing SH5 at a distance, the track crosses a gravel road. Continuing a short distance onwards, there is a side track down the Te Ranga Trail to Kerosene Creek, which is a must-do detour. If you're a confident rider, take the steep trail down. If you're not, take the gravel road there and back, it's much easier. Kerosene Creek with its hot river, waterfalls and swimming holes is fabulous. Plus it's free!
Once back on the main track, we cycled on, past the Rainbow Mountain summit track turnoff (advanced riders only), did the 1 minute detour to look at the lovely teal coloured crater lake, and then were spat out briefly at the Rainbow Mountain picnic area on SH5. Onwards through some lovely bush to the junction of SH38 and Waimangu Road. Cross over the road and start the short road bash section of the ride. Pass Lake Okaro, then up the hill, enjoy some sweeping views, and on to the Waimangu thermal area, the newest of the region's hot spots. After a very welcome drink at the cafe, we retraced our route. It seemed a lot easier heading back, and the trail signs were definitely better - this is no doubt the best direction to ride if you're intending to cycle one way and be shuttled the other. Also there's good facilities at the Benny Bee honey place next to the Waiotapu Tavern if the pub's closed.
Interactive map of route