Tag Archives: Family adventure

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.

So much to do in Rotorua

In hindsight, it seems a bit strange that I am writing about the place we go the most after writing about lots of other places we have only visited once.  Yes we go to Rotorua a lot, but I thought that I didn’t have much to share as we mostly go mountain biking and the tips on that would pretty much be; go to Redwoods, get on bike, ride. Then I was talking to someone in the weekend who was going to Rotorua and they asked me what we enjoy doing there and it turns out I had quite a lot to say.

Firstly, if you are considering going to Rotorua, what are you doing reading this, go and book your accommodation now. We have been going to Rotorua for about five years now and cant believe how popular it has become. There are so many events held there now, along with the awesome mountain biking, that at times we can find it hard to get accommodation.

Rotorua has accommodation to suit everyone so just check out your favourite accommodation search engine. So now you have your accommodation booked what are you going to do when you get there? Of course we would put mountain biking at the top of the list. You don’t have to be a gun mountain biker, the Redwood forest has something for everyone and it was the first place our son rode when he was 5. There are even younger kids out there on the trails, so if they can do it so can your kids. If you don’t have a bike they hire them at the forest. To check out the easy tracks head for Waipa Mill Rd, talk to the friendly guys at the pro shop and grab a map. The best thing is, if you have your own gear its free to ride here although you can donate to the Rotorua Trails Trust so they can keep delivering awesome trails for us. If you are more into riding downhills than going up then you might want to buy a shuttle pass and head for the bus stop at the bottom of Hill road. You can link tracks together and ride downhill for over an hour, it is so worth it.

Other things to do in Rotorua are;

The Gondola and Luge – slightly pricey but then I tend to think any activity that costs money is pricey. On a sunny days the views from the top of the gondola are pretty stunning and there is lots to look at from the top even if you don’t do the luge. Younger children can go on the luge with an adult which makes your luge tickets go further. Also the younger kids get to experience the thrill in relative safety if they may not want to ride it by themselves.

Fairy Springs – again I think its slightly pricey but when we went we spent about 4 hours there so on an hourly rate its probably pretty cheap. They have great trout viewing pools and an awesome native bird aviary. Go when the birds are about to be fed and they are getting excited. The tui love to show off their flying skills and dive bomb the visitors. The other attraction is the Big Splash boat ride which includes a waterfall and you guessed it a BIG SPLASH.

Te Puia / Pohutu geyser– we have driven past the geysers at Te Puia many times on the way to mountain biking but it was only when we had a home stay student that we thought we should check it out. Bubbling mud, geysers, trails through native bush, a cultural show – this place has it all. We were a little put off by the entrance price but were delighted to find that New Zealanders get a domestic discount ( the first time we have come across that ) I think even at full price it would have been good value for money. Again we spent about 4 hours here – those geysers sure are mesmerising and the Kiwi even came out to play in the Kiwi house.

Okere Falls – about 20 minutes out of Rotorua on the highway to Tauranga. Okere Falls is a great place to spot rafters and kayakers go over the grade 4 waterfall and many other rapids. There is a great track down the side of the cliff to see all the action from water leveI. Its also a delightful walk through native bush beside the Kaituna River.

Tarawera Trail – there are lots of walks in the area, in fact many people enjoy walking through the Redwood forest. Personally, I think why walk when you can mountain bike. One walk that you can’t mountain bike is the Tarawera Trail. Its 15km-20km one way depending on where you park and unless you want to walk the track back to the start then it does involve a water taxi. You can either get dropped off at Hot Water Beach and walk back or walk to Hot Water Beach and taxi or walk back. We chose to taxi first so we didn’t have to worry about rushing / running for the water taxi. It’s a stunning walk through gorgeous native bush around the Lake. There is an amazing hot pool down a side trail which is great to soak the feet in, or go for a swim like our kids did. Hot water beach is at the start/end of the track and this is where a hot spring trickles out of the rock and flows into the lake.  Another great place for a soak. There is a popular camp very close by which kind of spoils the ambiance but its still an amazing natural place.

As of June 2017 sections of the trail were closed due to slips, so check out the Department of Conservation website before we plan this one.

Waikete Pools – a little way out of town on the road to Taupo but well worth the drive. A great range of size and temperatures of pools with something to suit everyone.

Kerosene Creek –  if you are looking for a natural experience of thermal water then check out Kerosene Creek. About a 20 minute drive out of Rotorua heading towards Taupo. Aim for Rainbow Mountain and follow the signs to Kerosene Creek which is just past the Rainbow mountain carpark. Once you have parked and got to the creek keep walking downstream as the water cascades over a waterfall into a dammed up pool. The hot water creates quite a warm micro-climate as its sheltered underneath tall trees. Very beautiful in the afternoon sun. The path to the creek can be very muddy after rain.

And if you like riding on concrete paths you can ride out to Kerosense Creek on the Te Ara Ahi trail.

Once you have been to Rotorua you will want to go again and again – now I had better go book my accommodation.

Twin Coast Trail, Opua to Kawakawa

We had ridden the Opua to ‘the bridge’ section of the Twin Coast Trails once before but we had heard the bridge was open for the summer so we were excited to be able ride over the bridge and make it to Kawakawa for a coffee.

It was predicted to be a 29 degree day so we set out early, OK early-ish we are on holiday after all. Opua harbour was looking stunning as we drove to the start of the ride. The carpark for the bike ride already had a few cars in which was good to see.

The tide was in and we were pretty much instantly treated to lovely views of the Kawakawa River. The ride is on gravel that has been put down over old train tracks and is relatively flat and an easy ride. When we are riding other trails with the children we stop to give them a rest every so often but the only reason we were stopping was to enjoy the stunning views.

Usually from the Opua end you can only get to the bridge before Kawakawa ( just short of a coffee stop ) but over the Summer period ( of 2017 ) the council has got the bridge to a safe standard for people and their bikes. Thanks Far North District Council!

Not only does this ride have a bridge, its got a tunnel as well. Just short enough that you can easily see all the way through.

Usually I don’t enjoy riding over bridges ( think Timber Trail suspension bridges and the Old Coach Rd viaduct ) but I really enjoyed riding over this one. Maybe it was the thrill of knowing that its only open for a short period of time.

From there it was a short ride to Kawakawa for a coffee and a refuel for the kids and as an added bonus we go to see the steam train going through town and coming back again. If you haven’t checked out the Hundertwasser Toilets they are well worth a visit as well.

The return ride was just as enjoyable and an easy 11km return ( we rode 22km in total ) without so many stops for photos.

Top tips

This is a great ride to do with kids or are enjoying holiday mode a little too much.

As we were leaving there were people about to do the rides with e-bikes.

Check if the bridge is open. We found out the bridge was open on the Bay of Island VIntage Railway website and at that stage it was open until the 8th of February 2017.

Mountain biking with kids – mud, sweat and tears

We were mountain biking with a group of adults who hadn’t ridden with our children for ages and one of them had never even meet our children. The adults and I were catching up to my husband and the kids who had gone on ahead. We started riding up a solid 20 minute uphill trail ( Sidewinder for those of you that know the Redwoods ). We have ridden it with our kids once before and there was a bit of bike pushing but it’s all part of the experience. The guy who didn’t know our kids was saying ‘your kids can’t be on this trail’ and at one point he actually stopped and said I should call my husband to find out where they were.  Not sure if he was questioning my navigation skills (which are questionable ) or our children’s fitness levels. So we got to the top of the hill and there were my little mountain bikers with big contented smiles on their faces. ‘I rode all the way’ says my 8 year old – and then I had a big contented smile on my face.

Ok, so am pretty proud of my kids. They love mountain biking and we love mountain biking with them but it wasn’t always like this. I can still remember the first time we went riding with the kids, they were 5 and 8 years old. I almost didn’t change into my bike riding gear coz I thought it was going to be a short ride. Of course we started off on the easy trails and there was a lot of bike pushing and moaning…and not just from the kids. After about 6 km we headed back to the café for a refuel and probably thought that was it but after some cake they were keen to go out again so we ended up doing 16km that day.

We started going to Rotorua on a more regular basis and took the kids riding about once a month with varying degrees of success and lots of perseverance. We spent a lot of time getting their confidence and fitness up on the kid’s trails. And then gradually the moaning decreased, the enthusiasm increased and we ventured onto harder trails.

And they aren’t just fair weather riders either – one time it was pouring with rain when we set out and didn’t stop the whole time we were out. Not only was it wet, it was cold. When we got back to the carpark after 2 hours ride we were covered in mud, soaked to the bone and freezing cold with the biggest smiles on our faces, kids included. Nothing more bonding and character building than a shared adventure.

So it might not happen overnight and there will probably be a few tears but it’s worth it to share your love of mountain biking or tramping or whatever form your adventuring takes because as the good memories grow the challenge of getting there fades. In fact the challenge of getting there are part of the good memories.

So when our friends thought there was no way my kids would be on the steep uphill trail I knew they would be because we had put in the mud, sweat and tears to get them there.

Top tips

Unless you are Mother Teresa,  this is going to test the limits of your  patience but it will be worth it!

Try and get out on a regular basis. Just like us, the more your kids do something the easier it becomes.

We have found that mountain biking with kids is more dangerous than riding with adults. Seems to be something to do with their unpredictability, sudden stops and my daughters ability to ride at ridiculously slow speed. So have your wits about you!

Take sugar or whatever it takes to keep your child going and be prepared to stop often.

Invest in the best gear you can afford for your kids to enjoy the activity, e.g cycle shorts for cycling. We wouldn’t want to ride without cycle shorts so why would our kids.  My husband gets lots of great deals on trademe. Buy unisex colours and styles. You could also suggest to friend’s and relatives that they buy related gear for your kids birthdays or Christmas presents.

Check out my blog on training for Tongariro Crossing with kids.

How we like to camp

Our family loves camping and has many happy memories spent in campgrounds all around New Zealand. We recently started looking at upgrading our camper trailer and it got me to thinking that the camper trailer ( if you aren’t familiar with the term it’s the featured image for this post ) is probably the easiest and possibly cheapest ways to get into camping.

My husband and I both spent out childhoods camping with our families. My husband spent the summers in a borrowed canvas tent ( borrowed from the local scouts where my father-in-law was Scout leader ) with no floor and wasn’t very waterproof.  I on the other hand spent the winters ( yes the winters, we kayaked and there was more water in the river in winter ) in a camper trailer or VW combi van with the kids ( and one of those kids was me ) in a tent. My husband and I both camped in Department of Conservation campgrounds as children, where the biggest luxury is a long drop toilet.

Unfortunately I didn’t initially embrace camping as an adult as I thought I had an allergy to the grass and camping was quite annoying as my feet would end up lumpy and painful. Turns out that my feet are very sensitive to the sun and my feet issues were resolved with some spray on sunscreen so thankfully we could happily buy our first tent and embrace camping as adults.

We had many happy years in our tiny dome tent that we couldn’t stand up in, and packing everything in to the car at night as there was no room in the tent to store it. After a fabulous road trip around the Taranaki region, we decided to upgrade to a tent that we could stand up in with a vestibule. I am not really sure what a vestibule is but I do love the sound of the word. Of course with our bigger tent we had more space for things so bought a wee table and camping pantry.

No sooner had we taken the tent for its maiden journey than we discovered we were having our first child …hmm might need to add a room onto that tent. When we were a family of three we enjoyed many camping weekends away. And at this point I might lose my adventure mumma street cred when I say that two kids made me less so inclined to pack up the tent and head away camping. Not to mention we would have needed camping bunks to fit into our tent.

And so I have to hand it to my awesome bunch of friends who got us back into camping when our kids were a little older.

And time for another tent ( yes that’s our third tent )….a 3 room one this time. Very luxurious. And with all that space we bought another table and a comfier airbed.

And yes at this point we had such a big tent and so much stuff to put in the tent ( I might camp but I don’t like to lower my standards ) that we had to hire a trailer to get everything in. Packing was quite an undertaking and we found we weren’t going away camping as much we would have liked.

Enter the camper trailer…beds, bedding, table, seating, cooker, plates, gin glasses  ( enough for the whole campground if you are like me ) all packed up and ready to go. We love our camper, its so much easier to pack ( all we need to pack is clothes and food ), easy to set up, robust canvas that has never leaked in the rain, doesn’t get blown around in the wind and the canvas is so dark that the kids even sleep in when we are camping.

We recently spent 3 weeks travelling around the South Island in our camper trailer and thoroughly enjoyed it.

When I look at all the camping gear we have bought over the years I think the best place to start would have been a camper trailer.

Top tip:

If you want ease of packing and setting up look into getting a camper trailer. You can spend $30,000 on a new flash one but we got ours second hand for $2,500 which we estimate would have been about the same amount as the camping equipment we have bought over the years. The time saving on packing is priceless and because its easier to pack we go camping a lot more and even go away for one night, which we wouldn’t have done with the tent.