After mellow first days we were bound to pitch up our road trip [find part 1 here]. Wilder parts of the country were calling, our trip continued past the volcanoes and towards an almost genuine backcountry bike experience.
Dancing on volcanoes
Leaving the beach campsite behind, we made it to Tongariro National Park on a beautiful sunny winter’s day. The day’s mission was hiking to Tongariro Falls, through lava flows, with changing perspectives of the mighty volcanoes Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe. Their snow-capped peaks provided an awe-inspiring background to the easy walk, about an hour to where the water plunged down from a basaltic plateau. As the afternoon went on, the temperatures didn’t leave a doubt about winter’s onset. Rarely did we enjoy a hot coffee more than upon returning to the village.
Still a way to go to our camp for the night, we continued driving north. For the next two days we were about to ride the Timber Trail, upcountry in the heart of the island. We spent the night in the dark forest, the next morning got picked up a shuttle bus to the start of the trail.
In the forest, off the map
Our third NZ Cycle Trail adventure, 85km, ought to be ‘easy as’ with experience from the Otago Rail Trail and Alps 2 Ocean, we thought. But it soon became obvious this ain’t cruising like the former trails. An initial “warm up”, some 5km through dense old growth forest, was soon followed by the crucial climb of the trail. Up Mt Pureora we gained about 400 metres in height but were again denied the views down. Like the A2O’s hardest climb, thick clouds and drizzle accompanied us all the way up, and down again. The descent turned out just as strenuous, sharp bends and various trail conditions left no doubt about the mountain biking nature of the trail.
The second portion of the day finally rewarded us with some breezy downhills, and the suspension bridges – 7 in total on the trail – provided stunning vistas across the dense bush. To reach our accommodation for the night it required a 6km detour including a last, never-ending hill. Well deserving the rest, we lodged in a cosy cottage in the middle of the forest, far away from everything.
Bridges to Nowhere
Promising to be easier on us than the first, Day 2 dawned and we continued riding early through the still mesmerizingly frosted bush. Instead of a merciless long climb only a few shorter ones got us panting, yet I was longing for the fitness lost somewhere in Napier. More bridges, muddy puddles, forest in every direction. The trail took us as far into the wild as you may get in this country, caught up in mesmerizing forest to the horizon.
Whereas Daniel had a blast racing down the final stages of the trail I often felt like riding a grumpy horse, the bumpy track not perfectly matching my modest front suspension bike (no offense, it still carried me over all the hills). A curved tunnel was the last highlight of the trail before we arrived back at the carpark, both equally exhausted and relieved to have accomplished it. Not the easy way but rewarding eventually, to have strayed well off the beaten path.
A last day by the sea
The end of our journey approached, with the melancholia of parting ways soon. Almost four months travelling together with Daniel – an amazing time despite the hardships working. A travel companionship so unexpected but wonderful, it would be damn hard to let go. With all this in mind we still had a last lovely day by the sea in Raglan, once more enjoying campervan life. Conditions didn’t permit surfing in NZ’s most classic surf town but the beach and the coast were stunning just as that.
At last Daniel’s piano found a home for the winter, and his bike won a free trip to accompany me north. Dropping the car and goodbyes in Auckland, I set off alone again. The “winterless north” deemed to be a decent place to spend these months, process the experiences and refocus after weeks of work and that rush of a week on roads and trails.
Next: Far north in the far south, Northland