Well we managed 5 straight days of mountain biking until the weather finally caught up with us. Yes we did have 5 days of fantastic sunny warm days in a row in New Zealand; I even got sunburnt after a refreshing dip in Lake Taupo. The good thing about mountain biking around the Taupo/Rotorua area is the post-biking dip in thermal springs. Highly recommended!
We started on the east coast at Eskdale Mountain Bike Park just north of Napier on Christmas Day. Funnily enough we didn’t see many others out biking. The tracks through this pine plantation were steep and slippery. We rode approx 10 km loop that didn’t seem to flow very well. There were lots of steep ups with rooted nasty downhills. Overall we were not that impressed. There was a small “trials area” near the start of the tracks that Aaron had a bit of fun on (see photo).
After a picnic Christmas lunch of cheese sandwiches in the local park we headed west towards Taupo and hung out by the lake, the largest in New Zealand. Our Christmas treat was a Thai curry for dinner.
Boxing day was spent at Wairakei forest park, formerly known as Craters of the Moon as it is next to this tourist attraction. We rode from the Hub Café via the tunnel under Highway 1. These tracks were great through mature pines with beautiful fern undergrowth. We explored a loop called Outback that took us up to the top of the ridge providing us with some nice views. The ride down was fast and flowing and great fun. We liked this place so much we spent the next day repeating the Outback loop and a few other tracks that we had missed previously. Our favourite tracks were – Outback, Coaster and Young Pines.
After our second day riding at Wairakei we headed north to Rotorua, via Butcher’s Pool a thermal spring in the middle of a farmers paddock – nice to relax in after riding, if not a bit weird to be surrounded by cows.
Whakarewarewa Forest is described as the “Disneyland for mountain bikers” so we were excited to see what it had on offer. It is certainly well set up with a mobile bike shop and coffee stand in the car park, which was usually pretty full of vehicles. The first day we rode the recommended Outback loop 1, which had us climbing a fire road through a mixture of native and introduced trees (see picture). The road led us to the top of Gonna Gotta a grade 4 track, which had Helen feeling a little unnerved and missing her dual suspension bike.
New Zealand Mountain Bike Grading
Grade 1 – Fairly flat, wide and smooth, track or gravel road. Suitable for all first time riders.
Grade 2 – Gentle climbs and easily avoidable obstacles such as rocks and potholes. You couldn’t ride it in your sleep, but most beginners will still enjoy these rides.
Grade 3 – Challenging riding with steep slopes and/or tricky obstacles, possibly on a narrow track with poor traction. Requires riding experience and some fitness.
Grade 4 – A mixture of long steep climbs, loose track surfaces, difficult and/or dangerous obstacles to avoid or jump over. Some sections will be easier to walk.
Grade 5 - Killer climbs, dangerous drop-offs, sharp corners, numerous tricky obstacles. Some sections are definitely safer and easier to walk.
Grade 6 – Trials skills essential to clear huge obstacles. High risk level.
We made it down Gonna Gotta without too many problems and headed back up hill on some nice rolling singletrack. At an intersection we switched to gravel road and headed up a steep winding road to the top of Hot Cross Buns. At the top you get a great view of Lake Rotorua. The trip down Hot Cross Buns (also grade 4) was bumpy with lots of drop offs that required a different breed of bike than our wimpy little hard tails. Yes, Aaron continues to whinge about needing a new bike! After this was Be Rude Not To, our favourite track of the park, this was a nice fast flowing with a few small jumps through lush tree ferns.
After lunch we went back to explore a few more trails, but got lost, as the track signage isn’t up to date with the new map. Just to confuse you they have also changed half the names on the map, but not on the signposts, not entirely sure why. Once we worked out where we were we headed back to the car and the thermal pool at the hostel, in order to save some energy for the next day.
Second day at Whakarewarewa Forest Aaron headed off to ride Outback loop 2 on his own. Helen was feeling a little worn out and we planned to ride the 42 Traverse, a classic mountain bike route just west of Tongariro National Park, so she had a rest day to recuperate. The climb up to the top was fairly gentle and only had to grunt the last couple of hundred metres. Billy T was described as the newest track in the park and was a fast downhill singletrack that needed to see a bit more traffic to ride it in. A long series of single tracks took me back to the top of Be Rude Not To, which was even better the second time round. On the way back to the car park I explored Rockdrop, a grade 5 track. It was rideable as long as I scouted out each obstacle before attempting to ride it.
We headed down to National Park Township in hopes of riding the 42 Traverse the next day. We woke up to a heavy down pours and no views, as it was totally clouded in. Just running to the car we got drenched. We decided to give the ride a miss, the joys of living here means we can go back some other time. We drove back to sunny Wellington, although it didn’t stay sunny too long and New Years Eve was pouring with rain, which put a dampener on most New Year celebrations.
We hope you all had a good Christmas, and look forward to you coming to visit and ride some of New Zealand’s great mountain bike trails with us in 2007.