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Cycling – the Timber Trail exceeds expectation

  • March 19th, 2013

Some get jaded after decades of life. They find little to surprise and excite them. I’m finding the opposite.

Perhaps I’m lowering my expectations? Two weekends this year have far exceeded my expectations.

Several weeks ago Alan Gibb’s sculpture farm did it. I’d been there several times, the most recent in 2005. So I joined the Wellington Sculpture Trust trip solely for the picnic with family and friends. But new sculptures and new manicuring of the land made it as fresh as the first time.

Last weekend a new section of the John Key cycle way also exceeded all expectations. Eight of us with very mixed experience cycled the Timber Trail. No one punctured or had any bike problem or fell off. The distance was 90km including  the side trip to the comfortable Blackfern Forge lodge – a whimsically converted wool shed.

The Timber Trail will officially open on 30 March. I’m sure it will become a New Zealander’s ‘must do’, ranking with the Otago Rail Trail and the Tongariro Crossing.

It will be a wonderful family trip. The packed clay and pumice surfaces and the gradients are so kind we thought it could be classed as beginner, not intermediate. It is less jarring than the Rail Trail. Perhaps the creators are not confident that the current perfection of the track surface will survive winter rain. All you need at the moment by way of preparation is enough riding to get fit, and to harden the glutes against sore bum. Just like the Otago Rail Trail.

We divided the two day trip into two 40km sections, with a night at Blackfern to look forward to after day one. The trail should be ridden from north to south. Ignore anything that says otherwise, or you will miss the best sustained downhill run you can imagine:

Then begin many kilometres of fast sweeping downhill. This section is moulded to the topography, looping and swirling down the mountain’s gently scored flank.

Starting in the north new track that threads through the thick shade of native trees interspersed with stands of maturing plantation firs and radiata. All have healthy undergrowth but the pumice soil is not fertile enough to create the gloom that can be the main impression of virgin bush

  • It climbs gradually toward the summit of Mt Pureora. Unfortunately it only skirts the summit and does not provide look-outs near it.
  • The track emerges to the welcome open sky of areas that have been cut over, in various stages of verdant regeneration, though it stays mostly within the virgin forest strips that were left among the harvested areas.
  • The second half of the first day flows beside and occasionally on well formed forest roads. They run down what are becoming by that stage prominent ridges separated by deep riverbeds.
  • Those river valleys are crossed by a series of magnificent new suspension bridges exclusively for cyclists. They’re not swing bridges – they’re stabilised not to swing.

That first day ended for us with a 6km run through pine needle cushioning to our lodging, and a home cooked dinner for $25 extra.

The second day started with a climb back through the pines to reach the gentle gradients of a remnant network of bush tramways that hauled logs out of thousands of acres of plateau:

The track crosses the biggest suspension bridge, 141m long and 55m above the river below;

  • This day, like the first is never silent. At times there are choirs of tui.
  • The country gets more fertile as we go with some awesome standing trees and monster abandoned logs.
  • This section is well set up with explanatory panels, at the site of former camps and villages.
  • Clearings are the only visible trace of those settlements.
  • The track skirts cliffs and cuts through ignimbrite spurs;
  • The most exhilarating sustained downhill I know falls around 400m over 20km of impressively engineered railway roadbed
  • It ends in typical King Country farmland.

All it needs now to become legendary, like the Otago trail, are:

  • Some entrepreneurial types to rebuild camp cook houses and huts for meals (though there is a good range of local accomodation);
  • A spur track to the summit of Pureora.
  • More view shafts particularly toward Lake Taupo.
  • Interpretative panels on the northern section as good as those in the south.


  • Roger Strong
  • March 19th, 2013
  • 6:49 pm

Thanks for that Stephen! I am really looking forward to biking that quite soon. I live near the Hauraki Rail Trail which is also worth doing although much is through farmland and the only view is the backsides of cows! The ride through the Karanagahake Gorge is much more scenic however.
The whole cycle trail experience is looking better and better as the years go by-good for John Key and for the whole idea!


Kevin Hague has reminded me that I should also acknowledge the Green role in promoting the cycle trail network. This is it


This was a great read Frank. Thank you for including our website in your blog. The woolshed accommodation you stayed in is called the “Forge” but the “Black Fern Lodge” is nearby and further along the road but still owned by the Kerry and Maria Tuffin. We recommend staying at the Black Fern Lodge which has double room cabins with ensuites and very comfortable lounge and bar area. Happy riding!

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