The Fab Four and Invited Guests took on The Timber Trail bike ride on the 27th and 28th February. The Timber Trail is nestled in Pureora Forest, between Lake Taupo and Te Kuiti, in the Central North Island. The Timber Trail, originally known as the Central North Island Rail Trail or Pureora Timber Trail, in the North Island of New Zealand is an 83 kilometres (52 mi) cycleway (also used by walkers and hunters) in Pureora Forest Park, fully opened in 2013, with 35 bridges (built by DoC staff, community max workers, or contractors), including 8 large suspension bridges (one of the longest on a NZ cycleway, much more stable than the swing bridges used on older tracks).
It is one of several cycleways developed as part of the New Zealand Cycle Trail and passes through podocarp forests of rimu, totara, miro, matai and kahikatea, as well as some exotic forestry and regenerating bush. About half the Trail is on the track-bed of an old bush tramway, including a spiral and tunnel. The Pureora Forest has around two metres of rainfall per year and this lush forest is the result. Rivers flowing from the area contribute to the mighty Whanganui River catchment. New Zealanders are blessed with more fresh water per person than any others on earth.
We decided to go with Ted from Tread Routes (www.treadroutes.co.nz) who organised our trip from start to finish. Six out of the eight of us met in Hamilton where Ted picked us up about 4pm on the Thursday. We then headed to Otorohanga to pick up Sheree and Matthew before making our way to Black Fern Lodge which was our lodgings for the night. Black Fern Lodge is located in Waimiha which is about halfway between Te Kuiti and Taumarunui but more inland towards Taupo. Before researching this trip I didn’t quite understand where this was either.
Black Fern Lodge has two accommodation options – The Lodge and The Forge. We were staying in The Forge which is a converted shearing shed that has four ensuite bunk rooms which can sleep 4 people in each. It is really cool and has been very well converted while retaining it’s charm and character. We arrived there about 6.30pm and our host Maria had prepared dinner for us – all we had to do was heat it up. There was the usual banter going on between us all and a nervous anticipation in the air. After our hearty dinner and dessert we retired to our bunk rooms.
On Friday morning we donned the lycra and jumped back in the van with Ted. Because Black Fern Lodge is effectively in the middle of The Timber Trail you have to drive to the start at Pureroa which takes about an hour. When we got there Ted unloaded all our bikes and we became acquainted with them. It started drizzling on our drive in but by the time we started the 2km ride to the start of the trail some blue sky had started to appear. Ted parked the van and bike trailer up securely at Pa Harakeke Eco Cultural Centre as he was riding the trail with us. One of his team would collect it the next day and pick us up at Ongarue.
The first 13km of the trail is uphill with the first 6km being a grade 2 and the next 7km being a grade 3 – interesting times ahead! The trail setting is absolutely stunning – lots of beautiful native bush. The 7km grade 3 ride was definitely challenging and we were very happy when we reached the summit. We could see the western shore of Lake Taupo in the distance. Although it wasn’t raining there was a bit of cloud around and you needed to layer up again when you stopped. The starting point was at about 550m and we had climbed to about 950m above sea level.
Pure-ora-o-Kahu is the proper name for this mountain. It comes from a profound and positive story. Kahu was a woman of great mana (status and dignity). She trekked to these lands, named Maraeroa, in search of her son Raka-maomao. It was a difficult trip and she became sick. At last Kahu and her group came to the northern side of a mountain. They rested in the sun. Then they followed the stream to the summit, and offered prayers for Kahu, so the stream became Waimiha (Wai = water, miha = special incantations). Kahu was bathed in the water, and the miha comforted her. She revived, and recovered to full health. The mountain became known as Pure-ora-o-Kahu which translates to The ritual purification of Kahu.
After reaching the summit the trail had an undulating downhill gradient and the next 10km is also considered to be grade 3 which means it is averagely technical from a mountain bike perspective. It was fun going downhill but you really had to concentrate and get used to the impact on your hands and wrists. The scenery continued to be spectacular and it was great to be surrounded by native bush and if you took the time to stop and listen you could hear the odd Tui.
We rode until the 35km mark where we then went off the trail for 6km to get back to Black Fern Lodge. There was a fairly large uphill part on this 6km and even I didn’t have the energy to ride up it. It was a welcome relief to get to Black Fern Lodge and have a cold drink. The weather had come out really nice now so we decided to go down to the river for a swim. The water was quite chilly but nothing that us elite athletes couldn’t handle – our very own ice bath! I am sure our muscles were all the better for it the next day.
Again Maria had prepared our dinner so all we had to do was heat it up. Harty, Jen and Kaz were on dinner duty tonight. Ted also joined us which was nice although I am unsure what his thoughts on all the swearing were. Jeffo sure can swear! The team thought a few beers and a bottle of bubbles was in order to celebrate our great day. Thomas and Harty decided to have a roadie and then a loud discussion after we had all gone to bed – they got a short sharp shift! On the Saturday we woke to a fabulous day. Ted had negotiated a ride up the hill for us with Kerry from the Lodge – $5 each – so worth it! Kerry loaded our bikes onto his Bush Lokey and we piled into the back – this was going to save us about a 45 minute walk although he only drove us about 2km. Ted being the super fit guide that he was rode up the hill and nearly beat us.
We got to the top of the hill, were reunited with our bikes and off we went. Steve and Matthew took off first. The rest of us were about to go when Ted said “who’s backpack is this?” It was Steve’s – what a wombat! We decided that Sheree would take it down and we wouldn’t tell him. We got to the bottom of the hill and Steve was standing there panic stricken – he had realised he had left his bag at the top of the hill. We took great delight in telling him he would have to bike back up and collect it. He was white by this stage but then he noticed his bag on Sheree’s back. I have never seen such a big smile – he was so relieved. After that bit of excitement we were on our way again until Harty’s chain broke – Ted wasn’t too far behind and had it fixed in a jiffy. We rejoined the trail at the 35km mark where we had left it the day before.
Apart from a 3km climb, today’s ride was going to be mostly downhill. Because it was a Saturday we came across a few more people on the trail. It was such a nice day and the bush and the vistas were awesome. The downhill riding was so much fun. There are eight suspension bridges on the trail – we went over the second and third longest ones on day one – 115m and 109m respectively and the longest one on day two which was the Maramataha Bridge which was 141m long and 53m high. They really are an engineering feat and add to the uniqueness of this trail.
We also rode down the Ongarue Spiral which is at the 74km mark – it was an engineering triumph in it’s day. The Ongarue Spiral took the tramway up 43 metres (141 ft) on a grade the bush lokeys could cope with (for 6 kilometres or 3.7 miles the gradient averaged 1 in 30). Below the spiral the tramway was built by cutting a ledge in the ignimbrite cliffs. It continues to drop until reaching the bank of the Mangakahu Stream. People used to take day trips out just to see it working.
We then met someone coming the other way (mad) who said there were some bulls roaming about on the last part of the track which passes through private farmland. We were thinking we were OK as we had farmer Kaz with us. We saw evidence of these bulls on the track but they had obviously done a runner by the time we got there as they were nowhere to be seen – perhaps they heard farmer Kaz was on her way. Just after reaching the end of the private farmland we came to the end of The Timber Trail which is 83km long. We then had to bike about 2km on the road into Ongarue.
The Tread Routes van was a welcome sight for all of us. Day two had been fun but we were all pretty shattered after our 97km effort over two days. The bikes were loaded and we were on our way back to Hamilton. We had a quick refuel stop in Te Kuiti and then dropped Sheree and Matthew back in Otorohanga. The Black Caps were playing Australia in pool play in the Cricket World Cup (a dress rehearsal for the final to be played at the MCG today, Sunday the 29th March 2015) so the boys were all keen to get home to watch the game. It had been a fabulous couple of days. It was great to spend some quality time with the Fab Four and Invited Guests even if there was a fair amount of swearing and moaning about posteriors going on! I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. Thanks team for helping to create such wonderful memories – Sheree & Matthew, Camilla and Jaff, Jen and Kaz and of course Precious, aka Steve. Ted from Tread Routes was a fantastic guide and I would highly recommend anyone wanting to do this trail to get in touch with him. He also has the DOC concessions for a number of other trails in the Central North Island – http://www.treadroutes.co.nz.
History of The Timber Trail
The Timber Trail, cost about $5.5m to build. It was one of the seven ‘Quick Start’ Projects announced in 2009, which were publicised as promoting economic growth. The Timber Trail took longer to complete than some later projects, so it was the tenth New Zealand Cycle Trail to be completed since Prime Minister John Key had launched the cycleways with the Green Party.
By mid 2011 only 23 kilometres (14 mi) was open, with tenders still not let for interpretation panels and five bridges. It was then that the contract with the Ministry of Economic Development for community max and taskforce green workers ended. 12 staff had been trained in 12 months in basic woodwork, track construction, quad bike and 4WD driving and health and safety. DoC employed five from the MED scheme for six months to build 6 to 10 metres (20 to 33 ft) bridges, shelters, other structures, and some track construction. Another went on ‘community max’ with the recreation team.
Ongarue Spiral restoration work began in July 2011. The tunnel was strengthened and the stream re-diverted out of it (it had been diverted in when the tramway was replaced by logging trucks). The tunnel ceiling was reinforced with mesh, a lower bridge built to the right of the original bridge to preserve bits of the original and remnants of the upper bridge preserved in the new Trail bridge.
Negotiations were held to build a 30 metres (98 ft) suspension bridge over Mangakahu Stream to end the trail further east on Mangakahu Rd, but the Trail as built has another 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) of undulating ride keeping north of the stream, roughly following the tramway to within 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) of Ongarue.
In July 2011 Maramataha, Waione, and Waikoura bridges were tested to their 10 person weight limit using water weights to get council consent and 1.6 kilometres (0.99 mi) of track was built (though not surfaced). Maramataha Bridge was finished in early October 2012 and opened on 1 November 2012. The northern end Bog Creek and Orauhora suspension bridges were ready by December 2012.
On the 1 December 2012 southern section opening day 150 cyclists rode its four suspension bridges, the tramline and Ongarue Spiral.
The Timber Trail was declared fully open when the Minister of Conservation cut the ribbon on Saturday, 30 March 2013.
After the opening improvements and maintenance continued; in winter 2013 additional pumice was helicoptered to boggy patches on the Mt Pureora section. Other changes are likely. For example there were concession negotiations about lodgings at Piropiro Flats to supplement the existing campground, where stumps had been cleared.
Most of the Timber Trail’s southern section follows the Ellis & Burnand tramway. Their timber sawmill at Ongarue was fed with logs (especially rimu) by a gradually growing network of tramways from 1903 until floods damaged the lines in 1958. From then until closure in 1966 the tramway was converted for use by logging trucks. However, as one of the best preserved bush tramways, it is considered a nationally significant site.