At any moment, if you could track down all the mountain bikers in Whakarewarewa Forest and count them (impossible: read on), a fair percentage would be Australians, lured here by flowing ribbons of dirt through verdant foliage, in a land where injuries are covered by ACC and everything is basically free. Well given that Australians earn twice as much as kiwis, and their dollar is worth a camelbak-full of kiwi pesos, it might as well be.
Yesterday the latest batch staggered off the direct Sydney to Rotorua flight and headed straight into the woods. My friend Mick from Flow is part of the group, and as I knew where they were staying, had their itinerary, and no further clues, I tried just turning up to say hello.
They were not at the hotel, so I decided to look for them in the forest. The obvious place would be the shuttle pick up, Tuesday nights (like most nights) are shuttle night. A merry half hour of singletrack later, I was there. Nobody at all! A quick check revealed I was too early for shuttles. OK. Do a lap of Old Chevy, an entertaining squiggle that gets a rider to the point at which the bus enters the woods. Here is the bus, there are the shuttlers, no Aussies. Correction, there were a small pile of them, but not the ones I was looking for.
Ride back up the road to the pickup spot. Nobody at all. Watch the bus rattle past, full of giggling shuttlers. Decide to do a half a lap of the hill, and check the bus stop again. Grovel up for 20 minutes, clatter back down via some trails I can’t mention because they don’t exist. Meet friends, but not the ones I am looking for. Take a shuttle to the top. Do a stellar run down, now ‘in the moment’, more or less give up on the whole meeting up idea.
And there they are! They have arrived at the shuttle stop, so we team up with Budgie, another local, and clamber on board the bus.
By the time we have had our run, which seemed to impress the new arrivals, darkness was close so we decided to head out. I lead the gang on a short cut back to town, and couldn’t help taking them down a singletrack section that is open to the sky and sort of visible in the gloom. All went well, until we regrouped where the trail enters the trees. From there is less than 200 metres to a drop out point, but only half us dropped out, the rest vanished. Now it was actually pretty damn dark. And six Australians were missing. As I was the only one with any idea of where we were, I did a complete circuit of the patch we had lost our colleagues in. Nobody at all.
After a longish time whistling, flashing lights, and hooting into the trees we gave up, and headed out. The missing group were at the hotel, having blundered past a few minutes before I went on my circuit mission.
Dinner ensued, no search and rescue required.