In daylight hours, the forest feels like a big playground.
In the dark, it is the same but different.
The long climb to the top of the forest takes me over half an hour, and there is not much to see beyond the beam of the headlight. Nothing much to look at, so thoughts run free. With its springs and streams, and bounded by lakes, Whakarewarewa Forest must have been a good place to live, before the way we live now came along. I wondered how many people have called Whakarewarewa home over the last five or six hundred years, and started thinking about all the things that must have happened in the very woods we ride in. The trees would have been different, for a start, there were no roads, or any boundary to the forest. It was part of a much larger whole that stretched to the sea and the mountains at all points of the compass.
There would have been trails. Did any of them follow the same lines we do today? You can get a hint of the feeling the forest would have had in the small remnants of native jungle, and imagining a posse on a mission, moving through the trees as quietly and efficiently as they must have done, is a worthwhile mental exercise. Try it next time you are in the woods somewhere. Just probably not in the dark, out the back, with nobody else around.
It gets spooky.
When we were kids we liked to listen to the story of the mythical bird woman Kurangaituku pursuing young HatuPatu. That whole story took place right around here.
Picturing a huge feathered woman with a long beak sneaking through the supplejack is best done at midday.
Halfway up the hill the route hugs the edge of a huge new clearcut, and a view of the far end of Rotorua appears, complete with the landing lights of the airport runway.
Back to reality. Another ten minutes or so gets me to the top of the forest, and off down a trail. In the trees it is as dark as the inside of a cow, as somebody once said.
The odd glint of light from the city or the sky makes it into the foliage, but as the trail drops steeply through big old trees it is pitch black below.
Then I see a flash of light, then another. And a weird noise! As I get closer the whole forest below is lit up by searching beams, and a buzzing sound is coming from all directions.
This is getting really strange, it is definitely not other riders! To be fair, it doesn’t look much like a birdwoman either…
It turns out to be Mark from Spadewerx and at least two of his mates. Hard to tell, I passed four but may have seen one guy twice, the trail twists around a lot. Each on a gas-powered leaf blower, moving the pine needles and other detritus off the trail so it dries quicker after rain.
In the dark, with headlamps on.
I was going to say “only in Rotorua”. But maybe elsewhere? If anybody does trail maintenance in the dark around your place, let us know.