[Ed: Grant & Michelle just got back from a 2 week MTB trip to Rotorua & surrounds and he's written up his amazing trip with pix]
Having packed everything the night before, double checked all of the bookings and had a restless sleep we get ourselves ready. I load the bags into the ute and off we drive to Sydney Airport. Traffic is pretty cruisy and along the Hume Hwy – someone has hacked a mobile traffic sign so instead of telling us about traffic conditions or road works it tells us to get our “tits out for truckies”! I tried to encourage Michelle but she wanted nothing to do with it. ?
At the airport our prepaid long term parking barcode won’t scan so we can’t get in! I use the card instead but we don’t get a printed receipt. That should make it fun when we leave.
Walking through with big Evoc bike bags gets us a few looks. Mine is red and Michelle’s is blue. It’s hard work dragging them, and our clothes and a carry-on bag. Michelle had a handbag that could just be slipped over the handle on her luggage, but my carry on was two hydration packs tied together; not quite as easy to carry with everything else.
So we get our boarding passes, check in our bags, wait for a bit in the NZ Air lounge and then get on the plane. At some point in there I was also frisked. On the way to Rotorua we scored a direct flight. I watched Taken during the flight and it was pretty good. Liam Neeson was a better tough guy than I thought he’d be. Landing in Rotorua we get our bags, pick up the Toyota Highlander (Kluger) hire car, jump in and find the Alpin Motel. By the time we check into the motel it’s about 3pm. Michelle wants to find a supermarket and buy some stuff, including a phone, so off we go to do that. We have a bit of an explore around town, grab some bits and pieces, head back to the motel and breathe in the fresh Rotorua air. The sulphur smell took about a day to get used to. Our hosts suggested a restaurant at the Holiday Inn for dinner so we went there and had a nice feed. First day and no riding. I was disappointed but there wasn’t much to be done about it.
The motel room was nice and clean. Two queen beds so naturally we chose the one with the hardest pillows and a zip down the middle where two single mattresses had been joined. The bed was fine but the pillows were a killer.
Our first port of call for the day was the Information Centre. We stocked up on activity brochures and bought a Manky Map of the Redwood Forest. That map was the best item I bought all trip I reckon. Stuff it in a pocket for easy access when needed, labelled trails; it was extremely useful.
The Rotorua Museum of Art & History was our next stop, in the Government Gardens. The grounds are fantastic. One of the first things I noticed when driving around Rotorua was how clean and neat everything was and the gardens were immaculate. So we did the museum thing, took photos and went back to the motel to pack the bikes in the car for our first ride around the Whakarewarewa Forest.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when we arrived in the car park, but it was really well laid out. A small bike hire shop, two car park areas, pump track and a bike wash station.
Straight away I could see how far behind NSW is! ? We followed the first bit of singletrack that I saw that wasn’t labelled “Kids Loop”, which was “Tahi” [Ed: Maori for ‘one’]. That led us onto “Creek”. On this day we didn’t follow Creek all the way to the end, we unknowingly got off early, rode up Nursery Rd for a bit, into “Piglet”, joining “Pig Link” out onto The Wash Rd. From here we found a start point on “Tickler” and climbed around to the Direct Rd, Pipeline Rd and Red Tank Rd intersection. Down Pipeline Rd for a bit and onto “Bunny Jugs 2” until we ended up at the bottom of the DH track and the shuttle pick up point. At this point Michelle wasn’t keen on much more climbing so we went found “Spring Roll” and “Sweet N Sour” to take us back up to the big intersection. I could now see “B Rude Not 2”, but on the opposite side of the fire road was “Dragon’s Tail” and that sounded pretty cool, so we rode down that one and followed the fire roads back to the car park. Tickler and Dragon’s Tail were definitely the stand out trails of the day. Tickler being a nice climbing trail and Dragon’s Tail being a flowy descending track with a few jumps, roots and small drops.
Still having a bit of energy left we headed out and played at the 3D Maze. I found our way to each corner and then we raced each other to find our way out. Michelle won, I cheated but got caught! Dinner was the cultural delight that is NZ fish and chips from across the road of the motel. Very nice and pretty good value too.
We started the day with big plans to do Agroventures stuff and quad biking. At Agroventures we rode the Schweeb, which was really good, and the jet boat, which was fantastic. I wanted to do the jet boating on a closed course, not the big river versions with 10 people or so on them. 3 people including the driver in the jet boat was brilliant, although I wasn’t sure if I’d have use of my left hand ever again after Michelle squeezed it hard all the way through!
After that we hit up the quad bike riding. Not having booked it we couldn’t go straight away but we were able to come back in a few hours. Michelle was keen to visit the blueberry farm so we went there, bought some jam, and having noticed the big sign for the international standard go-kart track we went there for a few laps. The go-karts were excellent! That made us a little late for the quad bikes but it all worked out. Lots of fun to be had there as well.
I had the afternoon to go for a ride while Michelle got herself ready to go out for dinner. Back to the forest and out along Tahi then the whole Creek trail. From there I rode along Nursery Rd, up The Wash Rd and onto Spruce Rd to find the proper starting point of Tickler. Today I decided I’d ride B Rude Not 2 and also “Mad if you Don’t”. BRN2 was a great ride, MIYD was okay but it didn’t flow as nicely as BRN2, which had some massive berms and comfortable table tops. From the end of MIYD I rode back along Nursery Rd and found “Dipper”. What a great little skill building trail. An easy grade 2 trail, smoothly groomed, easy table tops and berms flip flopping one after the other. A slower connecting trail back to the main fire road and back to the car park.
Dinner was at Lewishams, and while it turned out to be the most expensive meal of the holiday, the food was excellent and well worth the price.
When planning this holiday I bought the Kennett NZ Ride book. One of the rides in there was the Waikato River Trail, and that’s what we rode today. It’s basically a gravel cycleway along the Waikato River. We only rode the first part, which is 13.5km each way, but it is a scenic ride with a nice cable stay bridge crossing at the end and a 1/2km long section of very tame Northshore style boardwalk. With the tread surface, the bends being more like angled turns rather than curves and the boardwalk section this could be a really interesting Strava run if you’re into that sort of thing. Especially if it’s a little wet on the boardwalk!
Also in the area were the Waitomo Glow worm Caves. Not a bad little detour. Our guide was excellent and the short boat ride at the end through the caves was a nice way to finish. I wouldn’t recommend the food from the ‘restaurant’ though, it was very average.
This was another trip away from Whakarewarewa for riding. Drive down to Taupo and ride the W2K Trail, again guided by the Kennett’s book, but also the night before an NZO email came through saying the new section was really good and doubled the distance! Starting from Whakaipo Bay and heading towards Kinloch there is a lot of climbing. We didn’t park right at the trailhead so we had a kilometre of fire road to warm up on before jumping the fence. It didn’t help much for the climb! This trail reminded me a lot of the Kessel Run, but three times wider; and the Wingello Red Loop but with a lot more length and elevation change. We bypassed the Headland Loop but planned to go back for it another day as it is meant to be more technical. At Kinloch we had a burger from the local shop and continued on our way to a great rocky lookout. This marked about 20km of riding and Michelle had had enough so she turned around at this point. I continued on to Kawakawa Bay and then the end at Whangamata Rd. The descent to Kawakawa Bay was excellent, but it was all uphill on the way back. The ride from Kawakawa Bay to Whangamata Rd wasn’t as good, but the first 10km at the turnaround point were brilliant and made it worth the trip out. After a lot of climbing I got to the last 3km which were all downhill and rolled back to the car. At this time the W2K ride had been my favourite so far!
Dinner was very disappointing. I felt like Italian so we went to Nuvolari on Tutanekai St. I should have known that something was up when the only pasta they had on the menu was spaghetti and fettuccini, no tortellini or ravioli to be seen. The service was crap, the drinks tasted watered down, Michelle hated the pasta and I ordered the Snapper after seeing Michelle’s meal the previous night and expecting something similar. It was the worst fish I’ve eaten, way thinner than the previous night, battered badly and overcooked. At least the pea and broccoli mash was okay. I wasn’t about to give them more money so we stopped at Countdown and bought something sweet for dessert. I haven’t seen cookie caramel slice in Woolworths here but they should definitely sell it!
Today was meant to be the day we walked around the town of Rotorua and checked out all the bike shops. First was breakfast. We’d spied a café that had been busy every time we drove past it called “Fat Dog”. They did a great breakfast and thickshake. The bike shops were a bit disappointing. Bike Culture had friendly staff and a lot of Santa Cruz frames; Cyclezone also had friendly staff and I bought a Specialized S3 helmet from there while Michelle found some shorts she liked. The other shops didn’t have much and didn’t seem interested, but that’s based on only one visit.
With the city sightseeing being over much quicker than expected, we headed out to the Waitapu Thermal Park for a wander. Nice sights, lots of tourists struggling to follow arrows in the correct direction (obviously not a universal symbol language). We got some nice pics, but didn’t get to see all of the colours as different minerals were coming up through the vents and everything was lime to yellow.
Back at the motel I got the bike ready to go for a bash around the forest. I had a loop planned after speaking to some of the bike shop people. The plan was to ride up Nursery Rd and The Wash Rd, join onto “Lion Trail” and from there do “A Trail”. At the entrance of Lion Trail was a massive banner stating the trail was closed due to logging. No worries, I ended up riding up Katore Rd to come down “The Corridor”, then riding back up to come down “Gunna Gotta”. Both nice tracks up top, with 360° views from the top of The Corridor, but once into the trees that had received a little rain things got a bit slippery and pretty severely eroded. Multiple lines at some points where the trail had become too worn, hub deep gullies for some good stretches. It was the only time I’ve ever felt the need to put the seat down a bit. Fun tracks but the bottom sections don’t seem built to last. Close to the end of each is the entrance to A Trail. I thought this was the best of the three trails so far and lead nicely onto Tickler and out onto the big fire road junction.
At this point I decided to ride up Direct Rd, as a few people had said that Hill Rd was steep and I’d feel like I’d cheated if I got the shuttle up. I found my way to the base of “Frontal Lobotomy” and thought “ah, a nice easy grade 2 trail after all that climbing”. Technical difficulty was definitely low, but it’s a bastard of a climb. At this point I had about 800m vertical over 15km and had spent a lot of time in the granny ring. Luckily it was all worth it on the way down “Billy T” into “G Rock” then “Rollercoaster” (every trail network should have a section called Rollercoaster, I’m pretty sure it’s an IMBA requirement ) finishing with “Old Chevy”. Onto “Ball & Chain”, and back along Nursery Rd to jump onto a bit of Dipper and into the car park. A nice 30km loop with the run from Billy T through to Rollercoaster being amazing, and Old Chevy feeling like an old style up and down singletrack run; great stuff!
That ride gave Michelle enough time to get ready and we had a beautiful Moroccan meal at Abracadabra Café. The Chocolate Orange Pot for dessert topped things off nicely, especially after last nights disaster.
A whole day taken up with riding, or mostly driving to the riding spot! The Friday before leaving I received the latest AMB magazine in the mail, including the new NZ DVD. One of the guys said the Pakihi Track was his favourite ride of the whole trip, so we had to do it. About 2 hours driving from Rotorua we were in Opotiki at the Motu Trails base, ready to be transported to the start. Michelle was a bit apprehensive about this one as one of the bike shop people in Rotorua had her a bit scared about the sheer drop off one side of the trail. The Motu Trails team didn’t help her confidence much with their description, but as a business I can understand why they were covering themselves so thoroughly with their explanation of trail features. After taking our photos and details including next of kin, “just in case something happens and we need to contact someone”, we were off for about an hour drive to leave our car at the finish point. It was then another two hour drive to the start of the track. We had some photos taken and were ready to go, Michelle being extremely nervous. For the first 4kms I was stopping every 500m to wait for Michelle, usually for 2-4 minutes per stop. The trail was as wide as the W2K trail in most parts, but the tread resembled the Waikato River Trail sketchy gravel type surface. There were 25 bridges to cross along the way with #17 being damaged and not in use but with a way around it. Also along the way were some land slips where the trail width got as narrow as 200mm at one point and had to be walked at another because of downed trees in the mix. At the 4km mark Michelle could sense my frustration and said to meet her at the end because it was basically becoming a walk for her. At walking pace it was okay, so I rode on and finished in a bit over an hour. Expecting Michelle to take another 3 hours I rode back up the track to find that from the end to the swing bridge I felt the trail rode better than on the way down. At the point where the Hut walk splits off the main track I met with Michelle again and we walked most of the way back, with some riding.
After another 2 hour drive back to Rotorua and a frustrating time for Michelle we decided to try the NZ hamburger chain Wendy’s for a simple dinner. It was okay, better than Maccas.
With a fair bit of convincing after the Pakihi Track ride, Michelle rode from the motel to the forest with me and I took her around a fairly easy loop of Tahi – Creek (she hadn’t ridden the whole of it yet) – and finishing with Dipper. She enjoyed that little loop so much we rode it twice and spent a bit of time playing on Dipper, going back and forth riding some berms and table tops.
She was so happy with the riding she wanted to go back to the bike shops to buy some new riding clothes, so off we went. A nice lunch at a Korean BBQ place and we then drove out to and walked around the Buried Village site.
We’d planned to do a helicopter flight at some stage because neither of us had been up in one. It was meant to be done two days earlier but the weather was a bit foggy around Mount Tarawera so it was put on hold for a clear day. The morning was a bit overcast but the operators were excellent and held out for an afternoon flight. So, in the morning we went out to hold the lion cubs at Paradise Valley Springs. The small zoo was picturesque but the lion patting opportunity was a bit disappointing with it having to be done through a cage because of the number of people trying to do the same thing at the same time.
Between the zoo and the helicopter flight I had enough time to go for a ride in the forest. I rode up “Challenge” and met two older ladies who rode out to and down Mad if you Don’t, then showed me how to get to “Yellow Brick Road” and then “Pondy New” that joined onto Rollercoaster. From there the ladies went their own way and I rode back along Old Chevy, up Red Tank Rd and back down B Rude Not 2 before riding the fire road to Dipper and back to the motel.
The helicopter flight was great with amazing views, and Mt Tarawera offered more of the same. An excellent experience. Dinner was at Indian Star and the food was very nice.
Napier, a 1930’s style art deco city; supposedly. The drive from Rotorua is about the same as from Campbelltown to Canberra. The town had some nice buildings, but I’m not too sure if anything beyond the main street was art deco style and there were repairs and works going on everywhere. None of the buildings looked significantly damaged, it just looked like we picked a heavy maintenance period to have a look around. We picked a café where the food was crap for lunch. The Information Centre was a bit tricky to find from where we’d parked but we found it eventually and bought our permits to ride around Eskdale, including maps.
Again, this trail area was chosen based on the Kennetts book, so onto Eskdale… The riding was okay. Down on the flats we had to dodge cow pats and the lower climbs weren’t too bad. Pine needles lay extremely thick on the trail tread, making it feel like riding along a soaked paddock. “Nemo” was probably the most fun trail on the flat section. The North Shore skills area was okay.
I wanted to get to the top and pick a few nice trails to come down. “No. 8” started with a push up a massive hill. That continued into a ride/walk up more of the hill on the thick pine needles. At one point the gradient measured 50%!
While following the trail we found a sign stating we were in a live firing range! At this point Michelle wanted to head back so we found Crowley Rd and with her map she followed that back to the car. Apparently she received a bonus magpie attack on the way back! I kept going up “Fenceline”. Then I went up “Ridgeline”. Then I went up “Waipunga” until I hit the trig point. From there it was downhill. Down “Trig”, down “Maxxis”, both of which were pretty slippery and had me just hanging on trying not to lock up the wheels with no grip so I wouldn’t slide off the track and down the steep hillside. I can’t see those two tracks being very sustainable. I joined onto “Swoosh” and was meant to ride down “Klingon”, but somehow missed that and rode down “Upper Twoman” and then “Esk DH”, “DH Link”, a bit of “Pace” and back to the main gate along the fire road. Overall, my least favourite ride of the holiday.
A long drive back and showers to get the cow pats off us before heading out to Yaki Yaki for a beautiful Korean meal for dinner. I dodged the cow pats better than Michelle!
My last planned ride in the forest. I had a loop in mind and was determined to ride “Split Enz”. I headed out early, expecting there to be a bit of climbing to get to Split Enz. I rode up Direct Rd to get to Frontal Lobotomy and then ride down “Huckleberry Hound” and “Corners”. At the bottom I headed up Hill Rd. Despite what I had been told, Hill Rd seemed to be the easier climb compared to Direct Rd. It was packed down, smooth and not too steep. Admittedly I didn’t climb all the way to Frontal Lobotomy, turning right onto Moerangi Rd and onto Loop Rd before hitting Split Enz. Split Enz was brilliant and joined up nicely to “Pondy Downhill/Pondy New”. Coming down Pondy Downhill I stopped for a bit and chatted to one of the trail builders for 10 minutes or so. I got moving again and came upon two more guys working on a berm. I stopped and asked if they wanted me to walk around it but they said to “charge on through” the soft berm. That led into a bit of a downhill fire trail with only one good line, or so I thought. The line wasn’t that great and I had the bike going a bit more sideways through a sharp g-out then flipping it back the other way when I saw the next steep ramp coming at me! I held on but it was the closest I came to having a serious accident on the whole trip. Still riding I turned back to the two builders clapping and waving at me. The legs felt a little watery but I joined onto Rollercoaster and climbed up the Chinese Takeaways (Chop Suey, Spring Roll and Sweet N Sour. That brought me out at Dragon’s Tail, but this time I took the “Te Ara Puna” turn off Dragon’s Tail instead of following it all the way to the end. Back up Larch Rd and onto Nursery Rd to ride back to the car park and onto the motel.
Lunch at a Japanese place that was pretty average, mini-golf that was a bit average as well and onto the Skyline Restaurant for another average sort of meal.
We headed out to Craters of the Moon based on the Kennetts book. Before riding we found a LBS in Taupo and asked for some info, including a map and the salesperson was very helpful, letting me know that some of the trails were off limits and saying which ones were good depending on how much time we had.
From the car park, through the tunnel and up Q Line Rd we headed for “Debs”. From there we were able to find “Mr” and “Mrs” which were nice flowing trails with a bit of up and down. “Better than P” continued the theme and we found ourselves at a major trail intersection where we headed up “Outback”. Outback was a great 6km loop up and then down a hill. When the trail split Michelle went via “Slalom”, while I headed up “Retro” and onto “Luge”, complete with a massive see-saw. We joined back up about a 1km before the big intersection and from there followed the signs up the appropriately named “Grinder”. At the top of Grinder we headed down “Deb’s Downhill” to finish with a fantastic 3+km descending run. We trundled back to the car park the same way we came in and I headed off to do the other side from the car park, following “Tourist Trap” – “Inward Goods” – back onto Tourist Trap – around “Ferret” and back onto Tourist Trap again to the car park. This second side was definitely the easier, flatter area to ride. I thought that Craters of the Moon was as good as most of the trails at Whakarewarewa.
Back to the motel to clean up and we went to Rainbow Springs Nature Park. Another very picturesque setting to view animals in captivity, with signage on all of the colourful birds stating “native to Australia”! Some nice Sequoia trees too. We felt like a decent Italian meal for dinner and found it at Ciccio Italian Café, great food and service.
Our last full day in NZ.
My final chance to ride the Headland Loop on the W2K track, so off we went to do it. My original plan was to ride the W2K track to the Headland Loop, ride the Headland Loop towards Kinloch, then ride it in the opposite direction on the way back instead of just taking the W2K track back.
The Headland Loop ridden towards Kinloch had a small, flowing descent to start off with, then a 2 or so kilometre climb followed by some more great descending and a little bit of climbing. This was supposed to be a more technical challenge than the W2K track, but besides having a few more turns and dips the difficulty level was about the same. It definitely flowed better though. Once I got to the end it started to pour down rain and with the amount of descending on the way out I decided to just ride the W2K trail back. I had to stop about 5 times just to clean my glasses and try to find a semi dry patch of clothing to dry my lenses. I got back to the car to find Michelle waiting; she had walked along the lake shore instead of riding. The Headland Loop is definitely worthwhile and would not be that hard to include in the original ride, but not having done it before I expected it to be a lot harder based on other people’s descriptions.
We stopped at Lava Glass for a look on the way back and then at Benny Bee to buy some honey. I needed a shower and to wash the bikes to get them ready for packing. I did that while Michelle cleaned the car out and then I packed the bikes. The Evoc bags are brilliant. About half an hour to pack two bikes safe and secure for air travel!
A quick visit to Lotus Bakery for some sweets and then dinner at Amazing Thai, which turned out to be pretty well named as the food was very light and tasty. A bit of souvenir shopping saw Michelle pick up a stuffed sheep.
Back at the motel the accommodation was paid for and I’d finally worked out the alarm clock to wake us up at 4:30am the next morning.
The alarm worked! 30 minutes to get ready, pack everything in the car and we were off. We were the only people in the airport for about an hour, except for a security guard that I didn’t see but Michelle said turned the lights on when we arrived! On to the plane for a quick flight to Auckland, then breakfast in the Air NZ lounge and onto the next plane for Sydney!
All in all, a great trip!
Grant Byrne – Oct 2012