One of the things I have loved about blogging about our adventures is sharing cycling tales with people all around New Zealand and the world. Not only does it inspire me to explore different places but through reading about other peoples adventures I have learned a few things along the way.
One of the mad keen cyclists I have meet it Cycle Coach – Janet Stark and together we have teamed up to ask some of the cyclists we follow for their favourite tips to get you on your bike and exploring all of the awesome cycling New Zealand has to offer.
Cycle Coach Janet Stark
Lots of my clients worry that they are not good enough to come on a group ride or are embarrassed by their cycling skills when they attend a coaching session. It doesn’t matter how good or bad you are. What counts is your starting point and how you can improve from there. If you don’t get on your bike and try something new you are never going to find out if you can do it or not – Just get on your bike and ride and seek help if need be. Never be embarrassed from trying – be proud of your achievement instead.
Jonny Martin from Paihia Mountain Bike Rentals and Shuttles
Make sure you always carry at least a couple of tools, a chain breaker and a pump – even just a basic multi-tool (and know how to use it). Sounds like a broken record but you might carry it around for 1 year and never use it, but the day you need it- you will be glad you did. Oh, and always have fun!
Vision: one of the biggest things about driving any form of vehicle is vision and this does not differ to cycling. Look ahead, let your peripheral vision fill in the blanks and ride to your line. Force yourself to never look at your handlebars and look ahead.
Ride under lights: One of the biggest improvements you can make to your riding reiterating the above is to ride off-road under lights at night. This will hone your trail skills, lines, and amazingly your balance. Your mind then, naturally, has less information to distract you.
Be flexible: Strangely this can be taken both physically and metaphorically. Stretching and doing core strength exercises will help you massively on any ride and allow you to control the bike more freely and relaxed. Metaphorically be flexible with where, how and what you ride, change is good!
Julia Founder of Cranksistas & Ambassador for FourForty MTB Park & LIV Giant
Always make sure someone knows where you’re going and make sure your cellphone is fully charged before you go. You never when you might need to call someone, or you’re out a bit later than you planned and you need the torch on your phone
Cycling in New Zealand is an amazing way to see the country. It’s slower than by car, but faster than walking! It gets you to beautiful remote places with stunning nature and wildlife. But always check out the grade of the trails. For example on the website of NZ Cycle Trail. Or on the trail websites. The grades go from very easy to expert. Beware! Sometimes a trail consists of different grades.
For example the Motu Trails. You start with an easy, flat 10 km ride on the Dunes Trail (Grade 2), the next 67 km on the Motu Road Trail is Grade 3 (intermediate), and the last part on the Pakihi Track is only for advanced mountain bikers. So read the description of the trails carefully, and make sure everybody in your group is capable to ride the particular trail. It makes it so much more fun!
Tip: you don’t have to cycle the whole trail. Pick the part which matches your skills and arrange a pick up by one of the many tour operators on the New Zealand Cycle Trails.
Bring out your inner child and play on your bike. Try rolling over curbs, roots and logs and getting either or both wheels off the ground (on purpose!). Zooming down trails with manic grins is a status to be proud of no matter what age!
Bennett and Slater – Travel writers and NZ Cycle Trail Instagrammers
The popularity of mountain biking and off-road cycling in New Zealand has exploded in recent years. The result of this is that, not only are there cycle trials and paths all over the country, there is an increasing amount of bike hire and bike tours in the right places too.
The best way to tap into these rides – be they urban explorations or cross-country trails taking in attractions like wineries and country cafes – is to head to the nearest i-SITE visitor centre. Most towns and cities now have decent cycling/walking maps and i-SITE staff can give you advice on the right ride for you, and tell you where to hire a bike.
The Nga Haerenga New Zealand Cycle Trail is a great way to explore particularly scenic parts of New Zealand, with 22 official rides, ranging from super-easy, half-day rides to advanced, multi-day bike-packing adventures. The official website NZ Cycle trails gives you info on what to expect, while individual trail websites provide more details.
Anyone wishing to really dig down into New Zealand mountain biking should pick up a copy of the Kennett Brothers’ Classic New Zealand Mountain Bike Rides – an indispensable guide.
Commuting with an electric bike – it’s a cross between cycling and motorcycling except unlike a motorbike you’re silent, which means you are more vulnerable to not being seen. You can be on top of someone faster on an electric bike which, if it’s like mine, can do 40kph without too much effort, means you have to factor this in when riding.
Space, distance from anything that moves is much more important at 40kph compared to 25-30kph. Lane splitting is often safer on a fast-electric bike than, safer than using the bike lane when the traffic is stationary or near too it, it removes or greatly lessens the likelihood of having a car pull into or out of a driveway which happens all the time.
We started our Hawkes Bay tour on the day after Cyclone Cook passed through. We had planned our road trip 4 months earlier and weren’t going to let a Cyclone get in the way. Strangely enough the planning started in the back of the car in the rain when we were supposed to be sitting on the beach. In hindsight we maybe should have checked the roads were open and campgrounds were fully operational before we headed off but we were a bit excited about getting on the road.
It was fun exploring some new territory on the way to Napier, lucky it was fun as it was quite a long drive but the sun was shining after the storm and the scenery was stunning on the Napier Taupo highway.
As we drove into Napier we were detoured round a back road as a tree had fallen across the road and that’s when we realised that although Auckland had dodged the storm some parts of the country had still been hammered by strong winds and we had just driven into one of them.
After setting up the camper we decided to make the most of the Hawkes Bay sunshine and jumped on our bikes to explore the cycle trail along the waterfront that started right from our campground. The after effects of the storm made for an impressive swell crashing onto the beach which only added to the stunning views as we rode along the waterfront. A lovely flat trail and mesmerising views meant it was hard to turn around but as the sun sunk low in the sky we headed for home, well the camper.
The next day we planned to hit the Eskdale Mountain Bike Park. A tourist in the campground saw us in our bike gear and asked where we were off to and when we told him he said that the Mountain Bike Park had been pretty hard hit by the storm with lots of trees down. Undeterred and forever in denial we headed out anyhow. We probably only got 5 minutes ride into the forest before the path was blocked by fallen trees, and I don’t mean one tree lying across the path more of a stack of trees making the path impassable. Still undeterred we started carrying our bikes straight up the hill over and around all the obstacles. We met a local coming back down, chatted to him for a bit and then he grabbed one of our kids bikes and started carrying it up the hill for us.
Turns out he was part of the Club committee and seemed to take everyones enjoyment of the Mountain Bike Park very seriously so he gave us the inside word on what tracks could be ridden after the storm. Not many were unfortunately but we still had a great time ‘sessioning’ ( his word not mine ) a few of the trails and after a couple of hours riding we decided to head back to the carpark a different way, only to be meet by more broken trees.
After a quick lunch at the campground we headed out to explore Napier on a sunny afternoon and took in the beach at Ahuriri, then wound our way up Bluff Hill and watched the workings of the port below as the sun set. We then wandered along the Napier town centres waterfront gardens and experienced the big waves crashing onto the new pier.
The next day dawned sunny and clear which made for great views from the top of Te Mata Peak. You could drive all the way up but we decided to park half way and walk up which took about half an hour ( maybe more as we got distracted by the views ) along sheep tracks. As we walked back down my son spotted mountain bikers so decided he wanted to come back and check out the trails the next day. We had planned to ride some of the cycle trails but figured we had all day and we love riding so why not ride two places in one day.
So the next morning we headed back to Te Mata Peak for our ride. Its fair to say these rides would have been more enjoyable if they hadn’t been hit by a storm a few days earlier and as they were on the side of a mountain they were quite steep and muddy. After Te Mata it was back across town to ride the Puketapu Loop, part of the Hawkes Bay Cycle trails. These trails cover most of the Hawkes Bay in different sections that can be ridden separately or all together. We did a loop from Otatara Pa to the Puketapu pub and back again. It was easy riding along the riverbank with the bonus of a pub lunch but if wineries are more your style there are rides that include them as well, in fact there is a trail called the Wineries trail.
All in all we loved the Hawkes Bay and the East Cape adventures didn’t stop there…next stop Tolaga Bay!!
B.C ( before children ) I loved road tripping with my then boyfriend ( now husband ). We would throw ourselves in the car with reckless abandon with some drinks, a bag of chips and a mix tape and go explore. Fast forward a few years and two kids and the packing takes a while longer, the snacks are more extensive and the mix tape is an audio book. Oh my how times have changed.
Over the years we have explored extensively with our kids including almost monthly trips to Rotorua ( a 3 hour trip that can be up to 4 hours depending on traffic ) and 3 weeks round the South Island and for the most part our kids are good at sitting in the car. In fact, we just drove 5 hours to Napier and actually described the trip as enjoyable and yes the kids were in the car with us.
Like any part of adventuring and exploring with kids it takes training and that starts when they are young. So no matter how young your kids they are always ready to discover the joys of roadtripping. To make sure it’s a pleasant experience for everyone I have put together my top tips for road tripping with littlies and not so littlies;
If your kids are still having a nap during the day then this is a great time to travel, or travel in the evening.
Pack lots of little snacks and water. Nothing seems to make children as hungry as sitting in the car.
While we are on food – always have a container ready for food that comes up as quickly as it goes down. I have a container in the front of the car with ‘car essentials’ in; wipes, hand sanitiser, sun screen and the second a kid mentions feeling queasy I up-end that container and hand it over.
Old MacDonald had a farm can have a lot of choruses when you have some miles to cover. And kids are never too old to sing – it’s just the songs that change as they grow up and we can pass many a happy mile singing along with the radio.
Play games: With slightly older children I spy is always a winner as is I went to the moon and I took ( if you aren’t familiar with I went this game – go round the car with each person taking something to the moon in alphabetical order and remembering all the things before them). Good for the parent’s grey matter as well.
Let the kids take a few toys in the car. My children always take their soft toys and can happily pass the time play acting with the toys.
Tell stories. Often as we are travelling somewhere with the kids, my husband and I will have already been there ( albeit in another life time ) but it’s fun to relieve the memories and the kids really like hearing that we had a life before they came along. Even if its somewhere we go all the time ( like Rotorua ) we can tell many a story about all the different friends who have come away with us or the different mountain bike rides we have done.
If you get worn out telling stories then of course you can leave the story telling to the professionals and pick up some audio books ( from the library or you can download ). Of course for young children the Ear drops audio books are great as not only is it passing the time its educational.
Some people say lots of frequent stops for kids but we always tried to drive for 2-3 hours before stopping and it has got our kids used to sitting in the car. Now they are older, toilet stops aside we can drive for 3 hours easily with no stops.
And yes there is always a screen that could entertain your child but then they would be missing all the amazing sights out the window. As a last resort we use some screen time but I really think we are doing our children a favour in the long term by teaching them to sit quietly, be mindful and enjoy the world around them.
We live in an amazing country, just made for road trips. With a bit of planning you can enjoy the journey with your kids.
Now you have the road tripping sorted are you ready to start exploring and adventuring with your kids. Check out some of our adventures;
Melt the butter while you get out and measure the other ingredients.
Sift the flour and baking powder together and add to a mixing bowl, add caster sugar, add egg, milk and melted butter.
Mix together gently.
Add more butter to a fry pan and then add pancake mixture.
Pancakes are ready to flip when bubbles start showing on the top of the pancakes.
I add about half a cup of choc chips and a mashed banana and if I really want to fill the kids up I add about a third of a cup of ground almonds and a little more milk.
Can also be made into pikelets by using a smaller amount of mixture.
With a recipe like this where the ingredients are measured in weights, not cups and spoons, you can use the taring off function on your scales. If you don’t know how that works it means it resets the scales to 0 even when there are other ingredients in the bowl so you can weigh in more ingredients. Or you can measure the ingredients into cups and spoon measurements and note that down on the recipe.
When I first rode the Timber Trail 4 years ago I fell in love with the history of the area and the most stunning native bush I have ever had the pleasure to cycle through. I never thought I would one day be riding the trail with my 9 and 12 year old…but of course we all know that’s not where the story starts, its all about the planning.
The Timber Trail is an 82km ride ( or walk ) in the Pureora forest,
about one hour south of Te Kuiti, between Taumaranui and Taupo, lets just say in the middle of nowhere or if you want more detailed directions you could refer to the Department of Conservation website or a detailed google map.
We had been doing lots of mountain biking with our kids and noticed that they were able to ride longer distances especially since they were both now on adult sized bikes with 27.5″ wheels. So we thought let’s get out of the mountain bike parks and onto the trails. My husband and I have ridden quite a few of the NZ Cycle Trails and the Timber trail would have to be one of my favourites, plus it’s a relatively easy grade ( 2 & 3 ) for kids and well built trail with a good surface and drainage.
And here is where the planning kicked in; we started riding every weekend. If we weren’t in the mountain bike parks we were riding the streets of Auckland, and after we did a long ride one day we got the kids on their bikes the next day so they could get used to the feeling of a sore butt on the seat and getting their muscles moving again. Turns out they had youth on their side and didn’t mention any sore muscles at all but I am still pleased we did the training as we had lots of fun exploring new rides around Auckland and any excuse to hit the mountain bike trails is all good.
As the weekend approached the excitement built, as did the planning, and lists were written and packing was checked twice. As we were riding in Winter we had a few more layers to pack but on the positive side we were staying at the Timber trail lodge which was very cozy and all of our main meals were catered for so there was way less food to take away which was a bonus.
We arrived at the lodge about 6pm on a Friday and the kids loved the drive in from Te Kuiti along the country roads through sheep-country. The sun was setting, the rabbits headed for home jumping across the gravel road in front of us, the temperature plummeted, the fog started forming in the paddocks, and we even got to drive behind a mob of sheep being moved along the road by a farmer and his dogs. The lodge was a great sight nestled in the bush, cozy and warm and it felt like being welcomed into an old friend’s house. An old friend that cooks you an amazing dinner & dessert, does the dishes and tidies your room in the morning!
Saturday morning dawned clear and a little chilly 4 degrees but that’s what we packed all the layers for. We set off from the Lodge at 9am with one of the shuttle companies. It was like catching up with another old friend as the driver has shuttled us twice before. Well it would have been like catching up with an old friend if my son didn’t get himself in the front seat and chat away to her for the 40 minute drive through the forest.
After a few photos and putting on a few more layers we hit the trail. I am always blown away by the beauty of the forest and this time was even more amazing as it’s the best weather we have had riding the trail. The last of the fog clearing only added to the mystical beauty of the area. The other bonus was that riding at a child’s pace I got to enjoy the scenery much more and I finally got to read all the information sign boards and fully absorb my surroundings as we cruised along the trails.
The first 15km are a steady uphill which if you have read my blog on riding it the first time I found a bit of a challenge, but a different mindset, riding at a child’s pace and a whole lot of track maintenance made it seem like a different trail. While the start of the track used to be quite muddy with lots of tree roots, it’s now a lovely gravel trail which made the gradual incline much easier to tackle. The highest point you climb to is 980m so it sure is an alpine environment. Its always good to have the high point in the bag fairly early on in a ride.
The first suspension bridge is at about 22km and its great to have something to look forward to even if you can’t quite bring yourself to ride over them while your children can. And while this swing bridge seems massive, it’s not the biggest on the trail – that’s early on day 2. Again, it was great to have the time to appreciate the views from the bridge and the engineering feat of building the bridge itself before heading for the lodge…well, just another 18km so a few more bridges and a lot more native bush.
The second half of the trail on Day One is more undulating with slightly more technical ( but nothing more than a moderate grade 3 ) downhills. It sure feels good to tick off the km’s a bit quicker going down and there is a km marker every km which is a really good idea.
It was a welcome sight to see the Timber Trail Lodge right on the cycle path and we made it on to the deck in time to see the sun setting over the hills across the valley.
Again, the hospitality at the lodge was amazing and they whipped up yummy pizzas as a post ride snack before serving us another amazing dinner.
We all slept soundly that night and it was a slower start to the day than the first day, but no-one complained about sore muscles which was a good start. And lets face it you cant really complain if your kids are running round like they didn’t just ride 40km the day before. It was hard to leave the comfort and warmth of the lodge but lovely to just whizz down the hill onto the trail to start.
Day 2 starts on a steady climb up through regenerating forest to the longest and highest suspension bridge on the trail at 141m across and 53m above the river. And yes the children rode straight over it and no I didn’t.
The trail then climbs to the start of the historic tramway at the Terminus clearing and the history of the trail really kicks in. The kids had a great time at one stop finding old railway ‘spikes’ that were lying around in the grass. A lot of information boards have been dotted along the trail including the tale of the brothers who lived in a rotten tree trunk after their cousin evicted them from the cottage when he bought his bride home. You can still see one of the beds in the hollowed out tree trunk.
This part of the trail also passes through lots of tramway cuttings through banks which makes for quite a different riding experience as the bush creates a canopy above you and it gets quite dark.
This part of the trail was quite muddy when we rode it, but with good balance most of the mud puddles were rideable although we did have to push our bikes through a couple.
We probably promised our kids the downhill too early and it didn’t actually start till about 24km but most of the ride through the middle is relatively flat. And of course once you reach the downhill you also come across the Ongarue Spiral which is an engineering marvel with two bridges and a tunnel.
From there it really is downhill all the way to the carpark, when I rode this without kids it was one of those downhills that is so long and you are going so fast that your legs are crying out for mercy. This time, like the rest of the trail, it was cycled at a gentler speed.
As we arrived in the carpark the sun was again setting over the hills as we celebrated our family achievement and started planning our next cycling adventure.
Unfortunately, there isn’t one official Timber Trail website linking to shuttle and accommodation providers as yet ( the NZ Cycle Trail does have shuttle and accommodation providers but you need to be an official partner to be listed and not many organisations seem to have opted in ) but a little bit of googling does bring up shuttle and accommodation options.
Only you know your kids ability and fitness. Our kids were pretty fit already and able to ride 20km consistently in a mountain bike park on grade 3 trails including lots of up hills. They gained this fitness over a few years. To get them used to riding longer distances we did a couple of 40km rides around Auckland and then got them back on their bikes the next day for a shorter rode. We also did more back to back riding in mountain bike parks, so they were riding 18-20km two days in a row.
Take lots of food ( we took sandwiches, chocolate, muesli bars, Up & Go, fruit and had food left over but better to be safe than sorry ).
Plan to hit the trails as early as possible but not too early in winter or there might still be frost on the trails. In saying hit the trails early, we didnt start till about 10am each day ( which did mean it had warmed up a bit ) and finished about 4pm. We did ride close to the shortest day of the year and I imagine there would have only been another hour of daylight left at best.
It was 5 degrees at 10am on the Saturday and quite chilly in the forest so bring a lot of layers. My kids don’t seem to get cold but I have realised that I do, especially after I stop and when I am going downhill as there is a cold wind. The trail is quite exposed so if its raining you are going to get wet!
While we didn’t use it, we rode with a rope and an old inner tube to use as a home-made bike bungee if little legs got tired.
Riding with kids in trailers
While I haven’t ridden the trail with a bike trailer, I had been asked about it before I rode this time, so as we rode we looked at the trail from the angle of a child in a bike trailer.
A few parts of the trail do have bollards to stop motor bikes and quad bikes so some lifting of a bike trailer would be involved. All the suspension bridges were about 1.2m wide.
When I first rode the trails a couple of years ago the first day of riding was quite muddy with big puddles that could have been challenging to navigate with a trailer but when we rode recently the first day has had a lot of maintenance done and even after a lot of rain was in great condition. It was the second day that had a lot of mud and puddles, all do-able but be prepared to get muddy.