Category Archives: Outdoor adventures

Mountain Biking the Timber trail

I have mountain biked for years but mostly round in circles in mountain bike parks and only recently started doing trails. Possibly because as part of a government initiative a few years ago a lot of money was pumped into cycle trails so New Zealanders and visitors to NZ are spoilt for choice.

It all started when a good friend of ours who is an avid cyclist  organised a trip to the Timber Trail, 70km in the back of beyond in the King Country must have sounded achievable as our first cycle trail experience with the added bonus of someone else organising it. So I ended up going round in lots more circles in mountain bike parks to get in some training or time on the saddle. Lucky for me I have the comfiest bike seat combined with the comfiest bike shorts so my butt never has any complaints.

Of course with my husband and I both mountain biking this meant more organising of babysitters but that’s why we call going mountain biking our ‘dates’.

And so with a little trepidation at my first trail ride, we set off to the middle of nowhere. I might be prone to exaggeration but I didn’t really know parts of New Zealand like this existed. Let me put if for you this way – there was no cellphone coverage for 2 days. Yep that’s how far bush we were.

We stayed at the Forge at Black Fern Lodge which is near the halfway point of the trail. You can of course stay anywhere in the area but staying at Black Fern Lodge does mean you are able to cycle out to the trail (a drop off and pick up is still required) and soak up some amazing rural New Zealand scenery. The accommodation we stayed in deserves a mention as it’s a converted sheep shearing shed with four bunk rooms, a communal lounge and a couple of decks. Each room has its own bathroom facilities. The only downside is the kitchen is across one of the decks so it makes for a few trips backyards and forward to the dining area #firstworldproblems. It was very rustic and very cool.

It pays to make an early start, unfortunately I didn’t have the best sleep the night before we set off but luckily I am used to functioning on little sleep. And I don’t usually have breakfast till about 9am but I felt that a true trail rider would have a hearty breakfast so that’s what I did. A production line formed for making the sandwiches and we were off.

Twelve of us piled into a mini van with our bikes on a trailer and set off for the start of the trail. After a half hour drive through the bush by 8.30am we were on the trail in a light rain…hmm not what I signed up for. By 9am I was hyperventilating and nearly vomiting my breakfast up….hmm not quite the action girl I make myself out to be.

I have since discovered that (a) I should never break my breakfast routine and (b) no matter how much I have trained I always find it hard to pace myself at the beginning of a ride.

The only way is forward and after a couple of deep breathes I was off for another 35 kms.

The first day of riding had a few uphills, one decent mountain climb, but nothing that wasn’t achievable with a bit of training. And the scenery and suspension bridges were well worth the uphills. Speaking of bridges, if you like bridges like my husband you will love this trail!! Even I thought the bridges were amazing but I just can’t bring myself to ride over them.

At the halfway point we turn off for the ride back to Black Fern Lodge. The side trail is about 5km, annoyingly it has a nasty uphill right near the end. Yes there was some swearing and bike pushing but gee that gin and tonic tasted good once back. We got to the Forge at about 3pm so lots of time to sit on one of the many decks and relax and swap stories and compare bruises.

It was an early night and up early the next morning. Having learned my lesson on a big breakfast the day before I had cake for breakfast ( I always have room for cake ) and took a breakfast sandwich to have on the trail.

None of us were keen to ride up the ridge back to the Timber trail so for a very reasonable price the owner of the Lodge will drop you at the top of the hill in his ‘bush’ jeep. Definitely do this, no need to start the day on a killer climb.

The second day ride is awesome. A few uphills and then a massive downhill, one of those ones where your legs start cramping up because you are standing up so long but you don’t care because you are loving the downhill so much.

The trail generally follows old timber logging trails and there are railway line relics along the way along with good information boards. Bit hard to stop and read some of them as you are zooming past. Another highlight is the Ongarue spiral where the trail is descending fast and it winds back around under itself and you ride through a tunnel. Its very dark and you get disorientated when you first enter but focus on the light at the end. The tunnel floor was also a stream and you need a bit of faith as you ride through.

We finished the ride about 2pm and then got the shuttle back to the Lodge.

We washed our bikes in the stream and I rediscovered my inner child by jumping in and whizzing down in the current even though it was freezing.

We loved this ride so much we have now done it twice and would consider going back again and riding it in one day for a real challenge.

It can also be hiked but as a true mountain biker I have to say I think it would be pretty boring.

Everything you need to know about planning to ride the Timber Trail is on their website.

Top tips:

If you are thinking of doing this ride, pick up the phone now and book your accommodation. Of course as I  said you could stay in outer lying areas but we love the atmosphere of Black Fern and so does everyone else so it can be a wait for accommodation. You could also check out the Timber Trail website for other options for accommodation.

If it’s been raining when you ride the trail be careful of the puddles as they can be deeper than you think and people have broken their collar bones as their bikes bottom out in puddles.

This is a remote spot and you won’t have cell phone coverage while you are there. I don’t mind that but my kids and the babysitter were wondering what had happened to us.

You can be waiting for the shuttle pick up at the end of Day 2 and it’s sandfly central so might pay to pack some insect repellant as there is nothing worse than wanting to chill after a hard day’s riding and be eaten alive by sand flies.

Tarawera Trail

After walking the Tongariro Crossing with our 7 and 12 year old, we were on the look out for our next adventure and were delighted to find it in the Tarawera Trail.

The first thing to organise is the water taxi to drop you off or pick you up, unless you wanted to walk both ways. I booked the water taxi online about a month before and didn’t find the website that easy to use. In fact our friends had a toddler that we didn’t have to pay for but there was nowhere on the booking system to note that we were bringing a toddler and I thought they might like to know. So I rung the next morning and was told that they didn’t have our booking. Upon further investigation it turns out that when the booking was transferred to a spreadsheet the booking was put down for the wrong day. So I am certainly pleased I rung.

The weather forecast for our walk wasn’t too good but the day dawned with a beautiful sunrise over Mount Tarawera and turned out pretty good. There aren’t a lot of carparks at The Landing where the water taxi leaves from, so I am not sure what you would do if you turned up and the car park was full but we didn’t have to worry about that.

The water taxi ride was awesome, the views stunning and the skipper was very informative and jovial.

I spent a lot of my childhood kayaking in the Tarawera River so was quite excited to go to Hot Water Beach but like many things high expectations can lead to disappointment. I wasn’t prepared for so many people camping there. There isn’t a lot of flat land beside the beach so all the people that were there made the spot seem quite cramped. Still very interesting to visit though and the kids had a great time playing in the warm water. Strangely the hot water entering the lake “floats” on the surface of the cold water lake so the temperature can fluctuate dramatically and burn rings around your ankles.

So after a little foot soak we were off on our hike. I should mention we got dropped off at Hot Water beach and walked back to the landing so we didn’t have to rush with the kids to meet the water taxi. That did mean we couldn’t soak in a hot pool for long but having rushed for a pick up before I enjoyed being able to walk at our own pace.

Its an awesome walk with a little hidden gem that we haven’t seen mentioned anywhere and it was very kind of the seasoned campers at Hot Water Beach to share the fact  that there is hot water running in a stream that has been dammed to create a pool. Its about 1 hours walk from the campground to the amenity / rest spot.  Then take a short side track towards the lake its about 15mins walk. The kids loved that pool and so did we. Enjoy this treasure.

I like a scenic spot for lunch ( whether road tripping, mountain biking or hiking ) and the amenities area had picnic tables but in the direction we walked this was more of a morning tea stop. So we were on the look out for a lunch spot and as we came over a hill we spotted a gorgeous white sandy beach not far off the track so we bush crashed a little to get to the lakes edge. Beautiful. It was only small but it was nice to be by the water for lunch, although our friend who got two mossie bites probably didn’t think so.

The rest of the walk has stunning scenery and was very achievable as it’s mostly undulating terrain ( bearing in mind our kids had walked the 20km Tongariro Crossing the year before and we have maintained their fitness with walks and mountain biking ).

We are back at The Landing at 4pm after setting out from Hot Water Beach about 10am. This included stopping at the hot spring stream pool and a lunch break. The Trail is not too steep and you can keep up a steady pace. We passed quite a lot of trail runners along the way too. Also our friend walked all the way with a 2 year old in a baby backpack.

We would love to do this walk again.

Top tips:

Check your booking with the water taxi.

If you are concerned about making a pick up time like we have been in the past ( and I think this particularly applies when you are walking with kids)  get dropped off at Hot Water Beach and walk back. This did mean we couldn’t enjoy a long dip at Hot Water Beach, but it was so much more relaxing than other adventures when we have been rushing for a pick up.

Check out the dam in the hot stream near the amenities block ( directions above ).

Although the full walk is 15km, if you park at the Landing, water taxi out and return there, it is a shorter walk because you don’ walk back to the tracks main car park start/finish point. Not sure exactly how much shorter, maybe 2km, but you do avoid the final hill.

Climbing a volcano

I have lived in Auckland all my life and travelled around the country climbing up hill and down dale, and all the while one of the coolest adventures sat right there in the middle of our stunning harbour. Rangitoto Island is New Zealand’s youngest volcano and only emerged from the sea 600 years ago – thankfully it’s now dormant.

Looking out at Rangitoto Island from the many beaches around central Auckland is one of my favourite views of all time but it wasn’t till my 4 year old decided he wanted to climb it for his 5th birthday that I considered changing the perspective of the view.

We normally do the ‘standard’ kids birthday party with family and friends but since this was celebrating my son’s 5th birthday we decided to invite the family along with us. My in-laws thought we were mad ( not the first time ), ‘won’t it be dangerous taking a 5 year old to Rangitoto’… ( only if it starts erupting! ) Anyhow they eventually came round and eight of us set out on our Rangitoto Island adventure on a sunny May day.

We caught the train into town so we didn’t have to worry about parking, and who doesn’t love an adventure that starts off with a train trip. There are no cafes on the island so we had a quick coffee stop before we jumped on the ferry.

I always love being on the water and it’s a great view back to the city from the ferry, with the added bonus of the skipper giving a commentary on points of interest. Of course we couldn’t hear a lot of it over my son’s excitement.

From the minute you step on to the island you realise it’s quite different to anywhere else you have been. The exposed volcanic rock made it feel like we were on the moon – not that I have ever been on the moon – but what I imagine the moon would look like.

There are many different walks on Rangitoto. We did the Summit Walk which was a relatively easy ( bearing in mind we had a just-turned-5 year old and 70 year olds walking with us ) one hour climb to the top where the views of the Hauraki Gulf are stunning. As no birthday celebration is complete without a toast to the birthday boy we had beer and bubbles with our picnic lunch while we enjoyed the view.

On the way back to the ferry we did the side track to the lava caves and my Aunt introduced us to the torch apps on our phones. It was nice to get off the main track and scramble a little bit. This side trip takes about 1/2 to 3/4 of an hour though so allow for this in your walking times if you can. It’s well worth it and the kids loved it.

Then we get a nice rest on the ferry back to the city after a great day of adventuring right on our back door step. Also a great way to celebrate a birthday and share an adventure with family young and old.

Top tips

There is no shop or café on Rangitoto Island so be sure to take enough food and water for the day.

Wear footwear that can cope with rugged lava/scoria terrain.

Don’t miss your ferry, as there is no accommodation on the island and I hear chartered boat trips can be expensive.

Karangahake Gorge Walks

I have always enjoyed the drive through the Karangahake Gorge. It’s a stunning landscape with a gorgeous river and majestic mountains. And it always looks like it has stories/secrets to be told. When we were planning a family holiday to Waihi Beach I was excited that the Karangahake Gorge Walks were going to be one of the first walks we did as a two child family.

There are two main walks in the Gorge; the Windows Walk and Rail Tunnel Loop. We started off on the Windows walk as it isn’t pushchair friendly and we thought we would do the walk that our 4 year old could do while she still had lots of energy. She has always enjoyed walking and in fact when she was young if you asked her what she wanted to do she would say ‘go for walk’. The trail is a good level for a young child to achieve and is interesting with the old mining tunnels and railway. Our son had only just started walking ( that day in fact ) so he was in the backpack.

The first time we walked the Windows Walk it was a loop and we got right around without having to carry the 4 year old.

The name of the Windows Walk comes from the holes that were cut in the sides of the tunnels to shovel out rock into the river in the gold mining days. In parts you are walking on the old railway used to move the rock/gold around and there are lots of interesting ruins to see along the way. As well as marvel about how hard the mining work must have been so long ago.

 

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We have subsequently done this walk 3 more times with friends and homestays and everyone loves this walk. The last time we walked it we went further down one of the side tunnels and one of the kids asked what the ‘bits of fluff’ hanging from the top of the tunnel were. We wondered if they were glow worms so turned off our torches (or torch apps on our phones) and to our delight discovered that they were in fact glow worms. I had always thought you had to be quiet to see glow worms but there is nothing quiet about my son so they must be tough glow worms.

Unfortunately the last 2 times we have done this walk, we haven’t been able to do the full loop as there has been a slip on the track after you cross the bridge over the main river. The Department of Conservation has closed the track so you have to return the same way you came.  It’s a shame as this was a lovely part of the walk. You can also no longer explore further on the right hand side of the river where there was a side track to a powerstation cavern excavated out of the mountain and DOC have also closed this track so it must be unsafe.

After returning to the carpark and getting out the pushchair for the 4 year old we set out to do the Rail Tunnel Loop. This walk is quite different to the Windows Walk as you follow quite close to the main river in the gorge on the opposite side to the road. I always love the sound of running water, if I can hear it over the sound of my son chattering, and love walking so close to the river.

The next part of the walk goes through a 1km long tunnel. Its interesting being able to see a tiny dot of light at the end of the tunnel and walking slowly towards it. And its also surprising how long it takes to walk 1km in the relative dark.

This tunnel section of the trail has since been opened up to cyclists as part of the Thames to Waihi ride and it’s even more interesting to be walking in the relative dark with cyclists going past.

You then cross over the highway via an overbridge and walk back along the river to the carpark. This walk is very achievable with a pushchair and a great day out with the kids. The cafe at the carpark is also a nice treat for all once finished.

Other things to do in the area:

Visit the Waiha Museum

Visit the Martha Mine in Waihia

Take a trip on the Goldfields Historic railway

Cycle the Hauraki Rail Trail

 

Bridge to Nowhere Mountain Bike Ride

It was exactly one year after we rode the Timber Trail the first time that we set off to ride the Bridge to Nowhere ride with a much smaller group, maybe they knew something about the ride I didn’t.

The ride is close to Raetahi which is about 15 minutes away from Ohakune. We love the small town vibe so decided to stay in Raetahi in a holiday house. As the Bridge ride was ‘only’ 35km long, staying in Raetahi also meant we could ride from the house to the start of the trail, ‘only’ adding another 20km to the ride…are alarm bells starting to ring for anyone else because they weren’t for me !

My husband bought the weather station away with us so I can confidently say it was 4 degrees when we set off from Raetihi on the mid-April Saturday morning. It wasn’t long before it started drizzling…..cold and wet, great start. We were well prepared for the cold, wearing polyprops and carrying extra wet weather gear, including my husbands old swandri which was  actually needed quite early on.

Luckily the 20km to the start of the trail was downhill….mostly. Even so, it was about 1 and ½ hours and one flat tyre before we hit the start of the ride. At least it had stopped raining, now it was just cold, in fact I rode the whole ride in more layers than I have ever ridden in before including an alpaca scarf that I bought back from South American and have never worn in NZ before as it makes me too hot.

I loved the general history of the ride and after seeing the terrain close up it was easy to imagine how hard it would have been for the returned servicemen trying to make a go of it on the land. It is also easy to see why the area was abandoned and the bridge ended up going nowhere. Funnily enough the bridge was finally completed after most of the farmers had already walked away from the  land. Personally, I would have been interested in the personal stories of the families and would have liked some information boards along the way like on the Timber Trail or Old Coach Rd. There were sign posts with original family names showing where their plots/farms were.

Unfortunately it had rained a lot the week before we rode so there were a lot of mud and puddles, although my husband reckons it would always be wet here. Unfortunately these weren’t just any puddles, they were Taranaki mud puddles, big sucking puddles of grey mud that you felt like you were working twice as hard to peddle through.

Its incredibly rugged land – don’t be fooled like us and think that’s it is ‘only’ a 35km ride. The average riding pace is way slower than usual. The mud combined with the numerous narrow suspension bridges near the end that meant we had to get off our bikes and wheel them on the back wheel to get across, made it really slow going. We also had to stop and clear mud out of our bike deraliers and gears too, poor bike. This meant we were racing to get to the jet boat pick up on time. And we had been worrying about getting cold waiting for the pick up.

I have to admit near the end of the ride the only thing keeping me going was seeing the Bridge and when we got to there it was a quick read of the information boards and some photos before we were on our bikes again as our jet boat was waiting for us.

The 20 minutes jet boat ride out was awesome, if a little chilly and we were pleased that we had packed the hip flask. On essentials list.

 

Top tips

We rode in Autumn and it was cold, wet and muddy ( and this isn’t any ordinary mud, its Taranaki Mud and that mud sticks like glue) so not sure about doing this ride in winter.

Allow more time than you think you would need on an average trail or you could be rushing for the jet boat like we were. Alternatively, get dropped off by the jet boat and ride back. I would not recommend riding back to Ratehi from the end of the track as it would be a solid 15 km up hill.