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March 2013

Can't see the Aussies for the trees


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.


Riding the timber trail

Head200313One the best things that has happened to mountain biking in New Zealand of late is the Cycle Trail project. What started as a mad idea to build a bike trail from North Cape to Bluff has become the way forward for many dreams to become reality.

The Timber Trail in Pureora Forest on the western side of Lake Taupo is a good example.

Having been on a few jungle missions in there over the last 25 years I can tell you it is a huge forest with some extreme terrain, rivers, and wild vegetation. Centuries of occupation and the last 100 years of forestry have crisscrossed the region with trails, old tramlines and logging haul roads, but the idea of connecting them up in a north to south trail was just that - an idea - until the Cycle Trail project kicked its support in. Hoz Barclay, the main visionary behind this trail, took a few hundred jungle missions to come up with the route, and his trail building input has made it great to ride.

On March 30 the trail will be officially opened, but it is complete now and many people are out there enjoying it. I went on a solo trip last weekend to see what the first bit is like, and can report it is spectacular. The nice little parking area at Pureora forest HQ off State Highway 30 was bustling with activity: two separate busloads of bike riders were fettling their gear, and various other people were readying themselves for a day out. It is an easy trail to follow, well sign-posted and brilliantly built. It is a track that anybody can ride, and yet it twists and turns enough to be entertaining. A gentle but consistent grade through ancient totara forest gets a rider up to a cloud forest on the flanks of Mt Pureora where everything is covered in moss. A flowing descent brings the trail back down over a fantastic 6 or 7 kilometres. At the 22km mark there is a bridge. A giant bridge. One that made me blurt out a short but expressive word with only the tuis to hear. It is one of over 35 bridges along the trail, including 7 other huge suspension bridges. It is worth the trip for the bridge alone! I returned the way I had come, but others I met were going to various points along the trail to lodgings or transport. One gang, which included brothers Jack and Stephen Swart - two giants of New Zealand road cycling - were headed right through to the end, 85kms away.

The people I met ranged from fast trail riders from back home in Rotorua, through fully loaded cycle-tourists, to a group who could only be called elderly. I saw a bunch of women,  several mixed groups, and a posse of guys who looked like they were racing.

The Timber Trail is open, it is great, and provides strong evidence that cycling is becoming a mainstream sport, just in time for all the great places that have been developed to go and do it.


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