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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.

For everything you need to know about planning to ride 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.

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