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Te Urewera is Kei Te Pai

01 September 2020

Words and Photos: Cati (Kei Te) Pearson

The weather forecast for the long weekend was pretty crappy, so the best option was to go backcountry on a slip-laden trail in the middle of nowhere, right? Char and I had a leisurely start to the day as we sent Cam ahead to drop a car at the finish of the Moerangi Trail at River Road. Lovely Cam then pedalled back round to meet us at the start, 30 something km down the road.

Tihi the dog chomping to get moving

Moerangi is a regular on the mtb calendar. Only 90 min from Rotorua, you can ride it as an in/out, an overnighter or day trip. An additional 16 km of fun trails built by Dodzy can also be found in Whirinaki Forest. We opted for the 'full traverse as a day trip' this time around. It’s been a long time since I've ridden the entire track, normally I just hike-a-bike to the top of the Moerangi Saddle and zip back down.

When Cam arrived we headed off into what is possibly the most stunning bush on offer in the North Island. A gentle climb took us over the first saddle. The trail  then follows the river pretty much all the way to Skips Hut - a reasonably straight forward seven-odd km. Sitting in the sun, we cracked into our chocolate and signed the first of the day's three hut books.

Skips Hut

The traverse to hut number two required a bit more effort. A big ass hike-a-bike over a commensurately big slip was the only memorable part of this section. 6 km on from Skips Hut we popped out at Rogers Hut. Drop-dead gorgeous - tiny and old, with a wicked fireplace and stained glass window. The perfect stop for cheese and crackers.

Hut selfies with a not so keen Tihi

NZ native bush, not bad

9 km further on is Moerangi Hut - our third and final for the day. The traverse seemed to last forever, climbing away from the river and sidling higher up the ridge. Less views and less descents. Boo. Flashbacks to a previous Cam-led epic up the Goulter River that went past dark delivered a temporary motivational hurdle. That conquered, I relished the beauty and the easy track, but spotting that final climb to the saddle in the distance can hurt if you’re already on struggle street.

Moerangi Hut basking in sun

Sitting at Moerangi Hut for lunch, despite eating every hour on the hour until this point, we were joined by a couple of Tauranga lads who were doing the full loop in a day mission. One was a bit covered in blood, while the other (who was on a gravel bike) was nutting out how to convert it into a single speed after breaking his rear derailleur. Some good banter was exchanged before we set off to tackle the final hill.

Sweet singletrack

My prior memories of this climb were unpleasant, but that may because it was pissing with rain. The hill surprised me this time - in a a good way. Not very long, not very steep and a nice river part way up for Tihi drinks (be wary of rampant stinging Ongaonga though). We made it to the Moerangi Saddle for high fives, views of the Rangitaiki Plains and prepped ourselves for the trip's highlight.

Tihi stages a mini protest at one photo too many

13 km from Moerangi Hut out to the car - about 3 km of climb, 10 km of descent and 3 km of traverse. Without doubt the quickest stretch of the entire trail. Much hooting and hollering was had. The last bit - weaving through the ginormous podocarp forest - made for more instagram bangers. No rain in sight, and the golden hour for photos. The culmination of a great day.

Moerangi Hut loop a wrap

Trail Beauty 10/10
Technicality 8/10
Experience 9/10