At Peace with Pureora

by Charlie Palmer

We found ourselves stranded in a slot canyon, staring over the valley to the silhouette of some massive bluffs while perched atop equally precipitous cliffs... yet we were oblivious to the (presumably) outstanding scenery. It was dark and we were trying to evade the evil clutches of Pureora Forest. We could have been acting out a scene from an Indiana Jones flick but there was no dodgy rope ladder to escape on. Had it not been for a couple of dubious decisions made earlier in the day we would have been enjoying junk food on our way back to Wellington - but "hey", our early oversights led to a rip snorting adventure.

Our cerebral processes were somewhat fuzzy after a hard week at the coalface and a six-hour drive the night before, so we missed the ominous signs that morning as Hoz strapped a machete to his pack. This was no portent for a mass killing - just some blunt technology for clearing trails. It had helped us hugely in the past, particularly when we encountered a bumper crop of ongaonga - a plant that does a passable impression of an acupuncturist with its array of toxic needles. But for this ride the machete indicated that Hoz was not out for a gentle amble around the forest - he wanted to go jungle riding.

We were in the huge Pureora Forest in the Central North Island. This was stage to some early conservation battles with a bunch of long-haired, bare-footed hippies prostrating themselves in the path of the government loggers. Despite their efforts substantial areas were felled but happily are now regenerating. The result is a huge array of gravel roads and logging trails in varying states of overgrown decay - just perfect for mountain biking. After a few hours of exploration we were cruising through an innocuous clearing, fringed by forest and tall bluffs. At the end of the track we shouldered our bikes and ventured up an old hunter's trail. The intention was to connect with a network of tracks in a pine forest near our campsite. After half an hour of hacking and bashing it became obvious that we were on the wrong trail. 95% of the tracks in Pureora seem to finish in dead ends. Alas this was yet another. But it's always worth the gamble because it is hugely rewarding when you strike the five-percenter and bash through some toi toi to connect a new loop.

It was 4:30 and would be dark in less than an hour. We weren't keen on sleeping rough so we beat a hasty retreat to an old trail that rolled down to the farmland bordering the forest. Keen not to trespass, we snuck around the edge of the forest. The sun left the scene but we were blessed with a full moon. Faced with a long detour around a gully we took a "short cut" - dropping into the gully and crashing our way along the creek at the bottom. We were now eight hours into our day and had run out of food, energy and moonlight. We stumbled down the creek for fifteen minutes, periodically falling into little pools only to discover just how bad our route choice was. Rather than let us out of the forest, the creek disgorged its contents and very nearly us down a 40m high waterfall into a huge gorge.

Our only option was to backtrack up "shit creek" and find an exit on the other side. We would have to chance our arm by crossing the farmland without permission. Waikato was defending the Shield on Rugby Park that night so we thought our chances of travelling undiscovered were pretty good... and damn it, we were desperate. We swam and grovelled back up the creek - its slippery rocks and waterfalls rather more easy to slither down than clamber up. After finally clearing the forest our troubles were still far from over... we had to navigate a myriad of paddocks and boggy wetlands; visibility was limited with the moon hiding behind some clouds; our bikes were squeaking and rattling; and we were tired and irritable. Eventually we stumbled onto a road. And finally luck was on our side - it led us back to our campsite. Ahh - the relief of a smooth road after nine hours in the saddle. We had travelled all of 40 kilometres and were exhausted - but rest assured we'll be with Hoz and his machete when the next trip rolls around.

Nitty Gritty

  • Pureora Forest is massive and sits in between three main roads. The main access points are:  
  • The western side of Lake Taupo (SH 32) at Waihaha River or Kakaho Road, both near Tihoi.  
  • The Waimiha - Ongarue Road which heads off SH 4 north of Taumarunui (Piropiro Flats).  
  • The Park Headquarters near Barryville on State Highway 30.  
  • There are masses of great rides there. A few (like the Waihaha Track) are listed in Classic NZ Mtb Rides - North ($29 from Ground Effect) but most are waiting to be discovered. Dig out your pith helmet and check out Topomaps S17, S18, T17 & T18 to plan your adventures. 
  • There's plenty of camping with good spots at Piropiro Flats, Kakaho Road and at the Park Headquarters. You can also rent cabins at the Park Headquarters.  
  • Self-preservation suggests avoiding the area during the roar.  
  • Services in the immediate area are limited to petrol and general supplies so shelve any café cravings until you return home. Cram the Eski with a few indulgences and make like happy campers.  
  • Follow the Mountain Bikers' Code. Respect Others; Respect the Track; and Respect the Rules.