Tag Archives: NZ

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.

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.

Tongariro Crossing with kids

It was hard to know what was keeping me awake the most the night before the Tongariro Crossing with the kids; my concern over whether we were prepared enough or the fact I was sleeping in a tiny room with 3 over excited children ( my two and our 14 year old homestay ). I’m not great at sleep at the best of times ( you can follow my journey on that in future blogs ) so after quite a few hours of tossing and turning I was awake before the alarm.

 

As I like to be as prepared as possible we had made the sandwiches and snacks the night before. So all that was left to do was convince the children that it was cold outside and yes they should put on that extra layer, fit in as much breakfast as possible and finishing packing enough food, water, warm clothes, sun hats for 3 children and 2 adults for a 20km hike (I still wish we had taken our luggage scales to see how heavy our packs were)

Out the door to catch the bus and yes children it really is cold outside. Nothing like the nervous energy of 30 people at 7.30 in the morning in the confined space of the bus and then I realised we had the youngest children on the bus by a good 5 years with my son of 7…hmm I really hope we did enough training.

 

After a safety briefing from the driver (was he looking at the parents of the 7 year old ) and a team photo of our group ( 11 adults and 7 children ) we set off. I always find it hard to pace myself when I first set off on a big event and was a little worried my children had the same problem when they set off at what can really only be described as an excited jog.

One of our friends later said when he heard we were going to do the walk with our kids he thought we were mad, in fact he thought we were crazy doing it with kids, but quickly changed his mind when my son ran passed him on the uphill.

The Crossing starts off over a boardwalk for a few kilometres and is a nice warm up to the climb up the hill. The first time we did the Crossing about 15 years ago going up the hill involved clambering up boulders but has now been upgraded to steeps and a winding up hill track and stunning views of Mt Ngauruhoe. There was a definite chocolate break at the top of that hill.

From there we crossed the crater which is kind like being on the moon. We walked in October and there was still snow on the mountains and some of the lower laying spots. Kids young and old had snow balls fight adding a few extra kilometres to the walk zig zaggin backwards and forwards to pick up more snow.

From there it was a climb up out of the crater including the bit where you hold on to a chain as you shimmy along an icy ledge and realise your 7 year old went through this bit by himself.

Time for a quick lunch break. No-one wants to linger too long for fear of not wanting to move again.

And then its time for the fun bit, down the scree hill to the Emerald Lakes. At this point I am pleased I was lucky enough to borrow a friends hiking boots that stopped the gravel getting in. Gee I do love scree hills – just cant figure out how the scree hill doesnt end up in a mound at the bottom.

Some of our group went around the Emerald Lake where there is thermal activity but I conserved my energy.

And then passed the Blue Lakes and we start down the hill. At first the down hill is a welcome relief but its a lot of downhill, in fact it was all downhill from there.

And so it was that we did the Tongariro Crossing. It’s hard to know if I can describe it as a family outing when I barely saw my son as he raced to keep up with the big kids. Thank goodness for the uphill that slowed my daughter down so I could share most of the experience with her.

On the upside I never heard one complaint from my son which is not to say he didn’t complain it’s just that he was so far ahead of me I never heard him.

Someone suggested I get my children’s thoughts to add to this but for all I think my children are amazing at what they achieved, I have realised that children take it all in their stride (and that stride may be a jog) when the next day as my son got out of bed he asked incredulously ‘why would my legs be sore?’

Nevertheless I am proud of what my family has achieved. Turns out with some commitment to training and lot of belief in your children, they believe in themselves. I thoroughly enjoyed sharing my love of a shared goal (see first blog) with the children even if they have yet to realise just how amazing their achievement is!

For more on the training we did read Yes you can enjoy exercising with your kids.

Things you might want to know

We started walking about 8.30am and finished about 2.30pm. We walked at a comfortable pace with a 7 and 12 year old and had stops for photos & fuelling although the 7 year old didn’t exactly walk with us .. he ran with other younger members of our group.

My husband and I carried everything for the children, and that was 3 children’s gear as we had a 14 year old home stay. In hindsight I maybe would have had the kids carrying some of the gear.

My kids walked in normal running shoes. I did wear boots that I borrowed off a girlfriend but the trail can be walked in normal running or walking shoes, you might just end up with some rocks in them after the scree hill but you can always empty them out.

The Mountain Safety Council also has some great tips on staying safe on day walks