Fab Rotorua Weekend

With the ever-kindness of friends, it was an easy decision to extend a hectic one-day conference trip to Rotorua to include staying at Lake Tarawera, catching up with friends and a little mountain-biking.

An interesting day stuck inside over, I had a bit of time before meeting Roger at a self-billed craft beer pub in Eat Streat. My step count (this corporate challenge thing is good motivation for ensuring a moderate level of daily activity) having suffered from sitting in a conference room all day, this spare time was easily accounted for with a stroll down to, and around a little of, the shore of Lake Rotorua.

Bike tree!

Absolutely years since I’d been to the living Maori village of Ohinemutu, it was a pleasant stroll in the fading light amongst the buildings and geothermal steam.

I retraced my steps through the village and continued around the lake for a while, finding more paths that I can’t remember the last time I walked – probably as a child, having lived forty minutes’ drive away.

Walking back past the museum, I found Roger quite at home at Brew – he’d only been living in Rotorua a matter of weeks. With tasty beer to add to the occasion, it was great catching up once again – a lot of talk about bikes, naturally. Planning the following day’s ride was also high on the agenda.

A stunningly clear evening led to a frosty start as we met Luke (another ex-Pukekohe biking buddy) for an early ride in the forest. I’ve ridden with Luke a bit over the last few years here, but Roger & I could marvel at how great it was to be out for a Rotorua sortie. I’ve since checked, it was over eight years between such rides – well too long! Even with all the riding I’ve done in the forest over twenty-plus years, I’m still being shown new trails. It seems the locals can build fantastic trails faster than I can ride them.

Luke took us off-piste to ride a recently developed/developing trail in a part of the forest I rarely go – and so close to the old parking lot. The first half was mostly rideable for me down the side of a loamy forested slope; but then it got steeper with a narrow ribbon of a rut cut in the dirt – I lost my footing once trying to walk down it. Such fun but.

Follow that ribbon.

Surely I’m somewhere further up the hill treating the roots a bit more circumspectly.

Back out in the open, it was fresh on the skin and crunchy under tyre.

Tumeke was another trail new to me, graded at about my limit it was great fun and rideable for me until the very bottom. His home calling, Luke left us to head further out. With another trail I barely remembered completed, Roger & I opted for the shuttle to enable us to head to the extremity of the forest in a timely manner.

From the drop-off point we charged up (well, it was charging for me) to Tuhoto Ariki – a wonderful piece of rooty singletrack through native forest. Beautiful riding, we had an absolute blast constantly marveling at the trail and its sublime mid-winter condition. My riding diary tells me I last rode this in 2007, when it was quite new – I remember it being muddy and rather hard work. Perhaps I’m a little fitter now, but it surpassed all my expectations – twenty minutes of challenging singletrack bliss.

Further out is Kung Fu Walrus – we tootled out there, I remembered it fondly from May. This time I was hoping that the last hundred metres wasn’t closed for logging – poor trail closure signage (i.e. none) that time necessitating a big push back up the hill.

There may be a lookout over Green Lake just before the trail. I also may have been having a sufficiently good time.

Another fun trail, there is plenty to keep me on my toes – and a few things I can’t quite ride every time. Which is great to keep me coming back to master them. Heading back to the van, there was yet another new trail for me: the much more mellow, but still enjoyable, Taura. Nearing the end of the ride, for old time’s sake, I nipped off for a quick blast around the Dipper (my earliest memories of MTBing are on this trail). Somehow in the few minutes I left him, Roger had managed to talk himself into a job of doing a pre-race sweep (checking signs, tape etc.) of a fifty kilometre course early the next morning. I say “job”, but something so pleasurable can’t really be called so.

I had planned to leave Rotorua that afternoon to return home for the final in the local cyclocross series which I’d been riding in (and much to my surprise, winning the B-grade on my MTB). But all this time with old friends and actually riding trails rather than muddy, grassy laps of a vineyard had me questioning my decision. I popped back to the lake for lunch before heading out again to catch up further with Luke and his family. I eventually ditched my cyclocross plan for riding proper trails, thus staying another night.

It didn’t seem so cold out at the lake early Sunday morning, but as I drove into Rotorua the cloud descended and the mercury dropped. Roger and I met for another frosty ride, hitting the 50 km course about quarter to eight. Snaking around some of the inner trails for quite a while, it was good fun in the trees before heading out into the open. Exposed to the cold, the surface was hard and we found ourselves sliding around a few corners.

1ÂșC is still shorts weather.

Rolling along the Creek trail we found a little bit of barrier tape to reinstate, but that was about it – mostly we just rode bikes and had fun in the excellent dry conditions. About fifteen kilometres in Roger realised he didn’t have the energy after the previous day’s ride and a few weeks of illness. Not to worry, I was happy to ride on, up the only big hills on the course and discover some more new-to-me trails. I thoroughly enjoyed heading out the back of the forest again. Realising I might be caught by some fast racers (they started ninety-odd minutes after us), I barely stopped.

Returning to the western side of the forest, the long-course confusingly rejoined parts I’d already ridden – and plenty of riders just heading out. From here there wasn’t much point in carrying on riding the course as the short-course racers were already there. I zipped down the old exit trail to finish my ride – it was good fun putting in a good three hours of riding with little stopping, and getting a few PBs.

Roger’s bike was waiting with Marlena.

Somehow I ended up with another bike to take home with me – Roger lending me a steel singlespeed to have little bit of a go on before the Worlds in November. Saying goodbye amidst promises to not leave it so long between Rotorua rides, I popped back out to the lake to clean up and pack. What a great weekend with old friends and bikes. Special thanks to Terry and Bronwyn for having me to stay, yet again. I was safely back in Napier before it even got dark – that makes the drive so much easier.

Mt Erin

An unexpected invite came from Brent to ride up Mt Erin with a group. So after a good morning MTB ride in the Waipunga Block, a quick lunch and picking up Brent – we were meeting at the foot of the hill. Southwest of Te Mata Peak, where I ride often, Mt Erin is a little taller and on private land – so not usually accessible, except in the notorious long-running, and long running, Triple Peaks event.

There are no trails as such, but a lot of stock tracks, pasture and a gravel access road to the transmitter tower at the summit. Eleven of us met just off the public road and after a bit of organisation set off up the hill. From the cars, I pulled away and looked upward – the summit was not visible. Across a paddock, climbing steeply – it was just rideable with a lot ofeffort and fair amount of line picking. I resolved to buy a smaller, 32 tooth, chainring. We joined the access road and the surface became more manageable than stock trodden ground.

What had been a pearler of a day, clouded over and became rather overcast – but never so much as threatening to rain. We climbed steadily, averaging close to a ten percent gradient – not the easiest on the assorted surfaces. From a distance, Mt Erin looks to have a satin smoothness about it compared to the jagged ridge line of Te Mata Peak. However when you’re on the hill, this is definitely not the case – large, exposed valleys and gullies had me wondering how we would get to the summit without repeatedly losing altitude.

Looking south, the hill has a few cabbage trees dotted on the exposed slopes.

Pausing for a breather across one of the valleys seemingly cut in the hill.

Great clefts cut in the landscape.

Still, we climbed; stopping to open and close various gates was ample opportunity to regroup.

Lovely folds to appreciate in the landscape. Looking out towards Napier in the weakening light.

Making a sheep-line out of the valley as our approach was noted.

Most of us took a slight detour from the access road to ride fast grass ridge lines, flying over the pasture, before pausing to consider how to get down to the valley floor.

Down that slope, deep into that gully.

Yip, down there.

It was steep, slightly slippery under tyre and with plenty of contour changes to keep one on the ball. Just when you though you had things under control, hard nubs would appear and send one back to the very edge of composure.

Quite bumpy in the middle.

But the fun descent was handled by all and we were left to climb back to the gravel – which required a fine line and some power just before the road.

As we neared the apex of our planned route, I hurried off to the summit – I couldn’t go up there for the first time and not go to the peak. What is it there for, after all?

Te Mata Peak looking a little shorter, and quite different from this perspective, at the left of shot.

Looking south up the Tukituki River.

From the summit it was all downhill; well, except from the traversing and small bits of climbing. This was all done off the road. So much fun blasting down the hillside, just back from the edge of losing it. One had to be careful with all the flat spots worn into the ground by animals walking back and forth. Sometimes things would get a little loose and you’d be sure you could not ride it, or surf it – just wresting back control in time.

With plenty of this fun over, we were at the bottom of one of the valleys, that was suddenly covered in bush. Staying out of the deep stream course, we followed many animal tracks down the ravine; over roots, around rocks, avoiding dung and the onga onga (stinging nettle-esque shrubbery). Mostly rideable and all enjoyable. After almost a mile we emerged suddenly onto the grass again for more fast descending, a final little climb and a steep hill down to the cars. And beer.

What a great little Sunday afternoon outing. Not so little as far as the climbing went and the steep riding, but short in time. So much fun to see the surrounding countryside from a different perspective while having acres of enjoyment on bikes. I hope I get invited back soon.

Waipataki Overnighter

Over my two summers so far living in Napier, I’d not quite made it to Waipataki Beach and its camping ground. Recently bought by the local councils to ensure that it was kept open for locals, I decided it must be worth a visit. The original plan was to load up my bike and ride that bike to work one Friday morning and then after work ride to Waipataki – I figured this would be easily achievable before dark in the summer. However, that never quite worked out and the Friday after work plan was discarded when daylight savings ended.

With a brilliant autumn weekend forecast, I readied myself and shortly after lunch on Saturday set off on a little adventure to explore somewhere new. In actuality not much of the route was new – I avoided the highway as much as possible and took the long route up Waipunga Rd. Waipunga Rd being a favourite route of mine when I was trying to get at least a little ready for Tour Aotearoa.

Leaving the Hill behind, over Westshore Bridge I followed my commute route for ten or so kilometres.

What’s this? Offshore power boat racing. That’s different. Not to mention loud, fast and repetitive.

I was heading for the coast in the far distance, just right of centre in this shot.

The crossing of the Esk is at the start of Waipunga Rd, before the hills start. It’s looking a bit lower than a couple of weeks previous, when we had 200 mm of rain in less than forty-eight hours at work (process water at work is taken from the Esk).

In the mid-afternoon sun (warming enough to only need arm warmers in addition to shirt), the climbing began – as did the views of rolling green hills and distant ranges.

The largest part of the climb ascends this ridge from right to left, steadily gaining about three hundred metres. It’s very nice.

I really enjoyed the gradual climb – stopping often to snap photos to share.

On top of the ridge, the road surface changes to gravel while the climbing slackens off markedly. With no traffic, the warming sun and the changing views it was blissful.

Eventually, the road starts to roll up and down a bit more – gradually climbing overall.

I paused at the end of Waipunga Rd to look north – this was as far north as my route would go, and also the highest altitude. I had five hundred metres to lose in the twenty kilometres to the coast.

I turned right onto Kaiwaka Rd – more lush gravel! I headed for the highway to cross it.

The sun sunk further, setting nicely on this rather out of place patch of toetoe.

More hills – thankfully I didn’t have to ride them all.

I kept a watchful eye on my shadow as I lost altitude quickly.

It seems one can’t really escape work – the pulpmill steaming away on the right; Napier easily visible stretching left across the water, the hills south of Havelock North in the distance.

I said my goodbyes to cell coverage with one big downhill, a few hairpins and cool rushing air as I blasted down to Waipataki and the sea.

That was a great little ride (three hours, a shade under sixty kilometres) in the hills to get to a new spot. Checking in and setting up my little tent, it was time for a wander down to the beach in the last of the light.

First I had to work out how to cross the stream.

Big stepping stones helped, I didn’t fall in; just.

I gazed off over the Pacific (which I can easily do a few hundred metres from home admittedly, but it’s different when there’s no one else around, no houses, no city…) and wondered what might be over there – more new places to explore one day, no doubt.

Darkness overtaking the campground, I cooked my modest dinner, and gratefully accepted three large lamb chops from a couple that had brought too much food; funny, I never have that problem. I found a book and settled down in the warm of the lounge to read for a while before retiring to my tent. Thinking over the afternoon I fell into an excellent night’s sleep.

Up before dawn, I strolled down to the beach in the cool of the morning, found a better place to cross the stream and waited for the sun to rise.

Having cooked and eaten my porridge, I waited a little for the first of the sun’s rays to rise over the cliffs and dry my tent some. I was happy to do so as I still had a book to read.

It quickly became apparent that it was to be another stunning autumn day.

All packed up and ready to ride, I resolved that I must plan a two-night stay sometime so as to explore the many walks and some biking possibilities.

Pedaling up the driveway, the day’s only sizable hill rose in front of me.

It was easily conquered and I was soon on the highway and on the short route home.

The highway gets rather close to the coast and the puffing pulpmill comes back into view.

And just like that I was nearly home, back on my commute route.

A fantastic little ride from home with plenty of wonderful distractions and more discoveries for me.

Glenfalls to not-Patoka

The hunters returned to camp about the time I was drifting off to sleep. I vaguely remember that and hearing the chatter as dinner was cooked and eaten. But sleep I certainly did after a wonderful day’s riding and an evening with good food, beer and company. A leisurely start to the day, with plenty of chat, we decamped and set off on a grey morning – Ross joined us for the second day. We were attempting to get through to Patoka on more paper roads. But first we had a gentle climb to the highway, and then a long haul up a hill on the highway (ten percent gradient for two and a half kilometres).

Definitely getting closer to the clouds as we reached the summit of the road. This looks north, we turned south onto a paper road and kept climbing.

This view would normally look out over the Pacific in the distance. Not today. We turned onto the next paper road near that small solar panel on a pole.

Junctions and paper roads were not immediately clear as the clouds rolled in.

We stood around and pondered for a while as to which way to go. I apparently took to riding wearing only one glove a fair bit.

We cut across a paddock/field which got progressively steeper. It was tough going. No formed path meant the surface was rather bumpy, the mist making it slippery. I had to get off and walk at one point – losing traction. I really should replace my rear tyre; having done Tour Aotearoa last year and riding since, it is pretty much a 2.2″ slick. But the heavy hub helps keep it stuck to most surfaces. We got back on a farm track, probably the paper road we should have been on through the trees that we bypassed, and climbed through a small cutting.

We were getting into the clouds further and further. Route finding became challenging, but it was decided our path continued to climb (not the track you can just see in the picture, we went up further into the clouds).

On a poorly formed track through more rutted, holed farm track we ascended. It was just rideable. We were heading to the top of Te Waka-o-Ngarangikataka Ridge, which we would follow south west to a transmitter.

Eventually the path became less apparent and we made our best guess as to how to follow the ridge, without falling over it to certain peril. All of us were walking as the cloud enveloped us completely and the wet, slick grass was too steep to ride. Thankfully it didn’t start raining or get cold. There was much discussion as to where the route might be at times; we continued at a reasonable, albeit slow, pace.

Just as well it was worth it all for the views.

We saw hints of the ridge and the bluffs.

Here we pass our first fallen tree….

Still we climbed through the murk; this road is definitely only on paper.

Nearing the summit, we worked out where the paper road went and followed it. Big mistake. We then spent an hour to get a further kilometre down the road, climbing and hauling our bikes over the largest amount of deadfall I’ve ever negotiated. Most of the trees came down in the big snowfall last August. I picked up Mark’s sunnies; I struggled to lift my bike over tree trunks and through branches. I found spiked, flat pedals are really great for getting stuck on trees when you try to lift your bike over.

Stinging ongaonga (a native tree nettle that has been known to kill stock, and a least one human – that was in 1961) was ever present, as was the risk of falling down a steep bank. Fallen tree after infuriating fallen tree was negotiated. Occasionally I got a helping hand as we finally gave up on the road and bush bashed, no easy task in itself, straight up the hill.

Shaun finds the route.

Ignoring the peril, I’m still managing to lift my bike here.

Finally emerging from the trees onto grass and then pasture, we pushed up to the steep sheep track to the summit. We got to the top two and a half hours after leaving the highway, a grand total of six kilometres travelled, and almost three hundred metres gained. The kilometre through the trees taking nigh on an hour.

That’s a lot closer than it was!

The transmitter tower, looking rather spooky in all that cloud.

Short photos stop done, a bit of time on phones working out where to go next and so on, we took off down the service road – it got a bit loose at times. We got to a bit of a clearing, the view opened up some as we were below the clouds. It seemed like a good time to turn off the service road and strike off over a field on another paper road – before we lost too much altitude. The ridge riding was pleasant as we were high above some gullies.

Our only mechanical of the trip – not entirely helpful, but it was quickly repaired!

Out of the clouds. Just.

The descent briefly got very steep on rough pasture before rejoining a farm track that took us into a pine forest – which seemed to have far more roads than we knew what to do with. Still we lost altitude rapidly and it was great fun to be moving a bit faster than we had been most of the day.

Shaun realised we had taken a wrong turn somewhere in the forest and were one ridge over from where we should have been. There was some discussion over whether we should carry on down and cross to the correct valley later, or ride back up the hill. We elected to keep going.

Which meant we had to push up that hill in the centre of the picture, just to the right of the pines. That was after avoiding a large bull that had quite a stare on it.

I pottered over a stream on the farm before making it not very far up the hill – there was a lot of pushing to the top of that ridge.

But that ridge crossed, we were soon back on the paper road and then a proper road. Gravel and everything. Three kilometres down that road, we found the next paper road that might allow us to connect through to Patoka. We regrouped at the gate and contemplated how late it was in the day, what we might face, what time we might get home and so on. Having come this far, we decided to ride down towards the river and at least see what was there.

A couple of kilometres downhill on wide, disused forestry road and we were on a narrow ridge, with cliffs either side of us. To the south was the river with a large cliff looming over the far side. It didn’t look feasible; the road reduced to a narrow track, overgrown and in rather rough condition. That track did at least take us down to the river, and more cliffs on the other side. We contemplated, crossed the river easily and headed towards what looked a possible route. With masses of blackberries and steep cliffs behind them, it looked a whole lot less possible.

Only a couple of twenty metre cliffs between where we stood and the field on the other side – where we wanted to go.

The Mangaone River was quite nice; a packraft would have been nicer.

Wisdom prevailed, we turned around slowly made our way back up the track, most of it so slippery it was unrideable, to the pines and then the road. It was a slight climb back up to the highway, and then a bit more climbing before we started the descent back towards Napier. Despite my arms being exhausted from the tree-fall hike-a-bike, my legs were still in good shape. We made reasonable time, probably the best time of the whole weekend, back to Simon’s place and our cars.

It was definitely faster on the highway! The first half of the day’s distance taking six hours, the second half less than ninety minutes. We were disappointed not to get through to Patoka, but it was a grand adventure with some excellent exploring of new (to me), rather wild, places. I hope such a ride does become an annual event as discussed – the first day is pretty much sorted. We just need to work out a way to get through to Puketitiri/Patoka and avoid the highway on the second day. I’m sure it’s possible. Thanks for doing the organising, Shaun, and the gear transport, Simon.

Biking to go places, going places to bike.