Taumarunui: If you go down to the woods today

Elisabeth Easther finally knocks off the other half of the Timber Trail.
One of the suspension bridges on the Timber Trail.
One of the suspension bridges on the Timber Trail.

A year ago, I was in Taumarunui for a spot of R&R that included kayaking, lavender admiration and jet boating.

With such a full itinerary there was time only to do half of the Timber Trail, one of the many stunning rides that make up Nga Haraenga - the National Cycleway.

Having adored the segment I rode from Piropiro Flats campground to Ongarue, I'd been dreaming of returning to knock the other half off ever since.

Bright and early one misty May morning, the weather forecast promised rain and snow, even sun, so something was bound to prove right. Happily it was a corker of a day. On our drive to Piropiro campground to meet Paul from Epic Cycle Adventures, the winding roads were moody and snug, dripping with history and dew.

Paul transported us, plus bikes, to the start of the trail at Pureora in a blanket of fog, goats, pheasants, quail darting in front of the vehicle, and one hungry hawk tucking into a breakfast of road kill.

It was great to hear Paul is such an enthusiast for the Timber Trail. This former teacher only recently relocated from Auckland after he and his wife decided buying a house in the big smoke was close to impossible, prices being what they are.

After a bit of a look around on Trade Me, the couple fixed on Taumarunui, where your buck gets a whole lot more bang. Happy to close the book on teaching, the couple upped sticks and set up their cycle hire and sherpa business, Epic.

Even though it's been less than a year since they established, business is booming. The trail has been experiencing a healthy growth since it opened, which is hardly surprising because it is simply delightful.

Best of all, it's not just for mad keen mountainbikers looking for thrills either (sure you need to be confident on two wheels) but any moderately fit cyclist can take this trail on.

Saddling up and aware we were facing a 14km climb, we paced ourselves gently but the reality wasn't all that steep or relentless. The tracks were well crafted and the views divine so it really wasn't too taxing. Recently felled pine in the working forest lent the landscape the appearance of 5 o'clock shadow, although plenty of natives had been left to stand tall.

Inside the canopy it felt as if Dr Seuss had been in charge of design. Every time we emerged from the cosy confines of the bush, we'd be rewarded with sweeping vistas, vast landscapes punctuated by mountains far in the distance.

The swing bridges are marvels of engineering. The first one we came to was more than 115m long - we just couldn't help but say "wow". We stepped off the trail to take pictures and laughed as every other cyclist who rode through, without fail, also said "wow" - or words to that effect. You just have to.

Along the way we saw toadstools and toetoe, fantails and foxgloves, there's so much to keep your eyes occupied. Settled in low gears, we kept on pedalling that first 14km, while handy signs encouraged us on, marking our progress.

I've never seen such vivid fungi as the blue mushrooms entoloma hochstetteri, star of our stamps and $50 bank note. One can only wonder what they'd taste like, or what they might do (we didn't test them).

So now I have done both portions of the Timber Trail, instead of feeling it's been ticked off my list, I just want to do it all over again. Next time I'll do it over two days and stay a night in the middle, perhaps pitch a tent in rustic Piropiro campsite, or stay at one of the lodges or farm stays and really immerse myself in the woods. Because that's how ideally it's meant to be ridden, 40 kilometres on day one from Pureora to Piropiro, then a further 45km to Ongarue.

And the verdict: the Timber Trail is a dream ride, rich woodland combined with clean air is such a treat when you're used to inner city cycling.

The adamant climb rewarded us with a whizzy downhill, the mud flying from our wheels like sparks. In a nutshell, the trail is heaven on two wheels.

NEED TO KNOW

Riding the trails: Paul from Epic Cycle Adventures (022 023 7958) will assist with every aspect of your expedition and he's a jolly nice chap.

The Timber Trail: See nzcycletrail.com for more details. Dress warmly in the cooler months and pack enough food and water to get you through 4-6 hours of cycling for each section.

Elisabeth and her companion were guests of Epic Cycle Adventures.

- NZ Herald

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