It is 25 years since the forest at Whirinaki was protected, and it is now recognised widely as an environmental jewel. In this spectacular area the department has created a trail that must be one of the best mountain bike experiences in New Zealand. Ngati Whare are the owners of this very special part of New Zealand, and their vision for the next thousand years will see the regeneration of logged areas and the expansion of the extensive podocarp forest. Ngati Whare are keen to share their place and were involved hands on with DoC in building the new trail.
John Sutton from DoC Murupara was surprised by the success of the short mountain bike trail the department built in 2006, and by requests from riders for an overnight opportunity in the forest. A major track was due for refurbishment and realignment as part of their overall strategy for the park so the decision was taken to make it dual use, and the Moerangi Mountain Bike Trail was born.
At 38 kilometres long, the finished trail was a year in the making. The best way to experience it is to start at the Okahu Rd end, and ride through to the finish near Minginui.
The first few kilometres of trail climbs through some fairly damp and jungly terrain, but the track surface soon becomes rocky and well drained. The trail passes three huts, and follows crystal clear streams for much of its length, so summer rides can be water cooled. Some sections are close to the water, others are sketched along the heights of very steep faces overlooking the waterways. The general theme of the trail is one of following the valley until it ends, then climbing up over a ridge, then descending to the next valley bottom. All the way riders are surrounded by the huge trees of this ancient forest. It takes 500 years or more for a forest like Whirinaki to reach maturity, but this one has been standing, much as it is now, for millennia.
After Moerangi hut the trail climbs a couple of hundred metres to Moerangi Saddle, save something to eat while you take in the view of Tarawera on the skyline. Then drop your seat for almost 9kms of downhill, keeping an eye out for walkers, mountain bikers coming the other way, and the occasional corner that offers a serious freefall as a consequence of not quite getting it right.
The trail ends at a carpark near Minginui, and there are things to do around there if you have time. A variety of walks are on offer, a good one goes from where your ride finishes to the Whirinaki Waterfall, a couple of hours return. The original Whirinaki Mountain Bike Trail is not far away and is well worth a look. The DoC people are keen to use new legislation to allow them flexibility in opening more trails to mountain bikes in the future. Although nothing is on the agenda for development right now, it is possible more will come. Some good ways to help this happen would be to stay off trails marked for walkers only, and to let the department know how much you appreciate the trails we can use.