Having heard about my attempt to string a big gravel loop together last year and failing to get through to Patoka, Shaun came up with a route on paper roads (legally roads, just not formed as roads – they exist only on maps as roads) to get from the Napier-Taupo highway through to Patoka. The first day of this long-awaited weekend adventure was pretty much the same as the route Steve & I took at the start of last year. The only difference being that instead of the long, beautiful climb up Waipunga, along the ridge before plunging down from Darkys Spur (all on formed public roads – tarseal & gravel), this year’s route would keep us lower down and use more paper roads.
Similar to last year’s ride, we would camp the Saturday night beside the Mohaka River. As I was the only one set up for bikepacking, we arranged the luxury of having all our camping gear and food driven into the campsite by another workmate, Simon, who would go hunting nearby after dropping our kit off. On a fine, warm Saturday morning Shaun, Mark & I assembled at Simon’s house and loaded his car with our overnight stuff.
With bikes lightly loaded, for an overnight trip, we set off just before ten. Over Hill Road to the Taupo road we were shortly ever so slightly climbing up Ellis Wallace Rd – enjoying the warmth and the lack of traffic. As the railway has been closed for a few years, we made a brief foray from the road and rode over the Esk River on the railway bridge, because we could. Due to re-open this year, if just this one bridge is anything to go by – there is a lot of work to return it to a suitable state of repair.
It was bumpy. Only a few sleepers were missing.
With more gradual climbing on the road, we reached a level crossing and turned right. Big wheels bumping over the sleepers, we followed the rails to the first paper road. And then went past it to check out the first of a series of tunnels on this section of rail.
There may have been a bit of drop beside the entrance to the tunnel.
We walked the length of the curved tunnel, not stumbling over any dead goats in the complete darkness.
Retracing our paths ever so slightly, we turned from the railway up a steep grassy hill as the paper road began. For about half of the ten kilometres of this connection, we climbed gently through open farmland on grass tracks. It was very pleasant riding out in the sun, not too hot; we didn’t encounter any stock or a peeved farmer, so that was good. The second half of was through pine forest on a more formed surface. Still gradually climbing, it was nice to be in the shade of the canopy as the day warmed.
Rejoining the road, and last year’s route, it was great to have been somewhere new. A quick ride down to the highway covered another ten kilometres. Turning left we were shortly at the Tutira Store – where the ownership must have changed (it was for sale last year) as the guy behind the counter seemed to know about actual customer service. We had a fair go at emptying the pie-warmer, eating a large lunch in the shade of a silver birch tree. Shaun somehow managed to hole his hydration bladder, but nothing a bit of tape couldn’t fix.
Shortly after two o’clock we set off on the prolonged climb towards Bell Rock. By now, it was definitely warmer than the forecast low-twenties. Mark kept us honest as we climbed and climbed. Without the big mob of sheep to wait for, I didn’t really take many photos – see last year’s post if you’re curious. Gaining about six hundred meteres of altitude, it’s a steady climb and never gets too steep. We started to feel the sun as there was little shade.
Nearing the top, we stopped at this gateway. Since seeing this picture, I’m disturbed by how skinny my calves look. I’m sure there is some muscle there somewhere.
We finally got to the top of the climb and looked out north in front of us towards Waikaremoana. It was late enough in the day that the side trip to Bell Rock was not feasible. Instead we saw a trig just above the road so clambered up there.
Looking out towards the Pacific.
Well, I clambered – Mark and Shaun took their bikes up too.
After being loudly encouraged to get back on the road by a local, we did just that and sped down the gravel road from the saddle. With recent logging still readily apparent, the hills in the distance were more captivating. Back on slightly flatter road, we turned left onto Waitara Rd and the last fifteen kilometres to camp.
First up was a very steep, long, gravel downhill which we sped down – Shaun nudging eighty kilometres an hour! I was glad I still had some energy in reserve as I remembered this stretch of road being a series of steep uphills followed by steep downhills. Exhausting. I had not misremembered this – it was tiring as the legs had to keep on working and the day did not get cooler just yet. Eventually we hit the sealed road again and had a nice little descent to the river to arrive at Glenfalls Campground – conveniently just before our support crew turned up with tents, food & beer.
Pleased to have finished a great day’s ride. Especially as this was the longest ride on a MTB for both Shaun (left) and Mark (right) – well done guys.
A few of our little group went off hunting; I was more intent on making camp, eating copious amounts of carbonara, wandering down to the river, and getting an early night after a great day.