I don’t remember it being a particularly early start, but apparently it was well before five o’clock – early enough for me. The climb I knew was coming was steady and emerged from native forest to cleared land to reveal a vast star-scape in the pre-dawn darkness. I’d only heard great things about the Timber Trail (a new trail since I went overseas that delves into the logging history of the area – as well as being a great trail in its own right), so had long been looking forward to it. Just as I went back into the forest I passed Kirsty, Ian & Ness breaking camp – they made it considerably further than me the previous night.
The trail wasn’t too hard to ride in the dark, although I did rather miss most of the scenery while I climbed. Near the summit of Mt Pureora, dawn arrived and there were glimpses to the east of Lake Taupo (NZ’s largest). I was pleased to have a bit of extra visibility for the first part of the descent – a downhill that went pretty much for twenty-five kilometres. But the clear sky I’d enjoyed previously had misted over completely.
There were plenty of valleys to cross and the feature of the trail I’ll remember most vividly were the huge swing-bridges that had been built to span the valleys. Quite an engineering feat, not to mention the cost, in the middle of nowhere – all for a bike trail!
Standing fifty-odd metres above the valley floor, one gets a good idea of how dense the forest really is.
It’s quite a way down – I’m glad this wasn’t a standard-issue DOC swing-bridge.
The trail then followed an old bush tramway that was used to haul logs out from all over this part of the forest – much smoother riding on a gentle gradient.
The Ongarue Spiral – a very small railway spiral, but interesting as it used both a bridge and a tunnel.
Heading for the tunnel exit.
Eighty kilometres and seven and a half hours later, the Timber Trail was over and I’d lost a lot of altitude – it was decidedly muggy down lower. What a great trail, it hadn’t disappointed; I’m looking forward to going back and riding it again more lightly-loaded and with the time to stop and read all the information/history panels. I’d caught up to a guy from Christchurch at the trailhead – we rode the twenty or so clicks to Taumaranui (on the main trunk line – the only town for over two days) together, he didn’t seem to be having a very good time of it.
There were a lot of riders around town stocking up – I expect most from Wave One that I’d caught up to. As I devoured another cooked breakfast (yes, it was well past lunchtime) the heavens opened and I considered how far I’d get that night. The weather was supposed to be closing in the following morning and the Kaiwhakauka trail didn’t sound like one you wanted to do in such weather. The rain cleared and it was remarkably humid as I rolled out of town for the concerted climb up to Owhango.
As if I needed a reminder that the North Island is very hilly. They never get particularly big or mountainous; but by gosh, there are a lot of them.
General consensus seemed to be that the North Island topography was much more punishing than the South. Having done my small amount of training on the hills behind Hawke’s Bay, I was at least a little conditioned for this.
Nearing Owhango, I decided to push on towards Bridge to Nowhere. I arranged a jet boat pick-up at either eight or ten-thirty the following morning (not really sure if I’d make it through the night to the Whanganui River) and set off.
The long gradual ride down to the Retaruke River and Whakohoro in the evening light was a highlight of the trip.
I think it was in this isolated place I started taking photos of curious, remote buildings from another time. This community hall is still occasionally used, apparently – I saw no signs of such.
The gravel road riding was excellent.
Reaching Whakahoro around sunset I had to decide whether to stay in the large DOC bunkhouse there or push on into the unknown to try and meet the boat the next morning. As it wasn’t raining, I kept going – the fact that there were campsites along the way being the contingency. The ex-road that followed the Whanganui River for a short time was a boggy & slippery mess. Turning up a side-valley the trail narrowed and wasn’t a bike track at all, more a rugged hiking trail. Night fell, as did light rain, and it became clear that my dynamo light was little use on such a slow trail. Donning my headlamp, the slipperiness was a bit of a nightmare. After sliding into the bank softly a couple of times, I had more of a crash into another bank. Self-preservation prevailed, and not having any idea what was actually off the left hand side of the trail, I decided walking was the best and safest option. So ten kilometres from Whakahoro took me almost two hours – I was very pleased when the first campsite came into view; I called it a day there.
What’s more – it had a large shelter, I wouldn’t have to put my tent up in the rain. There I met and chatted to Brett & Helen (it turned out that they know well one of my colleagues I share an office with) who had set their tent up in the shelter – & who I probably woke. I slept well, satisfied with another big day – not in terms of distance, but sheer ruggedness of the terrain. I was excited to see finally see the Bridge to Nowhere the following day.