Sunday, 15 December
Timber Trail Part 2 (43km) and the Ongarue Back Road to Taumarunui (33km)
If we were strictly following the Te Araroa Trail at this stage, we would have exited the Hauhungaroa Ranges at Mangakahu Rd, then we would have walked another 19 km on road margin to reach the Taumarunui settlement. However, exiting the park on the Timber Trail meant the road margin connection to Taumarunui would be longer, although through similar and nearby territory. Marius was Thingbearer for the whole 76 km (a gooooood boy), and Etienne joined him for the last 33km (also a gooooood boy).
Meanwhile, Hannah and I flopped around uselessly in the car, profoundly discussing gynaecologists, the correct way to cook an egg, and what it feels like to be bug-eyed crazy. She likes it when I tell her the stories of my misspent student youth. I think I really have told her everything now. Either that or my memory was erased by the Special Forces due to state security issues of the 1980s. I might have to start making up stuff henceforth. I wonder how far I can go without making her suspicious?
[Marius’s blog] After the mist had cleared, it was another spectral morning as I followed the path hugging the wall of a gorge. From time to time, there was a fork without any indication which branch to follow. Soon it became apparent that the left fork was for stronger climbers while the right approached the uphills at a kinder angle before rejoining the main track.
It was after the first suspension bridge that the “real” climbing started. The bugger of it was that you could never judge how much further you had to heave on upwards: the path followed switchback after switchback with no relief on the angle of climb. Eventually the path levelled and I started on the first of many giddy downhills. There were initially long but gentle gradients interspersed with fairly long stretches of level riding, then the downward angles became steeper.
I encountered only two small groups of people on the track, and I overtook them while they were resting. The road was all mine and I could whoop and sing as the mood took me. I could also do other private and embarrassing things. My tired body (my saddlesore arse was particularly vocal) called out to the ice-cold little cascades by the roadside, so I took off all my clothes and had a refreshing soak in the Hauhungaroa spa.
I thought of all my good friends across the globe who would love to ride this track and I promised myself to bring them here if they ever visit New Zealand. This trail offers seriously good, non-technical riding – I’ll even go so far as to say, the best I’ve ever done.
I came across a Jigger turntable – a turning point for the locomotive that took the timber down to civilisation for sale. A plaque described a time many decades ago, when the payroll had to be brought up on horseback for the timber workers, and how one paymaster’s horse threw its rider before bolting with the entire workforce’s pay. Luckily, the horse and payroll were recovered. The plaque also tells of how in New Zealand’s egalitarian past, everybody on the job was paid more or less the same – a locomotive driver only earning marginally more than a lumberjack’s 1s 9p.
I whizzed down the steep incline at breakneck speed but never felt in any kind of danger, as all the turns were well banked. I released the brakes and surrendered to a 5-km plunge that was interrupted only by a train tunnel before I was hurled downhill again. I screamed with the sheer thrill of it. (By the way, I did have my clothes on again.)
At the bottom I crossed another suspension bridge where, at the 35-km mark (the 75-km for the entire track), I saw the first cyclists approaching from the opposite direction. I silently wished them good luck in riding up the hill down which I had just roller-coasted. Where the track ends at Ongarue, I was welcomed by the sweet scent of pine trees in the midday sun.
On the road margin ride to Taumarunui, mobbed by flies and sweating heavily, Etienne and I enjoyed a view of snow-capped Mount Ruapehu. To be in one zone of physical sensation while window-shopping its opposite is somewhat otherworldly.
We rode a short while with an Aussie couple whose bikes had panniers. We’re interested in how well the pannier option works, as so far, our family has always supported cyclists with a car carrying camping essentials. The couple’s opinion was that the Timber Trail was not suited for pannier touring.
[Mairi-Anne’s blog] At the holiday park, I made a great social leap upwards, dragging my family with me as a leopard carries an antelope into the boughs of a tree. How is this possible? I hear you exclaim. I arranged the family’s newly-washed underpants, socks and bras on the car dashboard, headrests and steering wheel. Our automotive tumble drier was then parked at the supermarket while we replenished supplies. We are now officially People of Walmart.
That evening, the darkness was embellished with an exquisite trisyllabic bird call. Marius transcribed it: A down to D D up to E (an octave above), down to G, up to A (all the same value notes). Marius has attempted to reproduce the call on a synthesiser. Can anyone out there identify this bird?