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.
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.
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.