I recently rode the Timber Trail as a two-day section of my two-and-a half-month tour of Aotearoa. It was a breath of fresh air – an escape to the backcountry of Pureora Forest Park. It was a place to appreciate aspects of this incredibly diverse landscape without the stresses of logging trucks and other traffic, navigation, and panniers laden with food and water.
The Timber Trail provides enjoyment and challenges for all abilities, whilst being adaptable to all budgets and time constraints.
Ride it north to south for a good climb followed by an epic downhill, or take the challenge of a predominantly uphill adventure by riding it in reverse. It can be enjoyed serenely over two days, or blazed in one.
You don't need the luxury of an expensive bike – any mountain bike will happily do the job as long as it’s in good working order and you have basic tools and spare tubes.
At the nearby town of Taumaranui, I loaded up with two days’ worth of food and cycled the back road to Ongarue. I stopped there for lunch before heading onward to the trailhead where I found a well-maintained picnic area. The locals were friendly, with no one passing without a wave and a smile.
My previous riding had left me with brake issues that bothered me for the first 15km, but I was overwhelmed by the kindness of passing riders who stopped to lend whatever assistance they could.
This first section of trail varied between four-foot-wide historic rail trail and gravel roads, with impressive tunnels and bridges traversing ravines. Recent rains had washed out the track a little, making for an enjoyable challenge as I picked lines and dodged tree branches.
There was a surprising amount of signage explaining Pureora Forest Park’s natural, colonial and Maori history. It provided a meaningful connection between this special place and the trail, and of course the hard yards the early pioneers had put in to build it.
With the sun setting and rain falling, my chances of making it to the usual overnight stop of Piropiro before nightfall were slim, so I set up camp at Historic Camp Number 10.
It was still raining as I woke up to birdsong in the surrounding rainforest, so I was grateful for the camp shelter as I made my breakfast and coffee, and packed up my gear for the day’s ride ahead.
The downpour made the experience more adventurous. Small streams crossed the track and gutters had filled with water. My bike and bags soon became covered in mud, my only pair of shoes drenched. But contrasting with my low tire pressure, my mood soared. I was warm, happy, and enjoyed total solitude for a good two hours before I encountered any other riders.
In the North Island, the rain goes as fast as it comes. Soon the sun was out and everything was starting to dry. At Piropiro I devoured my second breakfast before heading off on the long, gradual climb in the afternoon. It wasn't too challenging – it just took time.
The suspension bridges were a particular highlight, as were the alpine ridges and beech forest. It was hard maintain a consistent pace when each corner revealed new sights such as ancient, moss-covered beech trees or a lookout over distant valleys and Lake Taupo to the east. Rest stops were a welcome treat.
The sweeping downhill to the Pureora trailhead was well deserved, and the Department of Conservation campsite proved a pleasant place to watch the sunset whilst making dinner.
My adventure left me impressed by the lovely community of cyclists I met on the trail, the frequency of toilets and shelters, and the generosity of the landowners who allow access to their private property.
The extensive cycle trails network throughout the North Island is very impressive, with some serious thought and planning gone into their construction and maintenance. They were certainly a welcome breath of fresh air for a crusty, peanut butter-laden tourer like myself.
I'd rate the Timber Trail as one of my favourite New Zealand cycling experiences, alongside those I enjoyed in the Nevis, Rainbow Road and St James areas. I look forward to re-riding the Timber Trail in the other direction, some time in the future.
Nathan North - Bikepacker from Bonny Hills, NSW, Australia