Friend in town, what to do?
The obvious starting point is that forest south of Rotorua, a recreational playground for many years and well before the arrival of mountain bike specific trails nearly 30 years ago.
This time last year, I sampled some of the home trails of my old friend, Robert Laney, around Hurricane and the Virgin River in Utah and the Blue Diamond network half an hour out of Las Vegas. When he visited Rotorua, this year, the first step was to sort a bike - thanks to Tu Mutu and Freddy Salgado from Mountain Bike Rotorua out at Waipa: www.mtbrotorua.co.nz
Robert is American and lived in New Zealand (working in television in the 1980s and early 1990s) long enough to become a Kiwi. Carolyn and I proudly attended his citizenship ceremony in Auckland.
It's always fun to catch up with him and so the rides the three of us took were cruisy and chatty. Followed by beers.
The rock-studded and staircased trails of the US Southwest are a radical contrast to our loamy style. The weather was fine, but the Whakarewarewa trails were muddy…another contrast.
Recently, I dug out a story by Mike Ferrentino in the US magazine, Bike, from the early 2000s.
It still rings true today, though, there are a lot more trails: "Rotorua…Tourism central…this haven of geysers and mud pools is, and always has been, New Zealand's meeting point between tourism and Maoritanga… Not that we really had time to notice or care, sucked immediately as we were into the local forest, on to trails built by mountain bikers with mountain bikers in mind. Trails in verdant shade, that dip and weave and roll. Trails that sneak through trees in a way that makes hard riders hoot with joy yet at the same time could coax a huge grin to the face of a 70-year-old grandma on her first bike ride ever. Sure, gawk at the geysers, wrinkle your nose at the stinking mud holes, soak in the springs, but get down on your knees and kiss the mulchy earth of these trails because they are the true hidden treasure here."
An environment that sings, which brings me to another must-do for visitors and locals – Rotorua Canopy Tours, up in the Mamakus in an ancient forest that'll never be logged.
I'd done the Original Tour a couple of times. The ziplines were exhilarating. The bonus was the inspirational conservation project this all revolves around, ridding this taonga of imported vermin and restoring the birdlife. Hugging an 800-1000-year-old rimu as part of the tour is very special.
In late winter, Canopy Tours opened their Ultimate Tour with longer ziplines, more spectacular heights and the conservation project continues. This time the bonus was the remarkable engineering that has gone into this project - not just those longer lines, but swing bridges and staircase and a walkway dramatically cantilevered off a rock formation. Our guides, Andre and Scott, were as friendly, engaging and knowledgeable as always. And another bonus - Scott helped build the lines and structures.
We completed the tour, well informed and adrenalised up to the eyeballs.
It was time for another beverage.
Book now (and it's a perfect Christmas present for friends or family): canopytours.co.nz