One of the boys organised a full on shuttle drop so that we could ride the Moerangi Trail in the Whirinaki (pronounced Firinaki) Forest. Good lad, that Paul!
We were picked up at 8am by Lisa, an ex pro downhiller and former member of the New Zealand national BMX team, so we knew we were in great hands. The drive to the trail head took about er, an hour or maybe two. To be honest I wasn't paying much attention as the banter in the bus and Lisa's interjections made the time simply fly by.
Eventually we were in the middle of nowhere at the trail head and ripping our bikes off the snazzy bike trailer.
We were given a quick brief (brief brief?) on the 36km (23mi) trail. We were also given a mobile phone that would work from just a few select locations (read-helicopter pad on top of a big arse hill!) if we needed a rescue or a Nutella sandwich or something. Paul paid close attention to this brief and put the phone safely in his Camelbak.
Soon enough we were off into the wilds, not quite sure what we would experience. I was thinking that a 36km ride was barely justifiable distance-wise and that we should have been doing something a bit more worthy, but then again, I had not had a peruse of the elevation profile.....
We were soon riding along gorgeous single track through ancient forest and all thoughts of distance versus time and effort equations were banished from my mind. This place was effing beautiful!
There were nice flat sections, some sweet downhill sections and some brutal uphill bits. On one of these uphills the boys learnt the hard way not to tailgate too closely. One rider stopped because of the slope, then the next hit his back wheel, unclipped the wrong foot and went arse-over-tit about 8 feet down the hill side! The only saving grace was that the rider (lets call him "Paul") managed to snag a palm tree otherwise he would still be falling now! The following photo doesn't do the hillside justice. "Paul" is over 6 ft tall and you can just see the blue of his shirt on the left of a concerned Brett.
Note to self, "Don't fall over edges here!"
Meandering along there were so many different sections of trail. Here I stopped to snap a waterfall on the other side of the creek. I was really getting into the "vibe" of the ride now.
This ride was all about taking in the amazing scenery and not just whizzing along some sweet single track....as sweet as it was.....
We soon came to the first of three hiker's huts along the track. There were three guys on a maintenance detail cutting the grass here. that also explained why the trail was nicely groomed so far. Something that we would miss with the riding that lay ahead.
From here onward the trail was quite overgrown. You needed to be careful not to lose an eye to the ferns and random sticks poking out. Once these trail care crews get through the trail though, these hazards will be greatly reduced and the average speed of riders can safely increase. One thing we quickly realised on this trail was that it wasn't a balls-out bike park. We were in the middle of nowhere and if we hurt ourselves help was a long way off, so everyone rode pretty sensibly...considering it was a bunch of blokes on MTBs!
We had been following and crossing a creek the whole way so far. We slowly began to climb away from the creek, but continued to follow it. What I mean is that the trail was about a metre (yard) wide and the drop off into the creek was growing to over a hundred feet in places. Now THAT grabs your attention! It was all rideable and hey, it wasn't as bad as the several thousand foot drops of the Porcupine Rim Trail in Moab, but the end result would be the same if you screwed up and unclipped the wrong side!!
There were a lot of trees down across the track as the NZ Department of Conservation had built the trail, but like many other land managers worldwide, failed to see the need for regular maintenance. As I said before, this was now finally starting to happen and by the time anyone reading this wants to ride(or walk) the trail, it will be sweet.
The forest is just so lush and dense that you could almost imagine that great prehistoric dinosaurs might come crashing through the undergrowth to snack on sweaty, grubby little mountain bikers. As long as I was in the right gear at the time, they would get a run for their money!
We stopped lots. And lots. The guys were a bit fatigued from our Redwoods and W2K shenanigans, plus we just wanted to look at our surroundings. Did I mention they were effing beautiful? Oh yeah, I think I may have!
The lads stopped to fill their bottles from a bustling little stream while I took more photos.
Once we finally reached the top of the biggest climb we took a breather at one of the hill top helicopter landing pads. One of the ones the phone would work from. Instead of ordering in 16 large pizzas and a couple of slabs of beer like sensible blokes, we nibbled on our dwindling stock of museli bars and talked shit, excited that the trail was now about to point DOWN.
Indeed, it did go down. It went down at a very steep angle so that much of the fun descent was turned into brake dust while trying to stay on the trail and avoid a serious eye-gouge from a prehistoric palm. There we also lots of trees down across the track and in one spot, almost no track!
This slip had relegated us to walking the down bits as well! Personally, I was a bit disappointed with the descent as it was so knarly on a 120mm travel XC bike that it wasn't fun. Simon though, on the 150mm travel Specialised (a hire bike, so very fast!) was loving it! I guess once you get to know the trail it would be a quicker descent, but you need to keep the remoteness of this trail in the front of your mind.....
In the last few km the boys were starting to tire a bit. I made it a personal challenge to ride every climb and so rode away a bit. This gave me time to stop at turns for lots of photos with the new point and shoot camera. I bought a Canon S100 to replace my much loved IXUS 970IS that died in San Fran last month. It doesn't have some of the features that made the IXUS so indispensable, but it does have a lot more manual control so should be more flexible once I learn how to use it.
The last few km were a real hoot as the trail became more predictable. Simon had got his second wind on the Specialised rental and I had a ball trying to chase him out of the forest.
We finished the ride in a smidge over 5 hours and were looking to jump straight into the shuttle and head for Rotorua.
Only problem was the shuttle wasn't there. "They won't be long" we told each other. "We are paying for a service here" some grizzled. Which we were. And getting cold.
When you are in a service related industry like ours, we have very low tolerance for poor service, especially within one's own business. Ask any airline employee who is the harshest critic of the company's service and you will no doubt be told, "The Pilots"(amongst other baseless, scurrulous lies).
The shuttle turned up about 45 minutes later and the guys honestly looked dismayed. They asked how long we had been waiting and the golden question, "Why didn't you call us from the chopper pad?" Yes Paul, why didn't we call them from the chopper pad?! Due to a misunderstanding with our telecommunications officer, we hadn't made the call in for our pick up! D'oh!!
We were loaded up in record time and the silence on the drive back to Rotorua was testament to the toughness of the ride. Everyone was flaked out, but someone had to stay awake and talk to Lisa ;) The link to the shuttle company is here. We didn't get any discount and we have no association. They are just good people.
The Whirinaki Forest was one of the rides I missed out on doing last time I was in Rotorua, so I was extremely pleased to be able to finally ride this amazing trail. If you get the chance to visit the region make sure it is on your "must ride" list.