Category Archives: MTB

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.

Wet Waikouaiti Week

The first week of the new year was spent in and around Mum and Dad’s place in Waikouaiti. It was nice to sit still for a week (Adele had gone back to work) and spend time hanging out at home, sorting through various family things, doing odd jobs and going on little day trips. It was not at all summery, however, with a whole lot of wind, rain and cold keeping us mostly to inside activities.

Quiet New Year’s was in Dunedin with Adele and some of her friends – we spent New Year’s Day at the “beach” which was very relaxing and not at all hypothermic in shorts and a T-shirt.

South Dunedin a couple of days later was even less inviting – but Dad, Mum & I had a nice lunch – inside.

Wet weather is good for museum visiting – this time the Otago Settlers Museum, which is worth the visit and has this impressive art deco entrance way to the old bus station.

We went home via Port Chalmers to check out the largest cruise ship to visit NZ – I can confirm it was in fact, large.

Things started to clear a little.

To try and find some slightly summery weather, I made an overnight break for Central Otago for a spot of mountain-biking with James, Dan & Jacqui.

On the way I stopped to visit friends on their lifestyle block at Goodwood. It was unbelievably windy and cold up there.

I looked out across some of the many hills I was rather missing not to be riding around and between.

The drive over the Pigroot was lovely – until I discovered fresh snow around Naseby. Snow, in the first week of January!

Back in East Otago, we took a family outing for lunch and a walk. Here looking over Karitane to Waikouaiti Beach – it was nice not to bike up that rather steep hill from Karitane.

Behind Waitati, the view is down to Blueskin Bay.

The clouds at Carey’s Bay could most charitably be labelled atmospheric – but only when they weren’t dumping rain.

We had a wonderful family lunch at the historic Carey’s Bay Hotel.

Driving towards the mouth of Otago Harbour, it was my first visit to the sleepy seaside settlement of Aramoana. Infamous for the 1990 massacre, it would form one of my earliest memories/impressions of big NZ national news. We went for a nice walk on the beach and promptly got caught in a downpour. Funny times (the latter, not the former).

It was a lovely lazy week at home with plenty of chat, reminiscing and thoughts of the future.

But gosh I was glad to be back in Hawke’s Bay, where it had really dried out and was actual, proper summer!

Alexandra Rocky Ride

In a desperate attempt to escape the New Year cold in East Otago, I headed towards Central for a spot of mountain-biking with James, Jacqui and Dan.

It wasn’t that summery heading over the Pigroot.

I arrived earlier than the others in Ranfurly, where we were to stay the night. It was cold – six degrees! Some Central Otago summer. I managed to keep myself usefully occupied, thinking the others would turn up any moment.

Apparently Ranfurly is an art deco town. I found this building to support that claim.

And perhaps this building. Not overly impressed, I may be a little spoilt by living in Napier.

The others arrived at pretty much the right time and we headed into the hotel for dinner. It wasn’t just my turn to be unimpressed, the food is best not mentioned. Except to say that I was reintroduced to mine in the early hours of the morning – somehow I managed not to wake everyone up in Don’s small hospital flat. With suitable care, I was pleased to declare myself fit to ride in the morning. We headed off to Alexandra eventually, stopping at Omakau for ginormous venison pies. I was still full from a large breakfast (apparently I was sick in the night), so stashed mine in the car.

We parked at this little bridge, it was a pleasant day – but not so warm I need take more than a bottle of water.

But my, it looked rocky and completely different to most of the riding I’ve done in NZ.

Finally ready to ride, I managed to scoff my pie – which was just as well as we were out for three hours. After a little time on a road, we headed up a rocky gully for quite some time – a gentle gradient, it climbed and climbed. The air was heavy with the prolific scent of wild thyme – apparently early miners/settlers planted it to flavour their rather plain meals, it seemed to take hold. There were plenty of interesting features in the rocks on the trail – the return leg looked like it would be fun. We eventually reached a gravel road, James doing a very good job of remembering where this unmarked trail leads in a landscape with many options.

A brief spell on the shingle over, we turned off again and climbed some more. The landscape opened up around us. Views of rocks and ranges in all directions. It was a great day to be out in the Central Otago sun – it wasn’t hot.

Still some fresh snow around.

Those rocks up there are where the first downhill section started.

The downhills were such fun all day. Small dirt tracks through the brown pasture linking sections on big slabs of rock. Large grippy rocks. There were plenty of steep features to test one’s mettle on; following someone who had ridden the trail before and has more confidence than I do was great as I gained confidence of my own riding all sorts of things.

We climbed again from the road, more steeply this time.

A fast open stretch started off the second downhill, before it got extraordinarily rocky again. Great fun, so much traction too.

There are two riders in there somewhere.

Back to and then off the gravel road again, we climbed for the final time of the day. Subsequently we hit the biggest and steepest rock drops/chutes of the day. After a bit of deliberation, and watching James show how it was done, I was pleased to ride some things I don’t normally get the opportunity to do. I was also pleased not to hurt myself! Things were very technical for a while, they went well for me. Half way down I was a bit out of sorts and that confidence disappeared for some steep downhill corners. Never mind, I’d had a great day and was happy to be out in the sun, improving my riding in steps. The gully ride out was as fast and fun as it looked it would be on the way up.

An excellent break from the poor weather, and fine rock riding (fond memories of Moab slickrock adventures and such things were at the forefront of my mind most of the day) culminated when we refueled at the fine French eatery next to where we parked the cars. We headed back east – I think I was quite tired after being awake for a lot of the night rather poorly; so tired in fact, it was best James drove.

The Naseby Royal for dinner? Why not – it was sure to be better than the previous night. We all ordered lamb shanks, they were excellent – when they arrived over an hour later. Strangely busy day in normally sleepy Naseby it would seem.

I hit the road for Waikouaiti, looking forward to a comfortable bed.