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Riding the timber trail

 

Head200313One the best things that has happened to mountain biking in New Zealand of late is the Cycle Trail project. What started as a mad idea to build a bike trail from North Cape to Bluff has become the way forward for many dreams to become reality.

The Timber Trail in Pureora Forest on the western side of Lake Taupo is a good example.

Having been on a few jungle missions in there over the last 25 years I can tell you it is a huge forest with some extreme terrain, rivers, and wild vegetation. Centuries of occupation and the last 100 years of forestry have crisscrossed the region with trails, old tramlines and logging haul roads, but the idea of connecting them up in a north to south trail was just that - an idea - until the Cycle Trail project kicked its support in. Hoz Barclay, the main visionary behind this trail, took a few hundred jungle missions to come up with the route, and his trail building input has made it great to ride.

On March 30 the trail will be officially opened, but it is complete now and many people are out there enjoying it. I went on a solo trip last weekend to see what the first bit is like, and can report it is spectacular. The nice little parking area at Pureora forest HQ off State Highway 30 was bustling with activity: two separate busloads of bike riders were fettling their gear, and various other people were readying themselves for a day out. It is an easy trail to follow, well sign-posted and brilliantly built. It is a track that anybody can ride, and yet it twists and turns enough to be entertaining. A gentle but consistent grade through ancient totara forest gets a rider up to a cloud forest on the flanks of Mt Pureora where everything is covered in moss. A flowing descent brings the trail back down over a fantastic 6 or 7 kilometres. At the 22km mark there is a bridge. A giant bridge. One that made me blurt out a short but expressive word with only the tuis to hear. It is one of over 35 bridges along the trail, including 7 other huge suspension bridges. It is worth the trip for the bridge alone! I returned the way I had come, but others I met were going to various points along the trail to lodgings or transport. One gang, which included brothers Jack and Stephen Swart - two giants of New Zealand road cycling - were headed right through to the end, 85kms away.

The people I met ranged from fast trail riders from back home in Rotorua, through fully loaded cycle-tourists, to a group who could only be called elderly. I saw a bunch of women,  several mixed groups, and a posse of guys who looked like they were racing.

The Timber Trail is open, it is great, and provides strong evidence that cycling is becoming a mainstream sport, just in time for all the great places that have been developed to go and do it.