The Urchin campsite provided a good base for a buzz around Tree Trunk Gorge. This trail starts and finishes on beautiful singletrack with old forestry tracks narrowed down by manuka and broad leaf regeneration out to the road. Some sections are tunnel like without the train. A selection of highway completes the mid section with singletrack back to camp. We headed to Turangi to ride the flowing 20kms of singletrack that follows the Tongariro River up the true left bank and returns via its true right bank. Unlike our foray on this track many moons ago, it now rocked our knoblies off, through a mix of regenerated bush over open flats and a mixture of hilly terrain. We spotted plenty of local fishermen and their mountain bikes along the way, but not much action in the water. Our reward was a big Kiwi double scoop at the Turangi dairy.
Next up was a 60km stint on the most excellent Waihaha section of the Great Lakes Trail and this is certainly our favorite bit. The balcony trail follows the contours near the top of a towering Waihaha River Gorge. Stunted bush clings to every crag and crevice down to the deep pools below. We spotted the 37 metre Tieke waterfall as the valley opens out and trundles down to the lake edge settlement of Waihaha. The track swings away from the river towards Te Poroporo Point and Waihoro Bay revealing views across massive great Lake Taupo. In places the crater lake's rim rises vertically to the high terrace where the track resides. We headed to the end where the Kotukutuku Stream meets the lake. Lunched on the beach, then enjoyed the 30km return ride that seemed far more flowing and downhill than our ride in. An obvious optical illusion as the GPS indicated an extra 125 metres of climbing back at base. An informed local thinks that the Waihaha section will eventually be joined up with the Y2K section, making a massive 100km+ Kiwi MTB singletrack rollercoaster ride.
The very next day Ditte & I headed onto the old Waihaha River Trail. This is a new addition to the great lakes riding experience and may eventually be continued through the Puriora Forest to join up with the Timber Trail. The track had been treated to a dose of short back and sides making it a fast ride along the river. Its farming past was soon evident as we rode beside an old barbed wire fence overgrown and covered in lichen. A short climb took us onto a narrow track high above the river which dropped eventually into a large open valley of open flats and regenerating bush. The track then climbs and wanders under a really massive forest canopy, huge rata, matai and totara trees with giant tree ferns shading out much of the light. The track is amazingly well graded and totally ridable to the hut. This was surprisingly empty considering its part of the Tour Aotearoa (TA) route. We lunched in the sun at the hut clearing. The return ride felt noticeably downhill, and in places flowed like magic. A new trail for us to write home about.
Te Iringa Track hidden deep in the primeval part of the Kaimanawa Forest was dry and in good nick. It climbs steeply though tall beech and large rimu trees hung with climbers, epiphytes and lichen. Alas just below the 1240 metre Te Iringa peak at the 6km mark we came to a massive impassable slip, had lunch, turned around and enjoyed the amazing downhill. We contacted DOC and they have planned to re-route the track sometime soon.
Taupo town beckoned with the classic W2K and K2K trails on the radar. Both have aged and worn well with plenty of leaf litter and plant growth enthusiastically camouflaging the track construction techniques. At Kinlock we scored great ice-creams and savory muffins and it was very quiet and relaxing during mid-week. We rode back out in sunshine to enjoy a dip in the warm lake water at Whakaipo Bay and what a great place to camp and hang out.
The Taupo section of the Waikato River Trail proved a revelation with awesome sections of single track, stunning views of the river, a hot water beach and a dam with mid day water release. We rode to the upper viewing point and watched the flood gates open and storm down the narrow gorge. No fish were harmed in this daily flood. It was time to pack up and head west and into the unknown.
Taumaranui on the main trunk line is not only the home of a shunting yard full of rolling stock for sale, but has thousands more houses than people, so like the surplus trains, are priced accordingly. Some old friends of mine provided a perfect base from which to catch up and embark on the now famous Timber Trail. They gave us a lift to the Pureora Village end of the trail and filled us in on the local history. The day started out cool and cloudy but all this was forgotten as we disappeared into the beautiful remnant of ancient podocarp forest on its inspiring winding trail. This snippet of forest was only preserved after a major standoff between conservationist, loggers and the government, where public opinion and common sense finally prevailed.
From forest edge the track gradually climbed through open regeneration, finally going back into bush on the western flanks of Mt Pureora to the tracks highest point of 980 metres. The peak spends much of its year enveloped in low cloud or mist, providing moisture for the vivid green lichens, mosses and epiphytes that live on the crazy tangle of trunks, branches and tree limbs. We bombed the 18kms of downhill, rolled over two 100 metre long swing bridges joined by old logging tracks.
The Piropiro campsite came into view at the 40km mark along with a large lodge in the throws of construction. From the campsite the track climbs steadily, eventually reaching the highest (53m) and longest (141m) swing bridge of them all. The trail then climbs to the Terminus Clearing, the northern end of the old Ellis and Burnand tramway. We cruised passed the No. 11 & No. 10 camps, stopping to read the info panels and inspecting the track remnants. The clouds were reluctantly making way for the afternoon sun and considerably warming up the day.
We spied remnants of an old curved viaduct from the new Mangatukutuku swing bridge, lush bush surrounded the river below. High sided rail cutting remained damp and cool under the forest canopy as we plowed through leaf litter and soft sections of the old rail line. The descent down the Ongarue Spiral proved fast, dry and dusty with a dark tunnel as part of the actual spiral thrown into the mix. We crossed a wide shingle logging road and followed the Mangakahu Stream side trail out to the Bennett Road where the trail properly ends at a car park. A short seal section takes you out to the cafe at Ongarua. Most people shuttle back from there to their car, but we decided to ride the graveled Ongarua Back Road back to Taumarunui, as many a Tour Aoteroa rider would have experienced. A massive storm was trundling towards the Coromandel, Bay of Plenty and central North Island. It was time to batten down the hatches and go visiting.