So you’re in Hamilton or Auckland and you fancy getting out into the forest or onto the trail to explore something… interesting. We’ve done the hard work for you, and selected five walks or bike tracks within a 90-minute drive of Hamilton or Auckland – and sometimes even closer. And yes, these are all local Thames walks.

We’ve picked some tracks you’ve likely never heard of, some that are close to cafes and shops so you can make the most of your day trip with a caffeine fix or a spot of retail therapy before or after you head on to the trail.

Let’s start with a track that can be biked, or walked – Karaka Track, accessible from downtown Thames.

Head towards the Hospital, around the corner onto Karaka Rd and then up the road a few hundred metres to see the DOC car park and entrance. This area was mined extensively in the 1870s and the track follows an old packhorse track with beautiful views overlooking Karaka stream, passing several old goldmines before joining with Waiotahi Track, or continuing onto Crosbies Hut.

That allows you to scope out future day trips, or overnight adventures.

You can mountain bike (or walk)  approximately 4.5 kms up Karaka Track to the stunning Red Cliffs – and yes, they are… orange. The rocks are tinged orange by lichen. Amazing views can be had looking up the Kauaeranga Valley towards Table Mountain and The Pinnacles. If that view of the Pinnacles excites you, bookmark it for a return adventure when you’re keen to do a 6-7 hour return hike, or an overnight adventure.

The mountain bike trail ceases after Red Cliffs, but another 10 minutes walk gets you to a junction with the Waiotahi Track where you can continue inland to Crosbies Hut, or loop back back down the Waiotahi Track and into Thames.

To do the Waiotahi Track to Karaka Track loop, park your car at the Karaka trailhead and walk through Thames, up Waiotahi Road to the start of Waiotahi Track. This is an easier incline on a better track, before returning down the more rugged Karaka Track. Not far from the start/end – depending on which way you go –  just off the track, there is a refreshing swimming hole to wash the sweat away.

Keep an eye out for remnants of gold mines, but don’t go bush whacking – the area off trail can be dangerous due to the holes that remain.

Gold mines of the area included Una Hill Mine, Bank of England Mine, Halcyon Mine, Arrindell Mine. Official figures for production of the Thames Mines recorded a yield of 2,327,619oz bullion with the value at $845 million. And yes, during the gold rush years, the population of Thames was higher than that of Auckland.

Fancy something flatter?

The Hauraki Rail Trail is mostly flat from Thames to Paeroa, and is suitable for walking, or cycling.

Park up in Shortland Wharf in Thames and head south down by foot or cycle. You’ll go past the many great sculptures to Kōpū where you rest in the new shelter and check the historic Kōpū Bridge.

Crossing under the highway, you’ll next head down to Matatoki and the Cheese Factory and Cafe, an easy four kilometers away. You’ll be walking or riding through the plains, with views of the hills to your left, and the plains to your right.

Chill out at the Cafe before deciding whether to turn around and head back to Kōpū – an eight kilometre round trip, perfect for walkers – or whether to explore further on to Paeroa. The next bridge is a suitable place to stop and swim. Go over the bridge, and walk down and around on the far side to enter the river.

Or you can drive to the Cheese Factory, and make that the starting and ending point, exploring north to head into Thames, or south to head towards Paeroa. The scenery is stunning in either direction, and if the weather is warm, watch out for the river swimming spots.

From the northern end the trail at Shortland Wharf, Thames, continue onto the Thames Coastal Walkway by riding through the boatyard and onto the shared pathway into the CBD and Grahamstown.

If you fancy getting into the forest – consider the Cookson Kauri Walk in the Kauaeranga Valley.

Turn into the Kaeauranga Valley at the BP near the entrance to Thames and drive 15 minutes along Kauaeranga Valley Rd to the Kauaeranga Visitor Centre, then another 15 minutes to the Wainora campsite.

From the Wainora Campsite, embark on a captivating journey along the Cookson Kauri Walk to the majestic Cookson Kauri tree, which is nestled within the scenic Coromandel Forest Park. The adventure unfolds along a well-graded metalled track, with multiple bridges and serene views of the picturesque Wainora River.

Along the way take in sweeping vistas of Table Mountain (Te Kōhatu-whakairi-a-Ngātoroirangi).  At the pinnacle of the spur, you’ll be greeted by the awe-inspiring Cookson Kauri, which boasts an impressive girth of 8.83 metres and stands as one of the largest surviving kauri trees in the Coromandel.

Along the trail, remnants of massive kauri stumps serve as poignant reminders of the extensive kauri logging in this area from the 1870s to the 1930s.

Nearby remnants of Bert and Edie’s Collins bush camps and supplies store, established during the 1920s for kauri loggers, have nearly all become one with the land. The Wainora Homestead once flourished with orchards, vegetable gardens, and rambling roses. Some of these roses and endure, offering a tangible link to the site’s rich history.

How about something more urban?

The flat, well-developed path of the Thames Coastal Walkway runs along the foreshore of Thames from Shortland Wharf to Kuranui Bay, taking in wharves, railway stations and many historic sites.

And yes, even the back of a supermarket – time it right and you’ll have the most amazing sunset.

There is plenty of scope to cut into town at numerous points to either stop for food and drink, take in the sights, take the dog for a walk, or make a loop by taking a shortcut back to your starting point.

Or, park in the middle at Victoria Park and take in one section at a time. Whichever way you go – whether you’re walking, cycling, rollerblading, riding a mobility scooter or a skateboard – please share this increasingly busy path with all users. Dogs must be on a lead.

You can start at Shortland Wharf – head through the boatyard and follow the path along the stopbank, past mangroves to Danby Field and then behind Goldfields Shopping Centre.

Victoria Park begins here, where you’ll pass the Karaka Bird Hide, Thames Small Gauge Railway and the old Grahamstown Railway Station. Opposite the railway station is the Thames School of Mines – run by Heritage New Zealand and open to the public – where the miners went to learn about rocks. To learn more about the history of Thames and its gold-mining heritage, divert up Cochrane St to Thames Museum and further on to the Bella St Pumphouse, which still houses some of the giant machinery used to pump water out of the deep mine shafts.

Back in Victoria Park, continue north past the Croquet Club and The Band Rotunda and then turn left to follow the Coastal Pathway into the off-leash dog park and around towards Moanataiari.

At the foot of Burke St are the old pilings from the Burke St Wharf, a failed project which saw the town on the brink of bankruptcy. Continue along the path on top of the stopbank to Kuranui Bay Reserve where there is a sheltered BBQ, toilets and parking. This is another spectacular place to watch the sunset – possibly one of the best spots in town.

The path of the current Coastal Walkway is mostly built on reclaimed land, created from gold mining tailings. Traditionally the foreshore area was Māori customary fishing grounds, whose borders extended into the foreshore from their land blocks.

Our final suggestion for a spectacular walk has to be The Pinnacles – yes, it’s a commitment, whether you do it in a day, or stay overnight. But the views are sensational.

The Pinnacles Walk is an intermediate route with expansive views of the Kauaeranga Valley, across to the East Coast and down to the Bay of Plenty. It is one of the most popular and accessible New Zealand tramps. The trail can be done as a day walk, but it’s worth staying overnight in the hut or at Dancing Dam Camp for the good times, epic views, sunsets and sunrises.

Enjoy a glimpse into the region’s history as you hike past remnants of the 1870s-1920s logging of the Kauaeranga Valley. These were used by kauri bushmen and their packhorses to travel to logging sites in the upper Kauaeranga Valley. You’ll also hike through regenerating native forest and across swing bridges up to Web Creek.

Take in the views of Billygoat Falls along the way – in the 1920s, a rail incline was built around the falls and a steam hauler was used to lower the logs down to Billygoat Landing. The logs were then hauled across the main river and loaded onto the Kauaeranga Tramline to be taken back to Thames.

Once you reach the Hydro Camp junction, you climb to a ridge with great views of Table Mountain, the rugged volcanic plugs of Tauranikau and the Pinnacles that formed millions of years ago.

A highlight of the trek is the impressive 80 bed Pinnacles Hut, the largest Department of Conservation (DOC) hut in the country.

It offers a haven for those choosing to extend their adventure overnight. It is essential to book Pinnacles Hut as this walk is a popular destination, especially on weekends.

At the hut, look for the remains of the Dancing Camp Dam just 5 minutes down a track near the hut. This stringer flume dam, built in 1921, was the second largest dam in the valley and was partly restored in 1994. This is the only complete kauri dam remaining in New Zealand.

From the hut, there is a steady climb for another 45 minutes to the summit of the Pinnacles (759 m). It is steep in places along a well-constructed, stepped path, to a last scramble up ladders and steps – which can be hair-raising. But once atop you are greeted with spectacular near 360 degree views of the vast bush and mountains of Kauaeranga Valley up to Northern Coromandel on one side and the beaches of Tairua, Pauanui and The Bay of Plenty on the other.

Plus you’ll have an incredible sense of accomplishment – you made it!

There you have it – five most excellent walks or bike trails only 90 minutes or so from Hamilton and Auckland. Enjoy your exploring!