Part 2: Titoki – Houto – Parakao

Northland has a whole lot more to offer than beaches and fishing. Tai Tokerau has some of the best gravel riding in NZ. In between the State Highways on each coast lies an awesome network of gravel ro

Whangarei has a big farming hinterland to the north west. The area isn’t in the tourism brochures, this isn’t a bad thing. It means the road are quiet, often gravel and pretty much perfect for a ride at any time of year. The scenery is pretty top notch too; quiet forests, interesting landscapes and a bit of elevation gain. Full disclosure, this ride is not technically a loop, it’s more of a lollipop. Think an out and back ‘stick’ with tasty loop on the end. If we’re thinking lollipops, the ‘stick’ of this ride isn’t a horrible plastic piece of rubbish, it’s pretty tasty too and well worth riding in both directions.

Park up in Titoki to start (The dairy has a good selection of pies, which might become important to remember later). Roll out direction is north on Mangakahia Road, though after less than a km bear left onto Houto Road. The gravel starts soon after the first climb and meanders along a ridgeline above Houto Forest. Partway along the ridge is Houto, a very distinctive conical hill. Visible from all around the area, this is the remains of an eroded volcano and shares features of the much larger Tangihua Ranges to the south.

Not long after the Houto cone, the road tilts downhill with a fun, albeit quite gradual, descent into the Kirikopuni Valley. The bottom of the valley has a junction, where a right turn switches the surface to tarseal and riders head north up the main river valley. After a short roll through pine forest the road forks, this is the start of the loop section. I would recommend turning right here up Kirikopuni Valley Road, the loop just flows a little better in a counter-clockwise direction.

The next section of road skirts the edge of Houto Forest and crosses a very unexpected steel bridge. The terrain is generally rolling, with nothing too vicious on the climbing front. The road pops out on SH15 at Parakao. Sometimes the shop is open, but I wouldn’t count on it. Take a left then following a short descent another left into Karaka Road. The climb up Karaka isn’t long, but it is a particularly nice section of this loop.

The next junction involves a left turn down Sommerville Road. For those feeling more adventurous, turning right leads to Tangowahine Road and another whole valley of gravel options, including a few quite commiting link ups out to the west, but that’s another story.

Sommerville is an awesome, generally downhill roll to complete the loop back to Kirikopuni Valley Road. Carry on downhill and then backtrack along Houto Road to finish the ‘lollipop’.

Vital statistics

About 65km
>90% gravel, and all pretty smooth gravel at that
The loop portion is often used in the Parakao Hillbilly Roubaix
Combo this up with the Northland bridge to nowhere / Marlborough Rd loop for a Northland gravel weekend

Directions/route guide (distances are approximate)

0 Mangakahia Rd (SH15), northwest from Titoki shops

0.7 L into Houto Rd

14.9 R into Kirikopuni Valley Rd

note: Kirikopuni Valley Rd becomes Kirikopuni Rd

29.6 L onto SH15  

30.1 L onto Karaka Rd

37.7 L onto Sommerville Rd

45.0 veer R onto Kirkopuni Valley Rd

50.1 L onto Houto Rd

65.0 R onto Mangakahi Rd (SH15)

65.7 Titoki shops, Finish

More good stories here...
June 17, 2020
Ben Hamilton
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