Category Archives: Kids activities

Returning to the Timber Trail with our kids

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,
Pureora Forest mapabout 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.

Blog on the first two times we rode the Timber Trail.

Top tips for riding the Timber Trail with kids

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.

You might also like to read my blog on Mountain biking with kids.

Urban adventures – the eastern pathway

Who would have thought 2km of concrete would change the way my family and I exercise? Well, the Glen Innes to Tamaki Drive Cycle Path (Te Ara ki Uta ki Tai) has done just that, with the arrival of the first 1.7km-long stage of what will soon be a great pathway from the eastern suburbs to the city.

I have always enjoyed exercising, and BC (Before Children) my husband and I enjoyed running and mountain biking together. Once we had children I wasn’t sure how exercise was going to fit into my life…  but found I could spend many a happy hour pushing my children around the neighbourhood in the pushchair.

Fast forward a few years and the whole family was training to walk the 20km Tongariro Crossing. I found I enjoyed training with the family as much as I enjoyed walking the Crossing itself. Around the same time, we started mountain biking with the kids, and have spent many happy hours in the Rotorua Redwoods forest. Rain or shine, it’s a great place to ride.

To be honest, I’m a mountain biker through and through, and I wasn’t that interested in the cycle paths around Auckland, apart from a couple of rides along the Northwestern Cycleway while training for the Timber Trail. All of that changed when we got our own local cycle path. Well, obviously not just for us – I mean, when the eastern cycle pathway opened in our neighbourhood.

I was keen to check out the new bit of pathway as soon as it opened, so I walked it with my mother and four children on scooters, and our love of that piece of concrete began.

Before long, the kids and I were checking out the cycle path on a regular basis. They ride their bikes, and I run. I love that it’s right on our doorstep, I don’t have to worry about the kids being on the road for a large part of our run and ride together, and I love that we are all getting out in the fresh air and moving our bodies together.

The kids always find something interesting to look at along the way, and the views from the St Johns end of the track are stunning. My son and I also discovered a great new loop using the cycle path to connect to Merton Rd and ending up in the Stonefields wetlands area.

For some reason, the path has undulations in the concrete surface. They would be most annoying if you are a commuter cyclist using the path every day, and my son trying to clock 50km/hr on the downhill (good luck, kiddo!) doesn’t like them one bit. Also, when running it’s a bit unnerving when you scuff the bottom of your shoe on the ridges and nearly stumble. Glad to hear AT has advised they are re-assessing the usefulness of the undulations and hopefully they’ll get fixed.

We now eagerly await the next section of the eastern cycle pathway to connect us to the Orakei Basin boardwalk. We will be able to explore so much more territory… and who knows what new urban adventures await?

Here are our tips for enjoying a shared path in your neighbourhood:

  • An off-road path is a safe way to get your kids into cycling – although if they’re total beginners, you can start with a big grassy field. Check out these other great places to ride with kids.
  • A bell on your bike is a definite must, especially when kids on bikes are sharing a shared path with people walking and jogging and other kinds of active travel.
  • Say hello to everyone you see along the way – wouldn’t it be nice if that strip of concrete brought our community closer together?

 

Goat Island Marine Reserve Discovery Centre

I don’t think children need paid activities to keep them entertained but sometimes I come across something that I think is worth the ‘investment’ and the Goat Island Marine Discovery Centre was one of those activities.

We were staying in Leigh ( a delightful seaside town , about 1 and a half hours north of Auckland ) and decided to visit Goat Island, a marine reserve about 15 minutes away to see if we could see any fish from the rocks as it’s a little cold to snorkel in September.

The swell was a little big for the fish to comfortably navigate the inner rock crevices but we still had lots of fun rock hopping and watching the waves crashing on to the rocks as well with the added bonus of a blow hole.

The area has changed a lot since we were last there and the Marine Discovery Centre cleverly enticed us up the hill with a lovely path and questions along the way. When we got to the Centre we discovered they had a school holiday programme that was running the next day. Angela at the front desk was super helpful and was involved in the activity the next day. Knowing that the weather forecast wasn’t too promising and that the kids were going to learn heaps about marine life we booked in.

The next day it turned out my two were the only kids doing the activity and there were two instructors ( added bonus of one-on-one attention ) The kids got to identify 20 different types of sea life in the touch softly tank and both instructors were a wealth of knowledge and even able to keep up with all of my 8 year olds questions…no mean feat!!!

Then it was on to dissecting a mussel and learning how to do a scientific analysis. From there they got to use a giant microscope and feed the dissected mussel to the octopus.

All in all the kids had a great time and learnt heaps from Angela and Maree.

As we walked back to the car there was the added bonus of the eels in the stream on the beach at Goat Island where they played for another hour – proving my theory that you don’t need to pay for activities!

You may like my blog on other things to do in Auckland or close to Auckland.