Tour Aotearoa – My Day Five – Matamata to Timber Trail Start

Having slept well through the night, I was on the bike at the much more reasonable hour of six o’clock – almost three hours later than the day before. It was a short distance into Matamata and a bakery for breakfast and to stock up on pies for the day. Heading for the central North Island, towns and services would be much further apart for the next few days.

Sunrise wasn’t too bad as I breakfasted.

The first sun of the day hits Hobbiton – another photo checkpoint.

I thought that the two Triumphs one of my early primary school teachers owned was excessive, evidently not.

The mist slowly burnt off as I rode through flat land surrounded by dairy farms. I stopped briefly to chat to a farmer on his way back from milking – the first of quite a few “why are there so many cyclists on my quiet back road this week?” conversations.

Back on State Highway One for a short time, I was finally riding beside the Waikato River (the longest in the country). Much of this day was on parts of the Waikato River Trail. I learned later that I passed another family connection – a farm Dad worked on one summer while at university.

A gradual climb for over twenty kilometres was a mixture of riverside trail, rural roads and a small reserve of native forest. Most of that altitude gained was very quickly lost with a big dive back down towards the river. From there the trail followed the river much more closely and there were an awful lot of short climbs and descents. It was now the middle of the day and hot again.

A sign of things to come – big swing bridges began to appear. This one, I think, was used in the construction of one of the many hydro power stations on the river.

Crossing to the left side of the river at Waipapa Dam, the next section of almost twenty kilometres was beautiful trail indeed. However, with not much overall altitude gain, there were plentiful pinch climbs and corresponding downhill bits. I see now this took me the best part of two hours. As became a common sentiment – I looked forward to riding this again with a lighter bike and a lighter load. Approaching Mangakino and second-lunch (I’d eaten all my pies by then), I was pleased to find Steve (on his way to a triathlon in Auckland – and my training buddy for this event, he’d been easily talked into a couple of bikepacking weekends). In my excitement, I missed the turn off-route to the shops and had to back-track a little. It was excellent to see another familiar face and hear a bit of news from home and how my little tracking dot online had gathered a small following at work.

Steve insisted he get a photo of me – I was bemused to find this in the weekly division news when I returned to work. But, definitely pleased to have a photo of me riding on the event – even if it’s on a road, & off-route!

There was only about six more kilometres of the River Trail before our route left it. When I caught up to fully-loaded cycle tourist (touring bike, skinny tyres, four panniers and more), I was astounded to learn she was attempting the Tour Aotearoa route. I had a feeling it was going to get a lot more difficult for her very soon (the route had been either road or relatively good trail to that point) – for the rest of the trip if the trail got a little rough and tricky, I only had to remember this encounter and then I didn’t feel so bad about how I was going.

Fifteen more kilometres of road, the first half was pretty flat before the climbing that would last for much of the rest of the day began.

Suddenly the road ended and there was but an overgrown old track to follow. Now in Pureora Forest Park, this was our link to the start of the Timber Trail.

This was easily the worst and most difficult swingbridge of the entire route. It was so skinny, my handlebars would not fit through – and as I couldn’t walk beside my bike and steer it, I definitely could not push it through. The floor was only wire netting, so it was not practical to lift the front of the bike & wheel it through. In the end, I had to walk backwards along the bridge pulling my bike behind me – guiding it through every handlebar barrier; on the way puncturing a dry bag, most annoying. Still, I only had to make one trip along the bridge.

Up ahead I spied the first TA riders I’d seen riding all day. I caught up and lo & behold, it was Kirsty from last year’s Kiwi Brevet (great riding company, most memorable for the fire alarm incident pre-dawn in the Hurunui Hotel), her partner, Ian, and friend, Ness. The company and chatting helped the five-hundred metre climb pass much more quickly. They’d started the same day as me, but I’d not seen them as they’d ridden longer than me the first few days and got the Kaipara boat ten or so hours before me. I was encouraged that I’d caught them as I remembered Kirsty was a strong rider & experienced adventurer and had put in some long days and easily beaten me home last year.

A photo of me at a checkpoint! Despite the three pies that day, looking a bit thinner than normal. Geographical centre of the North Island, apparently.

Drizzly rain threatened and I lost the others somewhere on the ten kilometre downhill to the start of the Timber Trail. I really didn’t know where I was going to camp that night, figuring I’d find somewhere on the trail. But I knew that the trail started with a big, long climb – so after thirteen hours and much more climbing than the previous epic day, I wasn’t really keen to do that in the light rain & then make camp. Just after where we joined the trail there was a historic Caterpillar. It even had it’s own shelter – perfect! After a bit of internal debate, I decided that was a great spot to end the day.

So it happened that I slept next to this relic of a tractor that night.

I was pretty pleased with my progress that day backing up 260+ km, I’d done the kilometres needed to keep me on the required pace and a fair amount of climbing too. I wasn’t too concerned of not using all the daylight and so set up my sleeping gear and went to bed the earliest all trip. Unfortunately the mosquitos didn’t get the memo, nor the trio of riders that arrived much later, woke me and faffed for ages. But that could not detract from another great day on this increasingly enjoyable trip.

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