The Rail Trail - Lake Ellesmere

What do retired gardeners do on their days off? Explore their local area, of course, by walking, hiking - and bicycling. My first serious bike journey took me (and a friend) on a newly constructed rail trail, from Motukarara to Little River.

Gourmet Treats

Gardeners understand the system of food treats for sessions of hard work, so I packed a selection of drinks and a large gourmet lunchbox. I dressed smartly in quasi-hiking mode, with my light cotton bandana draped loosely around my neck, ready to wipe a sweaty brow.

 Lake Ellesmere is on the right.
The End (or the Start) of the Causeway

The Little River rail trail starts at the small farming settlement of Motukarara, and makes its way along an old railway embankment through farmlands and wetlands. Ones tough-tyred bicycle flies over a never-ending causeway past Lake Ellesmere, before turning to wiggle alongside Lake Forsyth to Little River.

Flies and Birds

Did I say 'flies'? On a bicycle? Hmm... There's a good reason for that! Clouds of swirling lake flies covered the trail by the lake. We were biking through insect rain. My bandana became a face mask. I looked down at a thousand black flies, all taking a breather on my arms, legs and body. These are common New Zealand midges - they're benign nuisances, and certainly limit conversation! And hurray for my spectacles!

 The Echiums (Pride of Madeira) grow like weeds on the peninsula rocks.
The Quarry

Lake Ellesmere is the fifth largest lake in New Zealand, and it's full of birdlife. White and blue herons seemed to race us as we pedaled along. We saw many Canada Geese, not so welcome. The lake is home to rare migratory birds - the crested grebe, for example. Regretfully, when one is pedaling furiously covered in black midges spotting a crested grebe is not ones top priority!

More Gourmet Treats

Past the silvery lake we stopped at an old quarry (Kaituna), its rock faces covered with Echiums. Second morning tea stop - very nice! Then we changed direction and cycled along the side of Lake Forsyth, which had its very own midge clouds. Our third morning tea stop was at Catons Bay, after which we took to the main road (rather slowly) to reach Little River. this is a bright little settlement with craft shops, an art gallery, and a cafe. Lunch! Spinach and feta pie, lemon slice, and a latte - lovely!

 At Catons Bay, a popular picnic spot.
Lake Forsyth and the Moosey Bicycle

Then it was back to the silvery haze of Lake Ellesmere, safely over thirteen bridges - tired, wobbly old legs make life interesting - and past a row of old apple trees (grown from apple cores thrown out the train window, I suspect). The never-ending causeway did end after all, and we arrived back in Motukarara at least two kilos heavier, thanks to all that gourmet food! What a brilliant journey!


The Motukarara to Little River Rail Trail is 22 km long (one way) and flat. Dogs are forbidden, and the lake water is not drinkable. Official pamphlets talk of the scenery - the lakes, the grassy volcanic cones of Banks Peninsula - but there is no mention of the midges. Wear spectacles and something to mask your nose and mouth - just in case.