Chopping wood is an art and act of self satisfaction, especially when you are presented with a murderingly sharp splitting axe made by Norse gods out of swedish steel. Over a few days with Tim wielding a Scandinavian chainsaw and ingenious No 8 wire hydraulic splitter, as if by magic a huge gum tree was dismembered into bite sized blocks for Sue and Jaap's cast iron fire box. This reminded me how many of our original tracks and trails were first made via the ubiquitous pick, shovel and axe, wielded by hard human labour and axe murderers alike.
I'm a lumberjack and I'm OK.
It was playtime so Ditte and I headed down the road to the huge Rotorua Redwoods sandpit devouring Tuhoto Ariki and a bunch of connecting tracks to the end of the Blue Lake. This was followed the next day by a pilgrimage to Rainbow Mountain's gnarly singletrack uphill and that awesome downhill to Kerosene Creek hot springs.
Rainbow Mountain roots and all, Ditte looking way too relaxed.
With a mixed weather forecast over the airwaves we decided to play it safe, head for Whirinaki Forest and our favorite trail, Moerangi. Alas the last tropical cyclone had not only trashed the track but the river had taken out the main Te Waiti Road, isolating the Minginui Settlement and Te Urewera National Park. We had checked the “behind the eight ball” DOC website and New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) beforehand which showed no alerts. As they say, 'never trust a man that doesn't drink'. Time to backtrack and head for the safe bet, Mangakino in the centre of the Waikato River Trail.
Waikato River Trail, another suspension bridge vicar.
Waikato River Trail, Whakamaru Dam spilling the beans.
Three days of peddling delivered great stretches of fast singletrack, some nice patches of bush, massive pine forests, a series of man made lakes and dams, generating their little hearts out and spilling the remnants of the last tropical cyclone in the hope of not flooding too much more land up and down stream.
At the Pouakani Forest Totora Reserve a 20 minute walk led us to an almost 2000 year old, 39m tall, 4m diameter living ottar. Its descendants are scattered throughout the reserve. This huge Ent would have seen a few changes since its seeding after the last big Taupo eruption. Beyond it, down a lonely mettled road deep in the Pureora Forest, Piropiro flat resides dissecting the Timber Trail in two. We arrived just in time to see the shiny new lodge open its restaurant, bar and accommodation to the MTB fraternity, Te Araroa (TA) trail walkers and hunters, the latter ensconced for the duration of the roar. Gun slinging, they biked under big packs along the trail to their favorite clearing at dusk and dawn hoping for a 13 pointer or maybe a consolation carbon framed enduro MTB.
Lake Whakamaru trackside.
Wainoni Tram Track, Pureora Forest.
Timber Trail, the one bridge that rules them all.
We checked out the once amazing Wainoni Tram Track, but found it overgrown and water logged. A few weeks of fine weather would be needed to clear the watery backlog and we could not get past the paranoid feeling of perhaps looking like a stag to a desperate hunter while bashing our way through the under growth. Revisiting the Timber Trail's highest and longest swing-bride was a highlight though.
Octogenarian Don leads the Tongariro Crossing, Tongariro National Park.
A visit back to our friends in Taumaranui gave us the opportunity to drag the 80+ year old Don out on the Tongariro Crossing tramp. We toiled in clear weather up to Mt Tongariro for lunch with a ridge-line return saving on a shuttle and getting us away from the 2000 overseas visitors present on that particular day (5000 is the record). A smattering of snow on Ngarahoe and Ruapahu made it a magical trip whilst Don was frequently asked his age for some reason.
Sash and Door where nineteen century joinery meets mountain cabbage.
Sash and Door Trail on the cusp of Tongariro National Park.
From Tongariro National Park we cruised Sash & Door singletrack in a big loop watching the trains electrify themselves along the main trunk line, a rare sight in the South Island these days and so a novelty for us. The ride was a bit soft in places but apparently funding is approved to connect this trail with our next stop, the Ohakune Coach Road.
Ohakune's Old Coach Road and its banana rail bridge.
Ohakune's Old Coach Road, this is the end.
Ohakune has really embraced the MTB thing with shuttles and hire bikes added to the ski town thing, that they do so well and thrive on in winter. The Old Coach Road, just like the road classic Paris Roubaix, still sports muddy sections of cobbles perfectly suited to our full sus mounts. Singletrack connects to the beautifully curved rail bridges and eventually to Smash Palace at Horopito. Rusting wrecks piled randomly have mysteriously spread out into the surrounding farmland behind high deer fences. I recognise many of the old skeletons back when they were in their prime, oops. It was a blast of a ride back, interruptive signs abound and did I mention the curved and sooty tunnel?
Smash Palace, Horopito, where a blue Ford Mk3 Zephyr caught Ditte's eye.
On a brilliantly clear day we drove up the fully sealed Ohakune Mountain Road to Sunset Ridge to tramp a section of the Round the Mountain Track to Mangaturuturu Hut and Surprise Lake. We encountered no crowds just a few Kiwis enjoying the views. According to the local rag the adjacent Blyth Track is going to form part of the new MTB Sea to Summit track extension, yahoo.
Ditte tramping the Round the Mountain Circuit.
Lake Surprise, surprised us on the 'round the mountain' circuit.
Whakahoro settlement at the end of a windy and narrow gravel road sports accommodation, a bar/restaurant, a DOC campsite (on a grassy terrace high above the Whanganui River), and the start of the Whakahoro section of the Bridge to Nowhere Track. We made an early start amongst the river mist and splotches of aerial blue. This was just as well as the track was soft and slow after the previous weeks titanic rain. On the Blue Duck Farm Track we hung high above the river cut into super steep and fragile looking papa clay hill sides, passing Wades Landing and trundled up the Kaiwhakuka Stream Valley. A brand new shiny bridge now crosses the stream just above a spectacular 13 metre waterfall, the old Aussie hardwood original lies broken down beside the track.
Whakahoro, Kaiwhakauka Track, major silting after Cyclone Cook.
Whakahoro, Kaiwhakauka Track, slip sliding away.
We entered Whanganui National Park on narrow gauge singletrack as the sun made a brief appearance. The track is surrounded by thick lush bush once home to balloted farm settlements. Slip sliding away along its 7km overgrown length we mused that only a couple of years ago it was clear, firm and a total blast both ways. Just before the long climb up to Mangapurua we came to a farm 4WD track and one of the last remaining ballot farms of that era that hasn't reverted back to bush. At the end of the Mangapurua ridgeline overlooking the river valley of the same name, is a stunning monument to the ballot farmers of the local hills set adrift to farm unsuitable land during the great depression. Most farms failed and they walked away from years of toil with nothing to show and no help from the government they went to war for.
Whakahoro, Kaiwhakauka Track swinging.
We bombed down the valley amongst two groups of fellow mountain bikers, arriving muddy at the famous “Bridge to Nowhere” for lunch, and only just before it was overrun with half a hundred Whanganui River jet boated tourists. We headed back with one eye on the clock and the other looking out for any oncoming bikers. It was a long climb back up to the Manapurua Ridge top but then seemed almost downhill all the way back out, luckily for us. The sun had mostly long gone and dusk was settling into the long shadows as we peddled the final klicks back to base. The 77kms and 1700 metres of climbing extracted from our tired legs didn't really tell the whole story.
Lunch extraction, on the Bridge to Nowhere.
A tramp up to the Tama Lakes from the Whakapapa Village gave our MTB legs a bit of a break. Beaut day, not too much traffic, and a nice walk, put us in the ice cream frame of mind, but no luck was found locally in that department. The DOC Visitors' Centre proved very informative though.
Upper Tama Lakes Tramp from Whakapapa
Now for something completely different, we decided to attack the Tukino Ski Field road from the Desert Road. We parked by a stream and peddled towards the snow splattered monolith of Mt Ruapahu through a plateau of volcanic dandruff and hardy egalitarian scrub. The ride is initially flat, goes steep and loose but relaxes a bit for the final climb up to the ski field buildings. We had the place to ourselves as we lunched in the sun on the rope tow veranda with the faint smell of dust and diesel in the breeze. There are amazing views on a clear day surrounded by the biggest and best north island volcanoes. As usual cloudage drifted in that afternoon and hung around the peaks like a dead opossum in a long drop.
Tukino Ski field and Mt Ngauruhoe backdrop.
Tukino rope tow hut veranda lunch, amongst the volcanic dust and diesel.
With the weather heading down to the bottle store in a brown paper bag we thought it best to preempt its second coming and drive all the way to Manakau just below Levin. Mt Thompson is the answer to the why question and under clear skies we ascended the forestry road to the bush clad Tararua Forest Park. The entry into the park was steep and slippery and the muddy ridge-top section was in no way a reflection of the rowdy downhill. We focused our entire concentration on a never ending rock garden fraught with all sorts of potential carnage, only stopping to relax and admire the snippets of mountain bush clad views. The end came at about the right time and we rode the final farm track, gravel road and short tar seal bit back to the start. What a revelation, had it always been that good we pondered, but couldn't quite remember.
Mt Thompson track in the fall and the duck season.
Wellington was calling. A short blast in Wellington seemed like a fitting end to a North Island road trip and Makara Peak looked like the best option in the unusually predicted gale force winds. We climbed up Salvation to Deliverance and under a jet stream of grade 5 cloud we were delivered suitably impressed by the awesomeness of this trail. A second climb up to Makara Peak proper, where the afore mentioned weather tried to part us from our mounts in a windblown white out sort of way. We quickly headed back down from impending doom via North Face and SWIGG, sheltered for the most part among the hardy regen. As luck would have it, we were just packing away the bikes as the rain came down. Exit stage left and south on the Blue Bridge Cook Straight Ferry, before the big blustery southerly hit and sea sickness ruins our rosy complexion. We shall return, as Douglas MacArthur once said in the Philippines.
Ditte does Deliverance, Welly Town.
Makara "on a clear day you can see forever" Peak.