'We're finally here!" says Nicky as the Tread Routes van pulls up at the Waihaha River carpark.
"We've talked about it for long enough!"
It's a common thread. Virtually on Taupo's doorstep, the westernmost sections of the Great Lake Trail are so close to Taupo but, in the case of the second part of the track, seemingly so far away.
There are roughly four sections of the Great Lake Trail. The first two, the W2K (Whakaipo to Kinloch) and Whangamata to Kinloch sections are both easy to access and close to Taupo town. You can ride them there and back or leave a vehicle at each end.
The other two sections of the Great Lake Trail are accessed from State Highway 32, which runs down the western side of Lake Taupo. There is the Waihaha track, which starts at from SH32 and runs along the Waihaha River, and the Waihora track, which traverses 17km along the cliffs above Western Bay before dropping steeply down beside a waterfall to Waihora Bay on Lake Taupo.
These two trails, which join together, are the most scenically spectacular sections of the Great Lake Trail, but they are where the logistics become tricky. While Waihaha can be done there and back, Waihora is intended as a one-way ride, with a boat pick up at the end. Add in the cost of a shuttle from Kinloch plus the boat ride, and you can see why some riders opt for something easier.
Which is a great shame. You can ride all around New Zealand and these are still two of the best tracks you'll find. Manageable lengths, incredible scenery, a variety of bush and open trail plus bridges, boardwalks and lookouts really do make this a special ride.
Autumn is a great time to go biking in the Taupo district with crisp starts rising to warm temperatures and on a good day, calm conditions that show Lake Taupo at its best.
It's a perfect location for a girls' riding trip and with this part of the Great Lake Trail a new experience for most of us, there's plenty of appreciation and reaching for the phones to capture the scenic shots.
Ted from Tread Routes drops the five of us at the Waihaha car park at 9am, passing on advice about the trail and issuing a helpful tip sheet on points of interest before we head across the suspension bridge and onto the trail.
Morning tea is taken overlooking the Waihaha waterfall, and lunch at a spectacular lookout across the lake at the 17km mark where an angler in a boat below is in the process of playing a trout. We're joined by a group male riders who do an annual boys' trip tackling the New Zealand Cycle Trails. Yesterday they did the Whakaipo and Kawakawa sections, today they're ticking off the rest — and they're impressed.
This is a grade 3 trail, so expect some stiff climbs, some rough surfaces where the track has been blasted out of the solid rock, and more than a few switchbacks. You'll need reasonable fitness and some mountain biking skills but, because it's built to New Zealand Cycle Trail standards, nothing is unrideable.
The Waihora section especially dives in and out of small gullies, repeatedly emerging on the clifftops to panoramas across Lake Taupo.
The bush ranges from five-finger trees to manuka forest and the birds chatter away as we bike past. I see quail in the undergrowth, startle a pheasant which flees down the track before swerving off to the side, hear bellbirds and fantails and spot tomtits.
The last bit is by the far the best. The trail plunges into the Kotukutuku Stream gully and from there, in a feat of engineering, the track winds down the side of a waterfall to a small bay. Stopping at the lookout for photographs before remounting, we emerge suddenly from the bush, blinking out onto the silvery sand of Waihora Bay, where Cat and Dan with the Bay2Bay boat wait to pick us up.
The trip back to Kinloch on the smooth lake waters is a chance to enjoy the spectacular cliffs and bays of the Western Bay and after only half an hour we're unloaded at Kinloch Marina.
If you haven't yet ridden these two tracks, you're missing out on something special, and the scenery repays the effort and expense to this untouched corner of Lake Taupo. Check the forecast, get together a few friends and give it a whirl. It's worth the ride.
Laurilee McMichael rode the Great Lake Trail with the assistance of Destination Great Lake Taupo.