Fools rush in where angels fear to tread - what great words of wisdom. Having not been out on a proper ride at all this year, it was probably a wee bit ambitious to think the 85km, 2 day Timber Trail Ride would be a doddle. My research on the Timber Trail ride consisted of watching 2 YouTube clips of people looking relaxed and also reading an article, probably written by a cycling athlete who said it was 'gentle and undulating'. So not much.
And I wouldn't say we are the most cautious or overly prepared of people when it comes to these little riding soirees. I felt well equipped because I'd brought the right shoes and remembered my jacket.
Anyway, so I'm framing this up to sound like it was a bad experience. It wasn't at all. It was masses of fun and a very cool adventure. Just a little more taxing than I'd expected...and not taxing enough for Simon who (im)patiently sat behind me for the majority of the 85kms.
We stayed in Ongarue at the Flashpackers. Our host; Rem was an utter legend - transferring our van each day back from start and halfway points after riding on his handmade bike the 90km and 55km uphill slogs to get there. 'I like to get my exercise in' he told us unphased. Even on day 2 he rode the 55km to get our van after undergoing a root canal that morning. Legend. And our stay at the Flashpackers? Utter bliss. We had the whole place to ourselves and thoroughly enjoyed the spa at the end of each day of riding. The place itself is pristinely clean and has everything you need to self cater and relax. Kitchen, beds, facilities are all finished to a beautiful, top quality standard. Would definitely recommend this place.
Historically Ongarue was the base for a major Central North Island timber industry operation. Ellis and Burnand were one of the largest native timber companies in the country, and almost certainly the leading producer of Rimu timber.
Unlike most other bush tram routes, much of the Ongarue tram system survives unmodified, making it a nationally significant site which represents an important part of the timber industry and pioneering New Zealand. The old tram route with its cuttings, embankments and stream crossings, winds through scenic natural bush. The spiral is one of the most spectacular sections. An impressive sight, it comprised a lower-level bridge, a very deep cutting, a curved tunnel, a complete circle of track and an over-bridge.
The Timber Trail as a ride? It's pretty magnificent; There is a distance marker every kilometre - starting with 1km at the Pureora end and finishing at 82km at the Ongarue Trail Head - this can be both a good thing and a bad thing from a psychological perspective.
There are heaps of interesting spots to stop with historical information boards dotted along the trail. We went north to south so started at Pureora and cycled to Piropiro on our first day. This part is Intermediate/Grade 3. The trail starts by winding its way through the stunning Pikiariki Ecological Area before climbing Mount Pureora.
The track then sidles around the mountain at 940 m above sea level, travelling across two large suspension bridges before heading down toward the mid point of the trail at Piropiro. The first 11km of the Northern halfs' 40km are a long gradual climb, after that, the track is generally downhill with a few speedy decents - my personal favourite.
At the 39km mark you could opt to camp at Piropiro or stay at The Timber Trail Lodge. This is where we had Rem from the Flashpackers leave our car - at the camp so that we could drive back to Ongarue for the night.
Day 2 was where the psychological perspective of me thinking that the second half was easier than the first did not work in my favour. Rem had said the first 3kms or so was a gentle accent. 'or so' was about another 5kms of not so gentle accent. And with a sore bottom, it threw me a bit. I got over it pretty quickly though with all the fun downhill bits that followed.
Most of the southern end of the the Timber Trail is Easy/Grade 2. Yes, there are a few steep ascents/descents that require a bit more effort and skill, but overall it's pretty cruisy to be honest.
What I loved most on the second half was the real sense of solitude you experience - there are no escape routes meaning you're committed to completing the full 45km.
We began the 2nd day, after doctoring my saddle with some creative padding, at the Piropiro campsite which is also the 40km point. The trail from here winds very gently through lush green native forest to the beautiful Maramataha Suspension Bridge.
From the bridge to around the 47km mark is a steady climb and the only really tough section of the trail. From this point the trail trends downhill with a few long, fast and exhilarating sections - the best of these runs for about 10kms from the 67km mark.
At the 74km mark is the Ongarue Spiral. The trail then winds through Forestry and Farm lands to the finishing point in Ongarue and the end of our adventure.
From there it was homeward bound with a quick stop at the pub in National Park for dinner. Good times.