Dave Mitchell has ridden almost all of the New Zealand Cycle Trails and each brings its own memorable experiences
My partner Ditte and I have ridden most of the cycle trails and pinch ourselves every ride – how lucky we are to be in the middle of a golden age of cycling and cycle trail development on a scale never before dreamt of. No ride is the same and I’ve had some surprising, incredible and memorable experiences. Here’s a few of the best.
St James Cycle Trail
It was a crystal clear windless day in mid-winter when Ditte and I crossed the frigid flow of the Waiau River, heading for Christopher Hut. All attempts to get the fire going were greeted by a hut full of smoke – even though a no smoking sign was prominent. I clambered onto the roof armed with a long length of steel water pipe and dislodged the offending blockage. No fire ever roared so willingly after that. According to the hut book, a smokey hut had been the norm for many moons. There was a massive frost that night followed by a beautiful day to ride out.
A raging torrent and an unplanned night
With a bulletproof weather forecast, we set out from Opotiki enjoying the scenic coastal section and the ride up the historic Motu Road to the Pakihi single track. The downhill to Pakihi Hut was incredible fun. Alas, dropping down to the Pakihi Stream revealed an uncrossable ragging torrent. It was late in the day so an unplanned night-out was spent in the hut. We scrounged up enough food to mollify our rumbling stomachs and the next day exited the way we had come and went straight to the pie shop. A swingbridge has since been built across the stream.
Seen and sawed
Great Lake Trail
The value of taking a folding saw could not be overstated on our ride along the Waihaha section of the excellent Great Lake Trail. Strong winds the night before had littered the track with leaves, lichen, small branches and the odd manuka tree. Out came the saw and in no time the roadblocks were cleared away. An uninterrupted return ride back from Waihora Bay was assured.
We ascended steadily up the flank of Mt Pureora into cloud forest and a sea of green – ferns, moss and twisted gnarly trees and their rabble of epiphyte hangers-on. At the highest point, two track builders aged in their 70s were in the throes of installing a huge culvert and drainage pipe. Like the Romans, they knew the value of water control and hard work.
Privileged whio sighting
West Coast Wilderness Trail
Riding the Kumara to Hokitika section of this trail, we stopped for lunch at the weir on Kawhaka Creek and jokingly said it would be nice if some whio/blue ducks were to come by. As if by magic, a family of whio did just that and we felt very privileged to have seen them. After climbing to Kawhaka Pass, we spotted a single whio hanging around the hydro water race and then we saw more on a tributary of MacPherson Creek.
A geology lesson
Remutaka Cycle Trail
We headed out from Orongorongo on the wild and woolly east coast section of the trail, marvelling at the rugged Remutaka Range and scrubby native species that survive along this harsh coastline. Stopping at the Turakirae Head Scientific Reserve proved educational: the geological uplifts that span 7000 years are visible – the last in 1855 after a magnitude 8.0 earthquake.
Waikato River Trail
I grew up in a hydro town so how could I not appreciate a big concrete dam and all the infrastructure that comes with it. Substantial rain over the previous month had filled the many hydro lakes on the Waikato River to bursting and we encountered track damage and shallow flooding as we threaded our way from Waipapa to Lake Whakamaru. The bonus was seeing the dam spillway going flat out – the noise and power was incredible.
Queenstown art scene
We rode from Frankton on a wide trail on the Kelvin Peninsula overlooking Lake Wakatipu. To our surprise, a series of stunning sculptures appeared out of the blue as we trundled around the head of the peninsula and into a pine forest. We encountered steampunk and wild hair, rock art, plus a family of corrugated goats amongst the schist. For us, the bush section to Jacks Point rocked with a final sting in the trail up to the 474m Jacks Point Hill. We were rewarded with views to die for and a great lunch spot.
Rail buffs delight
Hauraki Rail Trail
If you’re a fan of railway and mining relics, the Paeroa to Waihi section of the trail is amazing. We stopped at the historic Waikino Railway Station and café and checked out the old train and carriages still used to ferry passengers to Waihi. Just over the rail bike bridge, the Victoria Battery infrastructure and cyanide tanks presented another opportunity to explore. Bike lights weren’t needed for the 1km long Karangahake Gorge tunnel, and then we parked up at the Victoria Battery Museum to check out the balcony trail and relic of the Crown Mines site. It was a fascinating day on an easy 24km ride.
Mountains to Sea
We rode into Horopito and Smash Palace, not knowing what to expect on the ride through to Ohakune. It was quite a grunty climb up to the old Taonui Viaduct and along the tops to where we took a wrong turn. Just as well because we ended up on top of the Hapuawhenua Viaduct just as a train rolled across the new concrete viaduct parallel to us. The descent to Ohakune was on the cobbled section of the Old Coach Road and was a bone-jarring experience on our old hard-tails.
Alps 2 Ocean
It was a hot 13km climb from Ohau Lodge to Tarnbrae Point. We stopped to let our radiators cool, rehydrate and enjoy the expansive view over the lake and Ben Ohau. We could hear other mountain bikers chatting as they climbed from the steeper side and arrived at speed hardly breathless. It took a few seconds for the penny to drop – these retirees were using E-bikes.