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Papamoa’s backyard trails

Limited to backyard jaunts these days, Jo Ferris takes the message literally and bikes home turf around Papamoa

2020 will go down as one of those awkward moments in time — a quantum global shift, to put it mildly. Covid became a new word on everyone's lips. Fear became apparent as the unknown became menacing. Overseas holidays were wiped off the calendar. Depending on your politics, the red invasion of parliamentary seats set a new precedent, while sanitisers and designer face masks became the new normal and are probably making fortunes for entrepreneurs.

Long-haul planes were banished to overseas' deserts; cruise ships loll in scrap yards and Kiwis are happily splashing millions on beachfront property, European cars and luxury boats. Unable to head to exotic places and turn readers green over their exploits, big-name travel writers have instead reverted to discovering high-end spots throughout Aotearoa.

2020 has sparked a barrage of tips on backyard forays to bolster domestic tourism. The latest TV singalong by a couple of Kiwi comedians took them on a two-week junket to places they themselves wanted to see. Heaven forbid — even Paeroa and the giant L&P bottle! Trust me, it's not that flash.

Backyard travel has actually been a personal endeavour for some years now — the South Island to be precise. Bucket-list stuff. I managed to complete a bike trek on the West Coast days before lockdown. Unfortunately, a planned excursion to the Catlins was ditched — hopefully to be resurrected. The Gold Coast for a bestie's 70th didn't happen and what was to be cruise in a petri dish to Vanuatu is now a permanent no-no.

Apart from two trips to Gizzy to see the kids, the car has remained largely in the garage. Biking is a bit of a thing anyway. Apart from annual trips on one of New Zealand's great trails with friends, my pedal pushing is limited to local paths. I even brought forward my investment in an ebike. The original goal was to mark a milestone birthday next year. Covid changed that. Why waste time, I figured. A brand new, bright red, zippy little number now encourages me to test Papamoa's sometimes brutal head winds and trek further than the normal, windless outings up to 15kms.

A network of nature trails

Like the rest of the country, Tauranga folk are investing in ebikes like never before. Long gone is the 10-dollar Tauranga tag. Upgraded from being New Zealand's capital of retirees and retirement villages, Tauranga, the Mount and Papamoa are bursting at the seams with people — bikes and dogs too, it appears.

While denouncing city planners on their zest to carve up acreage and cram housing on small lots, it must be conceded, they have interwoven a network of nature trails for doggie walkers and cyclists. From wetland reserves to harbour estuaries and mountain-bike parks in the hills, wider Tauranga is well served with trails.

Papamoa's major seam follows a drain of all things. Originally known as the Papamoa Main Drain — mainly because it was, well, a drain really — this meandering stormwater reserve is now officially renamed Te Ara o Wairakei.

Over the past 20-odd years, as housing sprawled eastwards and subdivisions were dubbed with exotic names like Royal Palm Beach, Palm Springs and Golden Sands, the stormwater reserve has developed into a continuous ribbon of lakes and streams as it weaves all the way to the meeting point where the Maketu estuary and Kaituna River merge into the sea. The Wairakei trail has developed accordingly and now weaves around 11km through Papamoa's residential ribbon.

On a busy day, share it with cyclists, dog walkers and joggers. On a rare day, only pukekos and ducks cross the path, the odd signage explaining Papamoa's ecological and cultural values. Bridges, reserves and more than 25 hectares of vegetation all enhance the heritage and philosophy behind this recreational refuge.

The latest link runs off an arterial route eventually destined for more housing. For now, the path weaves through a greenbelt and wetland circle to join a sealed path adjacent to the Eastern Link motorway. The path crosses the bridge over the Kaituna River — guarded each end by carved totems outlining the area's spiritual Maori history — with side exits giving options to bike beside the river and over to Maketu.

For the real hardy, the path leads all the way to the roundabout link that veers down the coast to Pukehina and inland to Paengaroa and on to Rotorua. I have been told it's possible to bike clear to Okere Falls near Lake Rotoiti. So far, I have made it to the motorway's toll cameras, clocking up a round trip of around 25kms. On a Sunday, I figure that's enough sweat to work up a latte — even with the power switched on — but only if there's a head wind.

With the bike now in need of its first service, I discovered the Papamoa shop where I bought it has shifted to the Mount. Bike there? Thirty plus kilometres in heavy traffic, one way? Not likely . . . not even in top power! Which probably means another major purchase — a bike rack for the Rav's tow bar. It could possibly lead to a roadie to Gizzy.

Carved Maori guardians highlight the area's history as cyclists cross the Kaituna River. Pictures by Jo Ferris
The network of trails is a recreational refuge.
Sunday doggie walking in Papamoa's Royal Palm Beach.
Papamoa's Royal Palm Beach even has its own yacht club — of the remote-controlled kind.
Part of a connecting cycle way to Tauranga's Eastern Link, with Papamoa's Regional Park in the hills behind.
Pukekos frequent the waterway that weaves alongside Papamoa's Te Ara o Wairakei nature trail.