Having undertaken the voyage across the ditch to mountain bike in Rotorua and Taupo twice within eleven months, I felt somewhat guilty at the thought of returning for a third serving of singletrack sweetness. Thankfully, the feeling was short-lived.
On previous trips (February and January respectively) I was spoilt by perfect riding conditions, so I was curious to see how my favourite dirt shaped-up in November. But first, I had to make it out of the country ...
I don't consider myself an expert in bike-packing by any means, but I do believe I have it down to an art now. Thanks largely to my well-travelled Evoc bike bag, my new Giant Trance 27.5 1 was safely stowed for transit. Tipping the scales at a legal 29.6kg (limit of 30kg with QANTAS) complete with riding gear/tools/spares, I was feeling very happy with myself. All my personal clothing I managed to cram into a 20L backpack, which weighed a mere 3.5kg. Not too shabby at all for a one week ride in NZ where the weather forecast predicted cold and wet conditions. Yet another plus for being a "small" rider I guess.
Here's what our itinerary looked like:
Day 1: Arrive Auckland
Day 2: Drive Auckland - Rotorua // Evening shuttle runs in Whakarewarewa Forest
Day 3: Whakarewarewa Forest
Day 4: Moerangi Track // Drive Rotorua - Taupo
Day 5: W2K // Craters of the Moon
Day 6: Drive Taupo - Auckland // Quick stop for 3 shuttles at Whakarewarewa Forest
Day 7: Depart Auckland
Travelling with friends and bikes is always an adventure in itself as Llew, Warren and I would find out. With Warren opting for an earlier departure, it was Llew and I who boarded at a civilised hour for our first stop in Sydney.
Those who have transited through Sydney would be aware that a short distance separates the Domestic Terminal from the International Terminal. Unfortunately, my learned friend convinced me that we could "... just walk across the carpark" and save time, which made sense given the limited transit period we had. Though I did mention that the public announcement claimed we should catch a shuttle service to the International Terminal, I offered little resistance to a "short" stroll across the road.
Needless to say, our pleasant stroll delivered us to the wrong terminal, which led to a fast taxi ride across the tarmac, followed by a light jog to our correct gate. Thankfully, our flight was quietly waiting for us when we arrived. Thanks Llew!
On the flight over to Auckland I had the privilege of sitting across the isle from Gabriel Gate, whereupon I seized the opportunity to discuss Taste Le Tour and cycling in-general. Sadly, our conversation led to great disappointment when our in-flight meal was served. Yes, even Mr Gate had to eat airline food like us mere mortals.
Arriving into Auckland at 10pm (some 3hrs later), we patiently waited at the carousel for our valuables. As time passed, we grew concerned as to the whereabouts of our bike bags. An announcement over the PA a short while later confirmed what every cyclist who has ever travelled with their bike dreads - our bikes had decided not to fly with us on this occasion. With no bikes to have inspected, we breezed through Customs. Fingers-crossed our bikes would be delivered to our airport hotel by 8am the following morning.
Breakfast came and went with no sign of our bikes. A quick phonecall to baggage services revealed our bikes had landed, but delivery before our bus ride to Rotorua could not be gauranteed. And so it came to be that our bikes would enjoy yet another flight without us. Llew and I were quietly confident that we would be reunited in-time for the evening shuttles at Whakarewarewa Forest, Rotorua.
Upon arrival into Rotorua, Llew and I adopted a more relaxed approach and ventured into town to one of the many thermal bath houses whilst the others went out to stretch their legs on the trails. For those that aren't aware, Rotorua is renowned for it's geothermal activity. After a thoroughly cleansing and envigorating soak in mineral-rich geothermal waters we were ready to hit the bike park - after a stop-off to refuel with gourmet beef pot pie and pavlova.
Returning to our accommodation and seeing our bikes awaiting us was a welcome sight. I methodically re-built my Trance, checking my rotors and rear derailleur before gearing-up for a few hours of twilight shuttles. Warren and the other riders returned a short time later and the huge grin on his face summed up his first roll on the trails. Few words can truly describe one's first encounter with the trails at Rotorua, suffice to say it's an experience you will never forget.
With ample light to ride the trails well past 8pm, we all rode over to the trails together for two shuttle runs from the top of the mountain; starting with Corners and finishing with a cruise down Billy T, then a commute across to Split Enz. A superb start to our NZ adventure.
The following morning we returned to Whakarewarewa Forest to ride more amazing singletrack until our legs and arms could take no more. Warming our legs on Rock Drop, Turkish Delight, A-Trail, Tickler, Bunny Jugs (1 & 2), we found ourselves at the bottom of the shuttle road, and ready for a slow climb up to Frontal Labotomy and our ultimate goal ... Eagle vs Shark - a much talked about new trail which had been dubbed a "must do" ride.
After a well-earned rest at the top of the climb, we set-off down Eagle vs Shark to sample the dirty fun everyone was raving about. With all 140mm of travel fully open, my dropper seatpost down, and my jacket zipped-up tight, I was off. I could attempt to describe the trail, but it would be much easier for you to enjoy the video above and make up your own mind as to what it was like.
In all honesty, I could ride Whakarewarewa Forest every day and never get bored. The trails are suitable for all ages and skill levels, and provide all with an overwhelming feeling of happiness. In short, it's heaven on a bicycle!
From Rotorua we travelled southwards to Whiranaki Forest to traverse the Moerangi Track; a 35km, intermediate-level, point-to-point trail snaking through ancient forest and along steep cliff ledges. To fully appreciate this ride a reasonable amount of fitness is required, and a love of (sometimes steep and sustained) granny-gear climbs. This ride was rewarding in so many ways, with breathtaking scenery around every corner, and long climbs being rewarded by equally long descents. I am surprised there aren't as many incidents on this trail, as it's far too easy to get distracted by everything around you. Unfortunately one of our tour did manage to crack a few ribs only a quarter of the way along, making for an even tougher ride.
Taupo presented us with several options, with some electing to ride the 23km W2K Trail followed by a visit to Craters of the Moon Mountain Bike Park. Having been here before, I decided to have a lazy day and explore the lakeside township of Taupo (after all, I am on holidays).
The original plan was to spend another morning riding around Taupo before driving back to Auckland, however we all voted to re-visit Rotorua (and take advantage of the weekend shuttle bus) instead.
Rotorua was the highlight of the trip for all. The opportunity to finish our tour with three more heavenly descents (including another run of Eagle vs Shark) provided the perfect end to another amazing NZ adventure. We'll be back again soon!
If you're interested in experiencing Rotorua for yourself, then contact us for more info on upcoming trips in early 2015.
* GoPro video footage of Eagle vs Shark courtesy of Jeff Rubach.
* Photo contributions thanks to Llew Davies