Butterflies, pigs and the art of the inelegant dismount

Words by  Irena Brooks

It’s been four days since husband Tony and I returned from our two day mountain bike of the iconic Timber Trail. The scabs on my shins and elbows, and bruises on my thighs, are healing nicely. It’s a relief to sit at my desk on a comfy chair. Yet my mind regularly drifts back to the fresh air, amazing scenery, copious birdsong, camaraderie and laughter from the trip.

Our adventure began on a Sunday afternoon in mid-May, setting off from New Plymouth to the Timber Trail Lodge’s transport hub located just off SH4, 25km north of Taumarunui (a 2 hour 40 min drive from New Plymouth).

We arrived there about 4:30pm — four other guests had also arrived: couples from Warkworth, Pukekohe and New Plymouth plus a dad and his adult daughter from Hawkes Bay.

We all boarded the shuttle and driver Rob took us to the Timber Trail Lodge (about a 45min drive) regaling us with a korero of information and history about the area.

Upon arrival we all headed to our respective rooms (ours had an ensuite and Super King bed) then drinks round the fireplace and dinner, where we all got to know each other some more.

It was a great group and we couldn’t have organised better people to share the experience with if we had tried.

The next morning dawned somewhat misty. Tea, plunger coffee, cereals and toast were ready for 7am with bacon, eggs and hash browns ready at 7:30am. We were all given our packed lunches and boarded the shuttle at 8:30. This took us to the top of the trail, along with the bikes we had either dropped off or hired at the transport hub the afternoon before.

Six had e-Bikes with four of us on our mountain bikes.

The morning was pretty crisp but nothing two pairs of gloves and four layers of wool and polypropylene couldn’t fix.

Everyone set off in pairs to tackle the trail, with the first 15km mostly uphill. There were some big potholes filled with muddy water and I soon learned which ones it was more prudent to stop and walk around.

My gear changes were not smooth at times, especially going up hills. The delay in the gears changing resulted in me separating from my bike — less “falls” than “inelegant dismounts” Tony reckoned.

After four of those it dawned on me that maybe my seat was a bit high. What can I say … I’m a fast learner. Once that was lowered life became a lot easier.

There were plenty of information boards and minor detours to points of interest.

At one stage (8 – 10kms) we stopped to listen to the birds and see if we could spot any — I have never heard such a variety and cacophony of birds in New Zealand bush before — that was something pretty special.

Lunch was consumed at the 10km mark and not far after that light rain set in.

Bang on the 15km mark we reached the first downhill section, which was a tremendous relief, as was the cessation of the rain not long after.

We got back to the lodge about 3:30pm, demolishing a pizza and drinks with the rest of the group as we watched the sun go down from the deck. Then we all pulled sofas and bean bags together inside so we could continue the stories, laughter and good-natured ribbing.

After dinner and dessert, everyone pretty much hit the hay … it was Day 2 of the Timber Trail in the morning.

Once we’d finished breakfast, we could all just grab our packed lunches and set off whenever we wanted.

Our overnight bags were taken by staff to the transport hub where all our cars were parked.

Misty again we had another climb to start the day, but only about maybe 8kms. The track surface was noticeably rockier than Day 1 apart from a few blissful interludes of smooth sandy stuff.

Tuis, fantails and kereru were rampant the entire trip but no less enchanting for their numbers.

Just past the Ongarue Spiral and tunnel we came across a couple of e-Bikers on the other side — one of them had obviously come a cropper and was tending to some gnarly-looking grazes on his shin. After checking they were OK and had enough plasters, we continued on the descent. There were several sections warning us not to stop because of large loose rocks. Along here we came across a black piglet on the trail — apparently kunekune and Captain Cookers are sought by hunters in the area. He looked pretty cute but we understand their mums are not so. With the threat of falling boulders and protective wild pigs we didn’t stop to get a photo.

About 5 hours of cycling brought us back to the transport hub by around 2:30, where we hosed down our bikes and had a quick chat to staff.

They encouraged us to have a test drive of their e-Bikes, which were a revelation. After 85kms on our 10-year-old mountain bikes (whose suspension was pretty much shot), the full suspension e-Bikes were like riding a pillow. The next mountain bike trail we do will definitely be on one of them. We won’t be so shattered that we don’t take any of the detours, so will therefore have a more complete experience. Also, I can see that the bumps and rocky terrain would actually be a whole lot of fun instead of wincing at every bang.

The great thing about e-Bikes is that they make mountain-biking accessible to almost everyone. With 23 Great Rides throughout New Zealand and dozens of shorter trails too, they’re a great way to get in some exercise and fresh air while exploring different parts of New Zealand.

For people looking to buy their own e-Bike the Timber Trail Lodge is also selling last year’s stock.

All serviced regularly, they have full suspension and hard-tail (front suspension only) options.

Contact the lodge to arrange a test drive.

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