Riding the Pureora Timber Trail on my E-bike

Riding the Timber Trail.

In two days!

Ready for Day One on the Timber Trail  L-R Lorraine, John, Bob, David, Helen, Lucy & Des

With The Waikato River trails (previous blog) behind us we headed for Blackfern Lodge – 1731 Ongarue Stream Rd, Waimiha or to put it another way  – the middle of nowhere!  We had just left our wonderful accommodation for two nights in a guesthouse called “Out in the Styx” which was fairly remote but Blackfern was even more remote.  The lodge is situated half way along the Timber Trail bike ride and would be our home for the next three nights giving us two days to ride the 85kms of the Timber Trail.  Because there were ten of us in our group we had booked several months in advanced to ensure accommodation as it is pretty sparse along the trail but is improving with the opening of the latest addition – the new Timber Trail Lodge. 

We travelled the 82kms from Mangakino to Blackfern Lodge  and arrived there about 1pm. The 82kms took us about one and a half hours to get there mainly due to the fact that the last 10 kms was on a narrow dirt road which required caution.

Blackfern gardens

Sign by the Ongarue stream at Blackfern lodge
Axe head bushmen family – from the past!
History of timber felling in the region
Old photos of times gone by!

But what a spot! It was so worth the drive – Blackfern Lodge, a tranquil oasis dotted with rustic cabins and a softly flowing steam close-by the cabins.  The stream was home to eels, trout and endangered Whio or blue ducks. A short walk took you to a fast flowing waterfall with a pool underneath to swim in (if you are up for it). There was also a longer one hour easy walk that challenged your sense of humour with several eclectic artefacts, sculptures and several creatively humorous notices which defined the rye and quirky sense of humour of the previous owners.

Allo! Allo! on the one hour walk!

The couple who now owned the lodge had just taken over from older members of their family a few months previously.  The previous owners had lived and worked there for over 20+ years . The complex started off as a place to make a home, it then morphed into a well known local restaurant and finally into an accommodation lodge.

Endangered Whio duck
Whio or blue duck
Our accommodation at Blackfern Lodge

Of course our main reason for being here was to ride the Timber Trail. Rachel, our host, had arranged for a shuttle to pick us up at 0830 the first morning and take us to Pureora – a very bumpy 30-40  minute ride along unsealed roads. The same shuttle would also pick us up at the end of the second day at Ongarue. The 87 km Timber Trail is situated in the Pureora Forest Park between Lake Taupo and Te Kuiti and is called the Timber trail as it follows the old rail track that was used to cart out the timber to the sawmill in Ongarue. The trail follows the Ellis & Burnand Tramway built in 1903.

Day One – 36kms on trail to turn off for Blackfern + 7 km to our Lodge

We were all up bright and early but full of apprehension about what was ahead on today’s ride.  We are all well over seven score years except one youngster aged 65.  We are also fair weather riders and had heard that the Timber trail was challenging for riders of our fitness and vintage! But we were also excited to test ourselves.  I was riding my three year old e-bike – a smart-motion city bike – how would this go on this rugged terrain that suggested mountain bikes would be the best choice??  We had also heard that over 600 riders had been through the Timber Trail days before us so we anticipated it to be a little churned up, plus it had been raining for over a week.

Our shuttle driver regaled us with lots of local information which distracted us from our very bumpy ride to the start of the track at Doc base on Barryville Road.

The first 4 kms of the track were relatively easy with a short diversion at the three kilometre marker to view and photograph a 1920s historic logging caterpillar bulldozer, which was left abandoned for years but has since had a facelift. From 4kms to the first shelter (a little red shed) was a gradual climb through podocarp forests of rimu, totara, miro, matai and kahikatea.  The King Country region was covered with forest prior to European settlement which the  Māori referred to as Te Nehe-nehe-nui, the great forest which is slowly regenerating.

The only area without trees – just Toi Toi
Glad to see this sign after 14kms of uphill cycling!
Little white flowers and berries along the way
Moss covered trees
My E-bike amongst the gnarled old trees
First Shelter or little red shed – great reading on the information board

The climb continued in earnest into the ‘cloud’ forest around Mt Pureora with breaks for views and photos along the way up to the highest point on the trail – 971 meters above sea level.  Just before you reach the highest point there is a walking track up to Mt Pureora 1165 m and is a 40 minute walk each way.  Some tackle it on their mountain bikes but they are ‘true mountain bikers’! 

We rode passed gnarled moss covered dark green trunks and trees and the undergrowth was dotted here and there with foxgloves and some pretty white flowers and red berries.

From here the trail is mostly down hill but with some steep and rutted descents to the 18kms marker (the blue markers telling you how far you had travelled were positioned every single kilometre) where we met the first of the trails suspension bridges 115m over Bog Inn creek, followed 2kms later by another bridge 109m over Orauhora creek.  According to the Kennett brothers “Unless you suffer from vertigo, it’s worth stopping in the middle to appreciate the forest views”. I took their advice and walked back to the centre after first biking across the bridge just to prove I could!  The view of the beautiful forested ravine below the bridge was a stunning canopy of trees with the New Zealand native ponga trees proudly displaying the fern leaves.

One of the many amazing suspension bridges that were on the track
View from the centre of the bridge of bush clad valley
Beautiful native Ponga – always looks so special from above
Taken from the middle of the suspension bridge having cycled over and back!

Between the highest point and the bridges there were several viewing points along the top indicated by special markers    ‘views of Lake Taupo’ and areas where you could get ‘cell phone coverage’.  Unfortunately lake Taupo was not visible as there was cloud cover but we enjoyed the break trying to find it! This trail consists of 35 bridges including the 8 suspension bridges.

Sign to view of Lake Taupo – alas it was shrouded in cloud!

All along the route I was mindful of the bars on my battery reducing more quickly than I liked.   I knew I was using my brakes because my road tyres were struggling to cope with the ruts, dips and bumps on the downhill run and of course I also used some throttle on the 14km climb. Using brakes frequently on an e-bike unfortunately uses more battery because the engine stops each time you apply the brakes and you need to use power to get going again so the battery suffers. 

Finally we arrived at the 36km mark where there are very clear signs directing us to Blackfern Lodge – another 7 kms on…..would my battery last?  After riding a further 3-4 kms I came to a stile (which we had been warned about) and as I was riding alone at that time I had to negotiate a 25kg E-bike over a style by myself. I managed to do it with a lot of huffing and puffing. I was over the stile and riding on top of a soft carpet of pine needles when …my battery ran out. Bugger…… I still had about 2-3 kms to go and most of it was uphill.  In fact it turned out to be a long steep grind through the forest punctuated by the occasional bizarre notices place on the route by the Blackfern Lodge owners.  What a sense of humour…! not long to go, just up around the corner….. no way!  Finally after several corners and much more uphill I reached the top and was met with a notice that said  – “Enjoyment is the success of conquering the challenge”.  I admit to not feeling any enjoyment at that time!

Sign on route back to Blackfern Lodge

 

We all arrived back in dribs and drabs and were warmly greeted by the two members of the team who did not ride.  After a shower and a glass of wine I began to feel that excitement!  We ate a beautiful meal prepared by Rachel.  All we had to do was heat it in the oven while the wine and beer and tongues flowed.

Day Two: 47km Piropiro to Ongarue

 After a great nights sleep we all had different ideas about what we wanted to do today and so there was lively discussion over breakfast. By the time Mark & Rachel came to see what the plans for the day were our plans had changed. Six wanted to do the trail from Piripiro to Ongarue but did not want to cycle the 7 kms to the start of today trail. So it was decided that Mark would take all six ( for for a certain price right through to Piropiro where the trail started for the second days ride and then the shuttle would pick them up at about 4pm at the Timber Trail carpark at Ongarue. So we loaded the six bikes aboard Mark’s pickup truck which has bike racks front and back and was used mainly to take guests back up to the ridge line to start the second day ride – just a couple of kms thereby avoiding a long climb to get to the Timber Trail but today he would take them right to Piropiro which would be about a 40 minute drive but would save that extra 7 km.

Mark loading bikes onto truckl
And the six are off to Piropiro

The second day of the trail is certainly easier than the first. With packed lunch and slightly sore butts they were off.  There was less climbing and more descents but the rain the week before and the 600 cyclists riding through had churned up the trail so again one had to take the descents carefully so as not to get a tyre stuck in a ridge!. Again the day starts with a relatively steep climb through stunning Podocarp- hardwood forest and across another massive suspension bridge.  There were several suspension bridges, including New Zealand’s longest one with a span of 141m across the Maramataha Valley. There was a moderate climb through native forest before they reached the terminus of the Ellis and Burnand bush railway that extracted timber from 1914 to 1958.

Meanwhile because of my battery issues the day before myself and Helen, another member of the team, opted to be driven to Bennett Road outside Ongarue. Marcia who was not riding because of an injury drove us to the car park to start the ride. Our plan was to ride out and back on the Timber Trail to beyond the Ongarue spiral.  I would be able to keep a close eye on my battery  and turn back if it began to get low. By riding out and back we could also get a lift back in the shuttle with our six team mates to Blackfern Lodge.

Off on Timber Trail from Ongarue end starting at Bennett’s road car park
Muddy but beautiful
NO STOPPING for 1500m! Wet & muddy trail
On the drier part of the trail through private property
Some of the old original sleepers!

It was a beautiful ride although it was a steady climb for 10 km to the Ongarue spiral. We did pass an area that was cordoned off with red and white tape because of logging in the area but I am afraid we ignored it and kept going.  It really was easy going until we came to a huge sign indicating a rock fall ahead!  When we got to the rockfall we had to haul the bikes over this mound made by the fall.  After that there were several alert signs telling us that we must NOT stop for the next two kms as we were in danger from rockfalls.

Finally we got to the Ongarue spiral – what an amazing section of the trail this is.   Great to look at and even better to ride through the curved tunnel and over the bridge and ride around in a circle. You can still spot some of the original beams that held up the bridge when trams were passing over it. 

Photos and history on information board
Helen at the Ongarue Spiral. We go around in a circle and end up on bridge above (in photo)

The trail had several information boards that DOC with the help of local historians has created to take us back in time especially the information and photographs about the Ongarue Spiral and how the workers lived while building this railway. One story tells of a pay clerk riding out on his horse to deliver pay-packets to the workers and while having a cup of tea his horse bolted and was not found for several weeks but he still had the saddlebag with the workers pay envelopes in it!!

Ferns & moss
Blue Kilometre markers along the route
Finishing the trail at Bennett Road car park

We arrived back at the car park having ridden 24 kms with lots of time to spare so rode down into the sleepy backcountry village of Ongarue where there is little to pass the time.  However, there was a backpackers in the main street but it was closed.  Luckily for us a guy pulled outside who was a friend of the owners and he persuaded the owner to make us a coffee, which he did reluctantly. The friend of the cafe owner and his son were in the honey & bee business and sold us 1KG of their honey via internet banking!! The father had been in the bee business for over 20 years and now the son had joined him and both live in Taurmanui.

Ongarue local
The Bee man
Another Local
The Bee man’s son and a great salesman
The ‘Flashpackers’ where we had coffee on main street of Ongarue!
The old station in Ongarue

The shuttle was there at 4pm exactly and took us all back to our oasis where a wholesome dinner, wine and beer awaited us.

So what had we achieved over two days?   Eight long slow climbs, seven rapid descents, 35 bridge crossings,  dark but beautiful regenerated native forest, lots of gnarled moss covered tree trunks, a few open plains dotted with toi toi, lots of muddy and rocky single-riding tracks, some easy pedalling, lots of stops/breaks, learned the history of the King Country, took many photos and finally felt a huge sense of satisfaction.

Next morning we were very sad to leave Blackfern lodge but we were off on another adventure – riding the Te Are Ahi Thermal trail in Rotorua.

Riding The Waikato Bike Trails

Another year, another adventure, another trail but which one this year? It was time to put our ten heads together and decide which bike ride we would tackle in 2018. Which cycle route in our beautiful country of New Zealand had we not yet completed?  We decided we wanted to stay in the north Island this year and chose the Pureora Timber Trail (2 days)  and the Te Are Ahi thermal trail in Rotorua (2 days). Nine of the group were committed for a mid March start.  Then I came across a really good package by a shuttle Group called ‘Blue Tui Shuttles’ for the Waikato River Trail.  Would any of the group be interested in this as an add-on?

Six of us decided we would like to do this trail before going on to do the other ones,  so I booked the three days Waikato River Trail Bike Ride with Blue Tui Shuttles run by Wilhelmina Gilbert. Wilhelmina runs a really efficient and friendly service with great food and is totally reliable – she was always where she said she would be!  The package ($630pp NZ) included three days riding our bikes, three nights accommodation and most meals.  Each accommodation was so very different but each had its own charm and the service from Blue Tui shuttles was really amazing. 

A few days before our ride began we had an email from Wilhelmina letting us know that NZ Department of Conservation (DOC) had closed a section of the trail but she put forward several alternative suggestions. She suggested we decide when we met her at ‘Out in the Styx’, our first night’s accommodation.

Pukeatua Peak in the background
Lavender Hedge around ‘Out in The Styx’
Road up to Sanctuary Mountain – 5 mins from ‘Out in The Styx’
Art in the garden in ‘Out in The Styx’

We drove down to ‘Out in the Styx’ guesthouse on the day before our first ride – about 3+ hours drive from Auckland. ‘Out in the Styx’ sits at the foot of Sanctuary Mountain and lies midway between Rotorua and Waitomo in a tiny village called Pukeatua. Great atmosphere, remote, and very comfortable. We had plain comfortable rooms with ensuite and a room where we could relax, make tea and coffee and do our washing if we wished.  The guesthouse has a variety of accommodation from ensuite to bunk rooms and cabins

Lance & Mary run this establishment, Lance is a wonderful front line host and Mary’s a great cook – her food was tasty, plentiful and varied.  There is no menu – you get what is set out on the service table – but there is something there for all dietary requirements and taste.  And so much to choose from ……You will definitely find something to suit your tastebuds! 

Day 1:  Waotu South Road to Pokaiwhenua Bridge – 29.5km

After a great breakfast Wilhelmina arrived with her mini-van and bike trailer full of enthusiasm for the trip we were heading out on.  After greeting us all and loading our bikes we drove to Waotu South Road, the highest point on the trail to begin the days’ 29.5 km ride. The section heading north from here was mostly on road with a beautiful ride through Jim Barnett Reserve – full of birdsong and a 1000 year old Totora Tree.  This reserve, (25 hectares), was rescued from the axemen of the last century by a forward thinking Walter Barnett and his son Jim who owned the land.

Jim Barnett Reserve

Our first stop of the day was following a enjoyable downhill ride to Jones Landing where Wilhelmina was waiting with the ‘billy’ boiled for a cup of tea and home-made baking!

Welcome sight of the Blue Tui Shuttle
Local school children practicing their rowing skills at Jones Landing

We learned that the next 2.5 kms of the trail was advanced – which we did not know earlier.  There is an 11km alternative route via road but we were committed to this section as there was also a fantastic lookout over Jones Landing – 10 minute walk up hill from the trail,  but first we had to lift our bikes up 30 steps – The dreaded Tumai steps this was very cruel especially as I and my friend Marcia had electric bikes each weighing 25kg. 

View from the top!
Looking back at Jones Landing
Left the bikes & Marcia to walk 10 mins up to the lookout – well worth it!

Wilhelmina walked with us and helped haul the bike up the steps – this was above and beyond the call of duty but we were sure glad of the help. 

John, Marcia, Lucy, Helen & David on the trail.
Marcia, John, Lorraine, Helen & David

Nine kms further on was the Arapuni swing bridge (152 metres long) said to be New Zealand’s longest swing bridge!) and once we had all ridden over and back across the bridge with photos to prove it we headed to the ‘Rhubarb Cafe’ for a well deserved coffee.

Looking down on native bush from the Arapuni Swing Bridge
The New Zealand Punga Tree
Arapuni Dam & Powerhouse
Arapuni Swing bridge constructed to give access to workers living in Arapuni
David on swing bridge
View of swing bridge from trail

Arapuni, is one of a chain of man-made lakes on the Waikato River, which were formed as a result of the Waikato hydroelectricity scheme. The 64-metre-high Arapuni Dam was the first of eight to be built on the river. Construction began in 1925 and by 1929 the power station was operational. The station now has a category one listing on the Historic Places Trust. There is a great view of the dam from the massive swing bridge that straddles the river near  Arapuni Village. It was originally built to allow easy access to the dam for the construction workers.  150 meters below the bridge is the Arapuni Gorge and the fast moving waters of the Waikato.

Along the last enjoyable part of the trail by the Waikato river

From Rhurbarb cafe we headed back to the swing bridge and turned right to head off on a 13.7km ride to Pokaiwhenua car park.  After 6.2km alongside Lake Karapiro we arrived at Little Waipa Reserve where we were greeted with more tea/coffee and refreshments by Wilhelmina. Next a very easy 5.3km along the road to the car park and our day was done!

Home to ‘Out in the Styx’ for a well deserved wine, chat about our day and a scrumptious meal and bed!

Day 2: Waipapa Dam to Mangakino Lakefront 19.5km

The day dawned with a spit of rain which soon disappeared. Wilhelmina arrived on time, loaded our bikes and we were off to Waipapa Dam to start todays ride. The section that was closed was between Waipapa dam and Waotu South Road. By the end of the day we decided we were glad it was closed as our biking skills or fitness levels would not have coped!!

When we arrived at Waipapa Dam the notice said this section was advanced????   Other maps and information about this section claimed it was Intermediate – even the oracles of NZ cycle trails – the Kennett Brothers and the Nga Haerenga New Zealand Cycle Trail had it listed as Intermediate.

Relieved to be over the worst part of the 2nd day ride!
Nice smooth going at the beginning of the 2nd days ride
Puffed after riding 10kms of steep rutted hills

The first part of the track was a breeze riding alongside the road but then the trail turned into the forest where there were many steep climbs and descents most of which were so rutted that we had to dismount and push our bikes up and down so we would not get stuck in the ruts and fall!  What we did not know then but learned later when we got to Mangakino was that 600 bikers had been through the day before on their cycle from Cape Reinga  to the Bluff which was probably why the trail was cut up so very badly but they also told the patrons at the Mangakino Hotel that that section was one of the hardest they had encountered!. The trail became easier as we got closer to the Maraetai Dam near Mangakino.  This dam began operation in 1952 and is the largest one on the Waikato river.  It can deliver up to 30 per cent of the annual output of the Waikato Hydro System – enough to power 170,000 homes.

The last 3-4 kms of this ride are gentler and so one can stop to read the information panels near the dam area relaying facts about the dam. I was ‘dam’ glad to arrive at the gentler part of the ride as the last bar on my battery was flashing at me telling me its time was nearly up.  I just hoped it would get me to Mangakino Lakefront – which it did, but after coffee and refreshment at the lakefront I then had to cycle back up the hill to the village to our accommodation and as I drew level with the hotel my battery died!

Making the most of the wonderful facilities at Lake Maraetai,on the Mangakino lakefront

Wilhelmina was waiting for us at the Mangakino Lakefront with a slight concerned look on her face and I did sense she was a little worried when we had not arrive by a certain time. She thought we should have been quicker but our average age was 73+….what did she expect?!   We did arrive in dribs and drabs, very weary but relieved and were very pleased to see Wilhelmina waiting for us with refreshment before she took us to the Mangakino Hotel which was our accommodation for the night. My first action when I arrived there was to plug in my battery ready for the following day!

What a beautiful place the Mangakino Lakefront reserve is.  As we arrived we noticed several people busy putting up tents and parking trailers in preparation for the NZ water skiing championships that were taking place on the Lake Maraetai the following day.

We wandered over to the ‘The bus stop cafe ’ which is situated right by the lake. It is a uniquely converted 1972 Bedford bus with amazing views across Lake Maraetai.  We all had a well deserved coffee from the cafe and helped ourselves to wonderful food from Wilhelmina’s truck!

I had never heard of Mangakino until I started researching Waikato Trails but what a gem it turned out to be. It is a haven for watersports, scenic lake cruises, trout fishing, mountain biking, hiking and golf.  What more could one want on a weekend away from the rat race.

Our hotel was clean and comfortable and staff were great – even provided an indoor room to lock our bikes away for the night.  A prominent sign in the hotel read “ Mangakino Hotel – In the middle of everywhere!”  The hotel is currently up for sale and has been for some time, in the meantime it is been very well looked after by two local women who take pride in ensuring their guests receive good service.  Both women have their own full time jobs as well as looking after the hotel but luckily their jobs have flexible hours which is how they manage the hotel so very well.

We had booked into ‘Mucky’s’ restaurant for dinner on the advice of our tour guide which turned out to be just thee minutes walk across the road – tasty food and good value!  This was also up for sale we discovered speaking to the owners daughter while ordering a wine from their well stocked bar.  The locals call it ‘Manga’ and it certainly is a lively little town especially the weekend we were there because of the championships. It seems many people have holiday places there – mostly boaties and keen water skiers.

We hit the sack early as we were all shattered after todays ride  – our shortest days ride!  One member of our team described the ride as 19.5km of sheer brutality….I think I have to agree!

Day 3 Mangakino Lakefront to Whakamaru Dam 13km one way

Today there was division in the team. Two of us decided to ride to Whakamaru Dam have coffee at ‘The Dam cafe’ and ride back. Four others decided to ride there and meet Wilhelmina at the Dam car park and come back with her but were still undecided.  Nothing phased Wilhelmina – she told us we could change our plans anytime and she would meet us at the dam carpark  with our lunch.

Yet another swing bridge!
Looking back to Mangakino Waterfront
Taking a break on the 3rd day from Mangakino to Whakamaru dam
Lovely picnic stop
Between Mangakino and Whakamaru dam
Viewed from above!

I really enjoyed this 13km ride which included yet another 70 metre long swing bridge called the Mangakino stream suspension bridge. There were some great views back towards Mangakino and several speed boats testing out the water probably preparing for the championships.  We arrived at our now familiar van – ‘Blue Tui Shuttles’ with the familiar ‘billy’ boiling and some sandwiches and cake.  Of course there was also fruit and biscuits – one could choose. 

Wilhelmina waiting with the ‘billy’ boiled and lunch by the Whakamaru dam

Wilhelmina suggested we ride on a little towards Atiamuri maybe as far as Lake Whakamaru Reserve, a popular summer camping destination. Myself and Lorraine who had planned to ride back to ‘Manga’ decided we would ride as far as the reserve and then ride back to ‘Manga’.

We really enjoyed the 3km out to Lake Whakamaru Reserve and passed a bird hide along the way well positioned for the many water birds visible on the lake.

Bird Hide on the way to Lake Maraetai Reserve
From Whakamuru Dam towards Atiamuri

On our return to Mangakino Lakefront it was teeming with people, boats, skiers and children.  We called to ‘The Bus Stop cafe’ and sat and had a coffee watching skiers reach speeds of 160kph, the whole waterfront was humming and there was a steady volume of traffic ordering food and drinks at the cafe.  We negotiated being able to come down later and order six pizzas could they do this??  “If I survive the crowds today and am still alive I can” said the owner of ‘the Bus Stop’

Our Blue Tui Tour was over but we still had one more night to enjoy ‘Manga’!

Twin Coast Cycle Trail, Northland, New Zealand & Wairere Boulders

On the Horeke Boardwalk

Our adventure began in Paihia, the main centre of the Bay of Islands and home to the Treaty of Waitangi House.  Russell which was the first permanent European settlement and sea port in New Zealand is just across the bay – a lot of history in this area.

We decided to stay there the night before our bike ride to show-off the Bay of Islands to our English visitor but sadly the weather had other ideas so we saw Paihia through dark clouds and rain.

Next morning the sun shone brightly as we set off to ride the 5 km to Opua where the Twin Coast Trail started.  We had not given much thought to this part of the trip – 5km – how hard could it be? But it was hard – it was nasty –  up and down several very steep hills along a narrow busy road with lots of traffic!

Views from the first part of the track just outside Opua

Finally we rode into Opua, the first port for overseas yachts arriving in the country after crossing the Pacific Ocean and past the busy ferry terminal, to the start of the Twin Coast Cycle trail. We were cruising along on a lovely flat surface on old railway track past the spectacular mangrove swamps when we came to an abrupt halt! The old 80m tunnel was ‘closed for repairs’, please take alternate route!

One of the bridges along the route

So off we headed up over this huge muddy hill (which was why the tunnel was built in the first place!).  Riding this alternate route was out of the question as the ground had deep channels that could bury you or your bike should you fall into them!

Making our way down the detour

Once back on the old railway line again we were flying along surrounded by beautiful mangroves and both sides and pohutukawa  trees with their bright red blooms and soon forgot about the unexpected detour.

We rode over the Taumarere Long Bridge and passed the railway station where Gabriel, the steam train had just discharged around 30 people onto the tracks for a talk about the history of the train and the area.  Gabriel is a 90 year old 4-4-0 Peckett side-tank engine and is the only one of her type left in the world and an iconic star attraction in Kawakawa.  It is not only used to haul passenger trains, but also for school trips and educational tours.

Today Gabriel travelled from Kawakawa to Taumarere bridge with lots of tourists.   Kawakawa is our  soon to be stop for well deserved coffee. After the bridge we had to ride alongside the train track as the track between here and Kawakawa  was and is  Gabriel’s patch.

Gabriel – 90 year old steam train
Meeting the tourists on the bridge
Locals swimming in the river

 

Local art by the track

Carefully crossing Gabriel’s patch!

Arriving in Kawakawa we headed for one of the many coffee shops to quench our thirst and we picked the one on the main street opposite the infamous Hundertwasser toilet.  Most tourists to Kawakawa go there to enjoy the colourful and quirky tile and art work in these public toilets designed by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser.  He visited New Zealand in the 1970s for an exhibition of his work and decided to make the country his second home and bought property near Kawakawa. In 1998 with the help of the community he transformed the town’s public toilets into a work of art.

Entrance to Hundertwasser Toilets

The next part of the trail took us through several industrial sites, an old wood mill and the small town of Moerewa. It was a gradual climb to our destination Kaikohe. We negotiated many many gates along the way which slowed progress and some gates were at a height that makes pushing a bike with two pannier bags difficult.  But then we arrived at the beautiful Orauta Stream suspension bridge and waterfall near Otiria and all was forgiven. 

Negotiating the track and the stray black cows ahead!!

Finally we arrive at Kaikohe, a sleepy town which claims to be the largest inland town in Northland. We were warmly welcomed by the relatively new owner of Mid North Motor Inn.  He found us a safe place for our bikes and told us where to go for something to eat. Sadly this did not prove easy because we had spent so much time talking about the day’s events and drinking wine we did not get around to thinking about dinner until after 7pm and the nearby RSA where we had planned to eat was closing.  So for the first time in 20 years I had MacDonald’s takeaways!!

Day 2 – Kaikohe – Horeke 42 km

The clouds had gathered overnight and just as we set off after a hearty breakfast it started to drizzle. We had packed our bags and left them for Rob, from Top Trail Hire to collect and take to our final destination Horeke. Next we checked that all had their head torch – as we were heading for a 80 meter curved railway tunnel. The rain continued and as we reached the highest point on the trail it was pelting down so hard there was no time to enjoy the views! We battled on to Okaihau 14 kms from Kaikohe where we had arrange a stop for coffee.  A mob of  drowned rats descended on Okaihau Village Cafe – the only cafe in this small rural town. As we arrived – the rain stopped and the sun came out and stayed out for the rest of the day –  beautiful.

We arrived at Lake Omapere, the centre of the local maori tribal area and once was historically an important source of food for the local maori people who valued the lake for its eels. But the pollution in the lake over yearshad nearly destroyed the eel life.

Beautiful Countryside

However, the now improved water quality in Lake Omapere and its only outlet, the Utakura River, has put tuna (eel) back on the menu at local marae.

We rode on through lush farmland leading to the notorious ‘switchbacks’ where we rode/slithered down some very steep grades but with amazing views if you could stop long enough to enjoy them! It was worth it because at the bottom of the switchbacks we were alongside the Utakura river where we found many beautiful spots to stop for lunch.

Lunch beside the Utakura River

 

We did share the trail with birds, butterflies, goats, rabbits and cows but very few humans. The farmland was lush and we rode through beautiful native bush believing we were alone in the world – blissfully alone!

Taking a break & checking maps
Over one of the many bridges
Share the path
Maori graveyard

A few kms before we arrived in Horeke we reached the start of the 1200m boardwalk that took us through beautiful mangroves, what an amazing achievement to build this in the middle of nowhere making it a memorable end to a great ride.

Deserted trails….
Wildlife – white-faced heron

The last 1.2km of boardwalk before Horeke

But wait! We were not at the end of the trail yet – it continued through the sleepy settlement of Horeke to Māngungu Mission House – 2 km past Horeke. The place started as a Wesleyan Mission station in 1882.

View from the Māngungu Mission House

Following lengthy discussions, the largest signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in the country took place here, with over 70 chiefs adding their assent before a crowd of up to 3,000 people

Beside the Horeke Tavern

 Horeke Tavern, the first pub in NZ. Horeke settlement has lots of firsts – First commercial shipyard dating back to 1826 with a plaque erected to prove it. The infamous Cannibal Jack was the first pakeha settler in 1825.

The first government funded hui/meeting after Treaty of Waitangi was signed. The first murder trial in NZ. The first village postoffice and of course the first pub!  The pub serves great beer, wine and food – though a limited menu – the chowder is great!

View of Horeke Tavern from jetty
The oldest pub in NZ – the Horeke Tavern

 

 

We ate and drank at the pub and stayed in Horeke for thee days & nights at Riverhead Guesthouse sitting high on the hill overlooking the settlement of Horeke and the Hokianga Harbour.  We loved the three days there enjoying the surrounds. For more information about cycling in NZ  go to www.nzcycletrail.com 

Just a couple of kilometers from Horeke is another hidden gem – the Wairere Boulders.  The boulders are a rock formation with a unique fluting on many of the large Basalt rocks. Most believe that the fluted striations in those dense rocks were caused by erosion from extremely acidic runoff caused by the vast kauri forests which once covered this area. However it was very hard to get geologists to believe this was basalt not limestone as fluting (according to them) is ‘not’ possible in basalt!  How wrong they were!

Most visitors just come to admire the remarkable shapes of the giant volcanic boulders, covered in moss and lichen that flows between the dense bush and to wander through the many walkways throughout the park.  The rocks were believed to have been thrown across the property by the eruption of Lake Omapere some 2.8 million years ago. 

The pathways, steps, bridges and lookouts were all built by the original owners Felix & Rita Schaad who came to NZ from Switzerland in 1983.  Felix discovered the boulders while chasing a goat and had the foresight to see some tourist potential, so set about creating a geological nature park around the boulders. The idea germinated and planning began in 1999 then in 2000 Felix began construction of the walkways, bridges and steps and lookouts.  It was a very dangerous and labour intensive job and on many occasions Rita had to secure Felix with a rope, to make sure he did not disappear in one of the 30m deep gaps between the boulders. Most of the construction materials and tools had to be transported down to the valley floor by a flying fox. The park was opened to the public in 2003.

One of the bridges built by Felix
Fluting basalt rocks

Today, one can walk under, over and even inside the boulders, admiring and touching the beautiful fluted shapes in basalt.  We walked around stroking the curved sculpted shapes and enjoying the tranquillity of the bush with its very active birdlife and pools that reflect the shapes of the rocks in the water.

As you wander around you learn about flora & fauna with signs identifying many of the trees

In 2017 Felix & Rita sold the property and it was bought in December 2017 by a Scottish couple Graham & Paula Grant and their six children. They plan to continue the ecological work, serve coffee from a truck, take kayaking trips down the river and allow camping in camper vans on site.

This place is heaven and is a ‘must do’ if you go to the end of the Hokianga harbour to the little settlement of Horeke.

We were sad to leave this beautiful part of New Zealand but no doubt we will be back!

Roxburgh & Clutha Gold Bike Trail – New Zealand

Tuesday March 21st 2017: – We arrived in Clyde for the start of our third South Island Bike Ride in two weeks.

The Roxburgh & Clutha Gold Trails: The plan was to ride four days to complete the trail from Clyde to Lawrence We booked into the Clyde Motel for the night before and the last night of the ride – a lovely quiet motel about one kilometer from Clyde village – friendly, homely, clean and comfortable.

We had booked Trail Journeys (having used them very successfully before on the ‘Tasman Taste Trail’) – to cart our bags each night and also to pick us and bikes up from Lawrence at the end of the bike ride and transport us back to our motel in Clyde.  They also booked us on a water taxi from Doctor’s Point to Shingle Creek as there is no bike access between these two places. Trail Journeys were extremely efficient and very helpful – they can also book  accommodation if needed.  They allowed us to leave our cars in their car park without charge, gave us maps and advice and fitted two of the group with excellent bikes for the journey.

Wednesday 22nd March 2017

Clyde to Roxburgh – 48kms

The sky was clear but there was a chill in the air when we left Clyde to head to Alexandra and onto Doctors Point where we would be picked up by water taxi and taken to Shingle Creek. The river journey between Doctor’s Point and Shingle creek  (13 kms)  came about because access for the trail has been blocked by local lease holders  and therefore there is no bike access between the two places.We learned that some of these leases will be up in next few years so who knows??

Leaving Clyde there was a division in the group – some chose to take the shorter way from Clyde to Alexandra via the rail trail because they had ridden the river trail from Clyde to Alexandra several years ago when riding the Otago Rail Trail, those who had not ridden the rive trail chose to ride that way.  Coffee as always was on the agenda so we agreed to meet at the information centre in Alexander to purchase our permit for the trail – $25 to help maintain the trail and have some coffee.  At the information centre we were told that the $25 was a voluntary donation but we we were so pleased we did pay as the trail is superbly maintained and this cannot be cheap.

The ‘Old’ and the ‘New’ bridge across the Clutha /Mata-Au river

After coffee in Alexandra we headed to the Clutha Mata-Au river and historic bridge piers to begin the Roxburgh Trail.  But before that we went back about one kilometer towards Clyde to see a display of cricket gnomes in a local garden!

  

Just beyond the bridge is where the Manuherikia River joins the Clutha river and within another km we were riding along the Roxburgh Gorge where sheer bluffs rise up 350m each side of the river.  A few kms along we started to climb up to Butchers Creek and on to Doctor’s Point where we passed stone walled water races and several signs of the gold mining days.  The scenery is truly spectacular but what you do notice is the peace and tranquility only broken by the river noises.  The river is a deep blue and the rocks are a mixture of 50 shades of grey!  As we ride we have the added bonus of passing well preserved gold mines from the 1860 and the schist hand built minute miners huts still standing as they were!

You get the sensation you are riding right above the river!
Doing as we are asked – walking our bikes down!
Walking our bikes as requested
Scary when you see signs like this!!
About to climb the switchback
Walking the bike down the narrow switchback
And the hill goes on and on and on……

There is a series of switchbacks to test your metal and resolve and a cantilevered boardwalk that appears to be hanging over the river!  Also a sign that states “Steep Grade and tight curves Walk Bikes next 300m!  We did just that as it would have been hazardous to do anything else. The trail, which has km markers all the way, comes to an end at Doctor’s point where we were booked with our water-taxi ride to take all nine people and our bikes to Shingle Creek.  While we waited for our boat we enjoyed exploring some old schist stone huts built by the Chinese gold miners.  They are compact and solid and even though built by hand have survived until today.  However, the life for the people mining there was harsh and one wonders how they survived the fierce Otago winters, the fierce sun in summer and the rise and fall of the river in those tiny huts.

Chinese hut at Doctor’s Point
David showing just how tiny the entrance to the hut was.
Another hut on the opposite side of the river from Doctor’s Point
Inside the hut
Waiting at Doctor’s Point for our boat

Once we were all aboard the jet boat for our journey down the river, our driver took us on a guided tour imparting local knowledge gained through years on the river. It was a very impressive commentary while he swung the boat back and forth across the rive pointing out huts, gold mines, water races, track to push wheelbarrows and goods over the rocky terrain.  Gold was first discovered on a shelf at Doctor’s Point in 1877. Mining was difficult due to large boulders and a shortage of water, but returns were good.

Views from Doctor’s Point
Waiting for our bikes to be loaded onto jet boat
Loaded and ready to go!

As we came close to Shingle point we were introduced to Mrs Herons Cottage where she lived and brought up 7 children while running a shop.

From Wikipedia:-

Harriet Heron and her husband initially lived in Tuapeka, where they ran a butcher’s shop. For some time she ran the store single-handed as her husband went to Wetherstones to work on a gold mine, and then to the Cluta River area. Heron sold the business and joined her husband at the mining site, located at Fourteen Mile Beach. For their first three years there they lived in a tent, and Heron was the only woman in the camp.

The Herons later built a schist and mud mortar cottage to live in, which was originally located on the shores of the Clutha River; however since the river was dammed and flooded in 1956, it now sits on the banks of lake Roxburgh.  The cottage is a maintained heritage building and known locally as “Mrs Heron’s Cottage.

Mrs Heron’s Cottage
Another Chinese Hut by the river Clutha
Swirls from our boat zig zag-ing across the river

Leaving Shingle Creek we started to climb a narrow and steep climb past Elbow creek, Hidden valley and up to Lake Roxburgh village where the trail becomes ‘The Clutha Gold Trail’. 

The climb from Single Creek
Single Creek
and on…
and on…..
and on….

We rode across the lake Roxburgh dam, past Commissioner Flat where we had to check maps to ensure we were heading in the right direction. We spotted the old remains of a dredge called the Kohinoor dredge that sank in 1912 but before it sank it ‘won’ 3,358 ounces of gold from the river between 1902-1906.  A sign by this dredge says there are the remains of several other dredges along the Clutha river.

An old swing bridge after Commissioners Flat
The remains of the Kohinoor dredge that sank in 1912

We finally came to the end of the trail just outside Roxburgh and we turned away from the village to our accommodation at Clutha Gold Cottages where Christine greeted us warmly. We stayed in a lovely old four bedroom cottage and kindly drove us all into town to the Grand Tavern and picked us up afterwards.  We were the only people in the Tavern – I think they opened it late especially for us. What an amazing day!

Thursday 23rd March 2017

Roxburgh to Millers Flat – 21kms

Before leaving Roxburgh we wandered in to the town to have a look around. First we found Jimmy’s pies and wondered at the selection of fillings. Along the main street there were several sculptures – one beautiful stainless steel sculpture created by Bill and Michelle Clarke which sits opposite the public toilets.  The detail in the faces and tools is superb. There were a few quirky shops and an art gallery that was not opened at 9.30am so unfortunately we missed seeing inside.

Sculpture by Bill and Michelle Clarke
Wonderful detail
Beautiful work!

However, we did not miss the stunning view of the Clutha river from the Roxburgh bridge, as we cycled back to the beginning of the trail for today ride to Millers Flat. 

View of Clutha River from Roxburgh Bridge

The river followed us along the track for some time as we rode through wooded areas where the leaves were turning their autumnal colour – shades of yellow, red and brown.

We arrived at the Millers Flat Holiday park our home for the night at around midday. We were greeted by Marise & John May who were a young couple who had taken over the park about nine months ago.  They have great plans to develop the park and have already made great inroads. They installed a coffee machine in their Kiosk and so we started our visit with a flat white made all the more welcome as we had frozen hands and feet and were chilled by the headwind!

Millers Flat  has a population of around 200 but the trail is bringing more visitors to the area and as a result there is another cafe and shop opening up soon. We had booked in for dinner at Millers Flat tavern which entailed riding across a massive blue bridge across the Clutha river. We tentatively headed across the very narrow bridge which did not leave much room for trucks and bikes but luckily there is little traffic so made it safely to the Tavern.  The food at the tavern was really good – had whitebait fritters – Yum!

Friday 24th March 2017

Millers Flat to Lawrence  – 42kms

Today started out bitterly cold with a clear blue sky as we cycled out from Millers Flat.  We had read about Millers Flat’s ‘Lonely Graves’ which was a short 5km detour from the trail and said to be well worth the extra ride. It was just of the trail to Beaumont where we had planned to meet for coffee.  The detour was close to the Horseshoe Bend Bridge carpark and was uphill all the way, but a gradual climb and well worth the effort – it was a soul stirring haunting atmosphere. Just two graves sitting side by side on a bleak hill in the middle of nowhere. 

The story goes:

An anonymous grave at Horseshoe Bend, probably of an 1860s miner, was provided with a headboard by local man William Rigney, who added the words, ‘Somebody’s darling lies buried here.’ A new headstone, reproducing the words, was put in place in 1903. Rigney died in 1912 and was buried next to the earlier grave, his headstone marked with the words ‘The man who buried “Somebody’s Darling”’.  But before he died Rigney wrote to the local paper saying

There was nothing done to enclose the grave until a maned [man named] John Ord who, I think, died long since on the Coast, and myself put a fence of rough manuka poles round it. Just then I had to go to Tapanui for mining timber and I got a board of black pine. This I shaped something like a headstone, painted it white, and with a tomahawk and a four-inch nail I cut, or rather sunk into the timber the words: “Somebody’s darling lies buried here.”

The plaque beside the grave tells the story and admits that the ‘truth should never get in the way of a good story’!

Todays ride was mostly through farmland – our first stop Beaumont which had a large bridge and little else. We followed the trail right through the very small settlement of Beaumont but found no coffee shop so rode back to the bridge and over it to the Beaumont Hotel.

However, when we got to the hotel it looked very closed.  We were desperate so we went around the back of the hotel and finally saw a man working out back and called to him.  It turned out he was the Icelandic owner of the hotel who told us he had two boys at Otago university.  We said there would be nine of us and could we have coffee. ‘Yes’, but his coffee machine would take 10-15mins to heat up.  We were happy to wait but noticed there was a sign that said ‘Whitebait Sammies $10’ (Sammies = sandwiches). We asked if we could have some – yes, no problem. By this time the rest of our team arrived and ordered nine coffees and nine whitebait sammies!!  Boy were they good.

Once we left Beaumont replete from our food and drink we started to climb up to the highest point in the trail and on through the Big Hill Tunnel  (440m) – thank heavens for the tunnel as the road close to us went a lot higher!

On the way there was a sign that read ‘ Stop for a while – it’s that simple – Lawrence 5kms

Stop for a rest, It’s that simple – Lawrence 5km

Still has it’s number plate!

As we rode closer to Lawrence there was a ‘Lawrence Chinese Camp site’ which was founded in 1867 and the last Chinese died there in 1945. Since then it was left to go to ruin until it was revived by a charitable trust which aims to retire it.  The site once had a population of about 100 and was a gold mining township serving the needs of the residents.

The township of Lawrence is a lively spot with cafes, shops art studios, brick-a-brac and hand weaving. The central Orago’s gold rush began in Lawrence with the discovery of gold by Gabriel Read in May 1861. By early 1862 there were thought to be 14,000 miners on the field. Many were locals, but they were joined by numbers from Australia, and eventually from England, Scotland, Ireland and China.  The place where he discovered the gold was named ‘Gabriel’s Gully’. At the height of the gold rush Lawrence ’s population reached 11,500 but todays population is about 450.

Our pickup from Lawrence by Trail Journeys was at 3.30 so we had plenty of time to wander around some of the lovely old building in Lawrence and visit the cemetery where John J Woods, the composer of the New Zealand National Anthem is buried, there is also a Chinese section here and some amazing iron Celtic crosses.

This was our last day riding in our two weeks in the South Island – In and around Queenstown, Around the Mountains and the Roxburgh & Clutha Gold Trails.  We rode 12 out of the 14 days – some very short others long but all memorable.  We rode about 462 kms in all, an average of 38kms a day!

What an amazing time we had – the sheer beauty of the Otago & Southland hills and lakes is beyond my ability to describe – you just have to do the ride yourself !  For more information about cycling in NZ  go to www.nzcycletrail.com 

Our last dinner together in The School House in Clyde!