Sue Halliwell traverses the Pureora Forest under her own steam, but enjoys a little comfort along the way.
This story is brought to you courtesy of the gel cycle seat.
Not that a gel seat is a biking necessity for the Pureora Forest Timber Trail. It's just that, at 60, the extra cushioning has totally revived the biking career that ended with my school days and the more supple natural seat I possessed back then.
A gel seat meant I could contemplate cycling this spectacular central North Island trail in comfort and with a dignity befitting my age. In fact, I decided to go in comfort all the way.
That began with a secure carpark at the Ongarue end, from where a shuttle transferred us, our gear and bikes to the fabulous Timber Trail Lodge halfway up the trail. Opened in April 2017, the lodge won a Silver Sustainable Tourism Business Award a year later, and had been highly recommended to us. Arriving on the first night, I could see why.
Weary cyclists and walkers were draped in various stages of relaxation over the comfortable lounge and deck furnishings. Called "the Hub", this area was the physical and social centre of the lodge, and we would find our own cosy place in it after getting acquainted with our private room and ensuite.
The trail offers other, less luxurious accommodation options. However, at an affordable $150 to $180 per person a night, the Timber Trail Lodge provides fine dining, a well-stocked bar, free Wi-Fi, elevated forest views, modern and comfortable private rooms, shuttle transport and — perhaps most importantly — a trail-side location, making it the most convenient and sumptuous choice, especially for delicate lady cyclists.
Although, if our lodgemates were anything to go by, it holds appeal across the spectrum. Lodge Operations Manager Dave Marshall, told me they accommodate cyclists of all descriptions, along with walkers, school groups, non-active partners, and even back-to-back marathon runners. A large party of botany enthusiasts arrived on our second night, keen to spend a few days exploring the Pureora Forest flora, which I hope included the gigantic specimens of North Island rātā on the bush track behind the lodge.
Dave told me there are also plans to expand into weddings, business seminars and health retreats, so the options are many.
As were ours the following day. We could do all or nothing, although most guests aimed to cycle the 40km first section of the trail back to the lodge, collecting their packed lunch and the shuttle to the trail's start at Pureora Village after a hearty complimentary breakfast.
The 85km Timber Trail forms part of Nga Haerenga, the New Zealand Cycle Trail Project, and the King Country section of the Te Araroa trail. Although walkers take longer, most cyclists complete it in two days.
Both sections traverse magnificent podocarp forest, ancestral Māori lands, and the historic Ōngarue Tramway, along which timber was transported during the old logging days.
The trail follows the tramway, so it was generally wide and easily navigated. The 35
bridges — eight of them dramatic suspension bridges — made the going even more interesting, as did the remarkable feat of engineering that is the Ōngarue spiral. I also appreciated the progress markers, signposts and information panels at regular intervals along the way, the latter offering an opportunity to draw breath and read up on the area's colourful nature and past.
All in all, this moderately fit old girl managed the Grade 2-3 trail well, although I confess to pushing my mountain bike up the steeper bits. At this point, cheerful e-bike riders would usually whizz past, leaving me wondering whether easy riding could actually get a lot easier. The e-bikers certainly got to the lodge, a hot shower and a drink on the sunny deck before me, but I believe my way made these pleasures even more heavenly.
After the chef-quality dinner, my only task that evening was to collapse into our soft, superking bed, although a hilarious impromptu quiz organised by a fellow guest kept me out of it much longer than I had intended.
Two kilometres into the second day of the trail I got a history lesson. Coming to an abrupt halt at a lush stand of native forest we joined other trail-goers drawn to the raucous chortling of dozens of native birds. Fighting over and feasting on the fruit of the kahikatea, their boisterous shenanigans shook the trees.
This, I realised, was how New Zealand used to look and sound, no doubt the consequence of DoC's recent aggressive pest control programme, aided by Timber Trail Lodge staff and volunteers as part of their conservation and regional development programmes.
Such practices are integral to the lodge's function. Native plantings and energy- and waste-saving measures were evident throughout the building and grounds, and Dave told me the recent installation of solar panels would dramatically lower an already minimal environmental footprint.
The group of 27 King Country locals who own the lodge are also committed to employing and upskilling local staff and contractors. So, I could add an eased environmental and social conscience to my pleasant trail experience, which ended with a weary but satisfied dismount from my gel saddle back at our car.
Catered accommodation along the trail was possibly the difference between completing it happily or otherwise; I wouldn't have done that differently. However, those e-bikes kept whizzing back into my mind. They were certainly a popular choice judging by the busy charging station at the back of the lodge.
At this stage I still enjoy giving my legs the extra workout. But perhaps when I'm 70 I'll try the trail on an e-bike, just for the fun of it — and only if it takes a gel seat.
TIPS FOR CYCLING THE TIMBER TRAIL
• Keep up to date with weather forecasts
• Wear layers of clothing and carry a waterproof outer layer
• Carry water
• Make sure your bike is trail-ready before you go
• Book your accommodation in advance
• Be sensible and walk the sections you find difficult to cycle, unless you have an e-bike.
For information on staying at the Timber Trail Lodge and arranging shuttle packages, go to
For more information on the Timber Trail go to, thetimbertrail.com.