A Rekindled Treasure
Our Trail Story
Long before the cycle trail wound its way around Mt Pureroa, the walking track to the summit held a warm place in my heart. On one of the first dates with my girlfriend, wearing swannies and hats against the cold, we tramped through the cloud forest and overlooked the little known forest park.
A quarter of a century later and now married to my sweetheart, we replaced warm hats for helmets on a ride through memory lane. However this trip was not all about reminiscing. Our two day journey on the now popular Timber Trail was a data collection field trip for my work on the first mobile app of our country’s greatest rides.
The coldest of winds cut into us as we quickly tested and packed our gear in the carpark. On my handle bars were three GPS units, two cameras and a smartphone, giving my bike the heavy steering of an old Bedford truck. I pondered the first thoughts of other riders at the Pureroa carpark on viewing my setup; some sort of pedaling gadget geek I suspect.
At the first turn of our wheels we experience an incredible transition. In a snap we pass through a portal transporting us from farmland to foreign land. We’re in a rain forest. As our eyes adjust to the darkness we are greeted by a maori statue directing us towards further trail discoveries.
Dwarfed by giant podocarp trunks, we are soon crossing small streams on a trail that gently winds through the leaf litter of the forest floor. The sound of our tyres snapping small twigs was only broken by the chattering call of kaka overhead. The birdlife here is amazing. It is enhanced by the predator control programme in this portion of the park. It’s wonderful to see and hear the birdlife.
The ancient trees we ride past are just a remanent of the vast virgin rainforest of years gone by. As I look up to watch the swooping kaka, I think of the conservation protestors perched high on tree platforms decades earlier.
Their action halted the advancing foresters.
On a side track we find an abandoned crawler tractor that once hauled timber from the forest. Its a fascinating relic. A beast. Now lovingly restored the irony is not lost on us that what was once used to recover forest, is now itself being recovered. Of course, the protesters have long since left, but their legacy remains in the protected virgin forest we feel privileged to cycle. We ride on. Smiling.
For the next couple of hours we climb through the cut-over scrub, and into the cloud forest with its contorted limbs draped in haunting hanging moss. Distant memories are ignited as we pass the turnoff to the summit walking track that we had explored in our youth. Just beyond kilometre marker post 14, my GPS reads 980 metres of altitude - we have reached the highest point on the trail! The trail then rewards us with seven glorious kilometres of descent with glimpses of Lake Taupo’s rippling waters.
Further along we sidle into a gully and are graced by the largest of three northern suspension bridges that span ravines here. Typically I’m not a big supporter of structural intrusions in the wilderness, but this one saves several kilometres of riding, and it is a graceful inclusion. The lineal deck is strung beneath hundreds of vertical hangers supported by the massive arc of the suspension cables that cross the valley.
It is simply an engineering marvel with a backdrop of natural beauty.
Crossing is a pleasure, although my approach is a little quick as I try to prevent my tyres from wobbling along the deck. I fail. The giant span comes to life, awoken by my presence which gives my ride a rhythmic feel like a ship rolling on swells at sea. On reaching the opposite bank we hop off the saddles for a break. We take the time to admire a rimu with its characteristic drooping branchlets dressed here with pretty white clematis flowers.
Nearing the halfway point along the trail is the side track to Blackfern Lodge, the turnoff for our overnight stay. We could quickly tell that this place might be pretty quirky while riding past odd assemblages with words of encouragement. Upon reaching the lodge we were warmly welcomed by the owners - this lodge is absolutely authentic. It sits in a peaceful clearing surrounded by forest with the stream curving around the lodge filled with eels and resident whio – the waterfall upstream is majestic. The hosts make the best hungry-rider filling hotpot. Come morning after a good night sleep we decline an offer the option of a shuttle to knock off the steepest hill before returning to the main trail. But feeling staunch we opt to bike.
Back on the main trail we find ourselves in a large clearing of the former timber town of Piropiro. Little remains of the settlement except a desolate campsite at the trails half way point. On a small rise overlooking the campsite is a new accommodation provider of the Timber Trail Lodge.
The lodge was the dream of a bunch of King Country locals who foresaw the popularity of the trail and took the opportunity to provide comfortable accommodation. After five years of planning and construction, Bruce Maunsell the operations manager of the lodge, had the pleasure of welcoming the first visitors through its doors a few months back.
Bruce has been surprised by the interest in their 10 roomed stay, they usaully have weekends fully booked out over summer. The lodge plans to double occupancy before the warmer months. He notes that the lodge is “delighted to be part of the Timber Trail experience, the best trail in the north, appealing to a wide range of people who are looking for an epic ride to get back to nature.”
We leave Piropiro behind and shortly crossed the longest suspension bridge on the trail – an incredible 141 metre span over a gully, before reaching the timber tramline terminus. This former rail line that once transported timber back to the mill, is now reused as a gentle downhill ride past the former worker camps with a plethora of interpretative panels. A highlight on this section is the Ongarue Spiral, a circuit in the tramline used to ease the grade on the line, which includes massive cuttings, bridging and a really spooky tunnel.
Eventually the vegetation is behind us, and civilization ahead. A short ride beside farmland eases us into the little village of Ongarue - the southern trailhead. This remote outpost of changing fortunes is beginning to be restored with the influx of riders and walkers seeking a trailhead refuge. It is refreshing to see how the initiatives of the NZ Cycle Trails are helping to revitalise and provide new employment opportunities in the rural heartland.
After completing the trail and awaiting our shuttle, we reflected on this incredible journey that had exceeded our expectations, and had returned our fond memories. As this area has been in the arc of my life’s journey, I hope that the trail continues to mature and bring new life to the hinterland communities while embracing the heritage of yesterday’s achievements.