Saturday, 14 December
The Timber Trail, part 1: Ngarahenga to Piropiro Camp (42 km)
Because Hannah and I had already walked the first 15km of the Te Araroa Trail through the park, the cyclists were going to double up on some of this en route to the Piropiro Camp. However, from the turnoff to the Bog Inn Hut today to Taumarunui on Sunday we were not on the actual tramping trail, but parallel to it on the mountain bike track. It was a pity we could not do the purist thing for this section, but The Thing was nevertheless getting transported steadily southwards by body power alone, so we were still on target for our mission.
Marius and I got up and did our usual tiresome prodding of the progeny into signs of life, while they counteracted with their tactics of attrition. Hannah curled up more tightly in her sub-zero sleeping bag. Goodness knows how she can bear all that extra padding in balmy weather. Some vital component of her perception and response system must have gone horribly wrong, but so long as she is not sectioned we’re doing OK. Etienne imparted more wisdom from the insect world, because teacher parents make all kinds of concessions when a child demonstrates a thirst for knowledge. “In addition,” he intoned, “when leafcutter ants and workers make sound, they are telling others they have found a valuable leaf.”
Marius and Etienne got going at last. Having already climbed Pureora, Hannah was off the hook for today, but if she was not, I’m sure she would have staggered around, clutching her groin injury to make Etienne do the section for her. This would have evened the score for the times he urgently had to rush to the loo at dishwashing time at home.
[Marius’s blog] Once again, it was an Angelina Jolie morning: cool and beautiful. My cerebral DJ flicked on Steve Hackett’s guitar instrumental “Spectral Mornings” and this summed it up. Entering the trail, we were immediately enclosed in a tunnel of sun-dappled green curved over a well-maintained track, with blue Perspex markers every kilometre, snaking the way to Piropiro. From our tyres came a happy hum and whisper on the sand, and liquid birdcalls flowed through the forest. Grrrrrrregggg! was still being urgently sought. The injured spouse had had an all-points bulletin put out on him.
We rode through an area of cleared bush smelling of freshly harvested pine trees. The Timber Trail follows a network of logging paths and miniature railway lines. The preserved sections of natural vegetation give the ride its beauty, where the timber trade has made way for the tourist trade. The small ghost towns in the area are the loss that sits in the same pocket as the gain.
Two hours into the ride, there was an unmistakable metallic dwonk! of a bike hitting the ground, accompanied by a meaty thump and expletive. Unlike his sister, Etienne seldom swears, so I knew this was fairly serious. He was tangled with his bike and some railings, as a result of riding into instead of over the bridge. His face was bleeding and his knee and shins were bruised but he could carry on riding. The odds were even. The children could now argue over who was worse wounded in action.
The trail started an inexorable climb and we found the first of a number of rest shelters along the trail – they do think of everything here! Etienne pedalled the inclines impressively; I guess the rides he did with me at Upper Waiwera finally paid off. We had no conversation though. We were both breathing too hard to talk.
Suddenly the path flattened out and we found a squadron of abandoned bicycles and helmets, but not a rider in sight. Was some weird Bermuda Triangle/Marie Celeste kidnapping thing going on here? No. This was the point where you could dismount and climb to the summit for the view. In most places the bush on either side of the path was too dense for views. We, however, just wanted to get to the downhill.
There is nothing like the exhilaration of the cross-country downhill ride, nothing between you and the abyss as you plummet like a falcon. Counterintuitively, the less you use your brakes, the more control you have and the less pain from frozen forearms. In the cascades below, even the rocks looked scared. Check the expression on this one’s face.
At the first suspension bridge there was a school group and two preadolescent boys were rocking the bridge over its 30m drop as we crossed. Lacking the professionalism of cattle dogs, the adult chaperones did nothing to curb the boys’ stupidity.
The next suspension bridge had a bollard at its exit point to thwart crossings by scramblers and quad bikes. A dejected group of petrol riders had gathered there. I had to restrain myself from asking them why they brought their machines here when there are other places offering more technical challenges, less expensive and manicured track to spoil and less people to annoy with their noise.
After five hours’ pedalling, we arrived at Piropiro, where the Gurlz were waiting for us with an early dinner of bubble and squeak! It was the first time in years I had eaten this potato and cabbage treat with bacon and eggs.
[Mairi-Anne’s blog] Driving through Benneydale, we stopped at a petrol station to fill up. There was a sign on the bowser: “Open only Mon – Fri, 8.00 – 17.00. Callout for Sat or Sun, $12.” Ah. So we didn’t fill up. The last time I recall petrol pumps being closed during weekends was in RSA in 1979 during national fuel restrictions.
We erected the tent and waited what seemed like a long time for the blokes to arrive. I set out the bedding so the kids would lie next to each other. This was a superior arrangement. They could now pester each other to their hearts’ content without my prone body and spoilsport attitude dividing them.
At last the triumphant riders appeared and subsided into the long grass at the tent entrance. “I have sustained multiple injuries!” declared Etienne. So … sibling rivalry began for the evening, ending in a tussle in the tent which Marius and I viewed from the outside. The tent walls bulged and shuddered as the wrestling bounced back and forth. It was a bit like watching the face in the video of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” pressing outwards against its restrictions. No, actually it was more like two alien parasites trying to burst out of a human host’s body in a third-rate horror film.
“The Timber Trail was fabulous!” declared Marius. “It was one of the best mountain bike rides I have ever done!” So, like Etienne’s ant, he was going to tell everybody, repeatedly, that he had “found a valuable leaf”.