In between the State Highways on each coast lies an awesome network of gravel roads and even a few seldom ridden, hidden trails. With a bit of planning, there are a few cracker loops that take in some of the best sights in the North.
Starting a gravel ride on State Highway 1 doesn’t really sound right. But in this part of the world, traffic isn’t exactly bumper to bumper. The first, flat 10km of SH1 heading south out of Kaitaia are a very pleasant warm up. Once off the highway the road get even quieter as it meanders through the green farmland of the Takahue Valley. On reaching the tiny village of Takahue, the road turns south and faces straight on to the Mangamuka Ranges and the climb ahead up to Takahue Saddle.
The climb is 244m vert according to strava, not a huge height, but still a 20-25 minute effort. The trail is a real mix of surfaces; some smooth gravel, other parts grassy and a few rough rocky sections - all can be cleared on a gravel bike. On the way up the hill there are a few interesting sights on either side of the trail, especially just before entering the bushline. Once at the saddle, the DOC orange trail marker arrows point either way along the ridge. In both directions the trail quickly becomes an unridable tramping track. Going straight over the saddle however, leads into a descent down to Broadwood. This is an old, overgrown road, meaning it is well benched and gently follows the contours down into the valley. The way out is pretty self explanatory – following the obvious trail down with only a few small rises as the track approaches the valley floor. If checking this on the NZ topo map, things don’t seem to connect. In reality, they do, with one main, obvious track running the whole way down. The track draw on the topo map also doesn’t match up at all to where the trail really goes. The trail section opens onto gravel for the last few km’s into the village of Broadwood.
It’s back to tarseal for the next portion of the ride, a westwards roll towards Herekino. Mellow climbs, swooping downs and views across the valley. Not bad for a tarseal sector. Tour of Aotearoa runs along the section, though running in the opposite direction. It might explain any heavily loaded riders seen heading past if taking on the loop in February or March.
The return arm of the ride is along Digger Valley Road, this is 20km of gravel goodness. While a bunch of the pine forest on either side of the road has been recently felled, there is still plenty of tree cover. About 2/3 of the way along there is a DOC sign for the Herekino Forest Track. While this looks like a short cut in terms of km’s ridden, a root infested middle section makes this a definite long cut on the bike (it’s also currently closed due to Kauri Dieback), stick to Digger Valley Road to avoid the bike-tramping.
A left turn on to Ruaroa Road gives a final flat 5km of gravel before rejoining SH1. As a final treat for the legs, a short detour up Clough Road to Church Road avoids the highway and finishes the ride with a last little piece of gravel. All up this makes around 85-90km worth of riding. Most of it is gravel, and chances are you’ll see more cars waiting for a coffee in Kaitaia than you will for most of the ride.
- About 85km
- Takahue Saddle climb and descent really drops the average speed, so allow a little more time than you might usually for the distance.
- Technicality maxes out in the wet at 4/5 for a gravel bike, all very walkable if needed.
- Very limited en route food options (Broadwood only).
0 SH1 south from Kaitaia
10 R into Takahue Road
18 L into Takahue Saddle Road
20.5 R on Takahue Saddle Road
24 Straight ahead over saddle
26.5 Cross ford
31 R into Awaroa Road
49 R into Digger Valley Road
71 L into Ruaroa Road
77 R onto SH1
77.5 L into Clough Road
81 L into Church Road
86.5 Kaitaia, finish