I have done Thames-Waihi-Te Aroha (1 nigh/2 days) on 1 occasion, and Paeroa-Karangahake-Te Aroha (2 nights) on another, both times booking via the Rail Trail.Think the trail is a brilliant initiative and have found all the services recommended and booked via the "Rail Trail" outfit to be very helpful and in many ways more than what we expected. However, on 1 occasion (booked, admittedly, in a hurry as it was a last minute decision - booked in the morning for the trip to start that day), the information wasn't really accurate (leaving the vehicle in front of the Tourist Info. Centre in Paeroa is NOT secure parking; the staff in the cafe adjoining who helped us get the bikes out from the closed (it was after 5:00) 'i" office told us where to try - the RV Centre in Coronation Street, who were really helpful), and they didn't get it quite right (we were going to cycle back from Te Aroha to Paeroa on day 3, and they had us booked on the bus out from Te Aroha at 4:00), so check your itinerary they give you carefully!
I found 'Sherpa' incredibly helpful when we used them the first time - very amiable about a mercy dash they made to get us from Waikino to Waihi when we missed the train for example - and I don't really think they are a rip-of as such - there's a lot of mileage involved, and handling of bags and bikes, though I can't speak of the circumstances of the previous reviewer with the children.
I think the bikes that are hired are brilliant for the purpose - I wouldn't want to take my own bike on the trail, and the cycle packs provided are great - but I do wish there was some organised provision for what to do if your tyre goes flat (I didn't check mine as we were in such a rush from Paeroa, and only realised the reason why the first 14 - 21 km was suchslow, hard work was because the rear was very,very, very soft!. Fortuntely, the brilliant Bistro at the Falls Retreat not only gave us a fantastic dinner (can't praise it enough), but the chef lent us his cycle pump, and even offered to drive us back to the Ohinewhai Winery where we were staying, if we wished it.
The winery acccommodation was quirky, just remember despite having a cafe under you it is NOT open in the evening, it's self-catering - and Aroha Mountain Lodge is brilliant = also self-catering, but a really brilliant kitchen. FULL of character. Again, the advice given to my husband about dining opportunities in the Gorge was inaccurate - "Oh, there's loads of places to eat" - I happened to know there AREN'T loads of places there for dinner, so had booked the Bistro, so be prepared to cycle there and back in the dark (unless high summer) if staying in Waikino/Karangahake. The tunnel lights seem to go out at 10 (not that that's a problem as you wouldn't cycle without a light, anyway).
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