Rotorua … My First Taste of New Zealand Mountain Biking
Helen, our host in Rotorua said the biking was just a few minutes up the highway. She had also provided me with a flyer showing the ten best trails in the area as rated by RotoruaNZ.com.
Since we ended up flying on Delta, I was not able to take my bike due to their baggage size restrictions for flights to Australia and New Zealand. So I was going to have to rent a bike. In New Zealand they call it “Hire a Bike.”
Even though this was a normal workday (Friday) I had no idea how many bikes would be available so I got there early.
The rental shop sat right at the base of the mountain. Zac set me up with a Giant Reign. He said the brakes in New Zealand were typically the opposite than in the U.S., with the left handle controlling the rear. He said he could easily switch the brakes on the Reign, and also thought I might like the bikes more aggressive set-up than on the other option (the Trance).
Next Zac gave me a rundown of the trails and sold me a map printed on a real chamois. “Hiring” the bike cost $120 New Zealand dollars while the map was $20 (the proceeds going toward Rotorua Mountain Biking).
After mounting my GPS on the neck and dropping my water bottle into the rack I set off up the dirt road and soon disappeared into a thick jungle.
As I cruised up the smooth, wide track I gawked at several red signs, where trails entered the “super highway.” I was looking for the beginning of “Dipper” (the trail Zach recommended to start). But these signs all forbid entry as they were the bottom end of other one-way trails.
Just as I was looking at the exit sign to Dipper I heard a biker coming down the dirt road, coming at me hot.
After looking ahead, I naturally veered to my right to make way. But just as I did he swerved to his left. I moved farther right … he moved farther left. After I had reached the right edge of the road he skidded hard and passed to my left, yelling something about staying left and a few other colorful words.
Then it hit me … the trails in New Zealand were just like their roads! Cindy (my wife) and Kayley my 24 year old daughter) had been yelling “stay left” at me the day before while I struggled to adjust to the opposite driving position of our rented car!
Before I tried my first trail I had to stop and do some fine tuning on the bike. I like to place my hands at the very ends of the grips, with my pinky fingers almost off the end. So I took out my multi-tool and moved the shifter, seat post dropper button, and brake levers as far out as they would go.
Dipper was a gently sloping trail, with sharp, snaking turns beautifully bermed. I rode as fast as I could, trying to get the feel of the new bike as well as to loosen up my joints.
I was booking along pretty good when I came upon a young lady on a bike with her 4 year old son on his bike in front, traveling at about one mile per hour.
When she finally realized I was trailing behind, she and the boy pulled off the trail … the mom apologizing. I stopped for a few seconds and told her I had enjoyed watching him ride and how happy I was to see little guys like him on mountain bikes.
After exiting Dipper I got back on the “super highway” and began to pedal up the hill looking for my next adventure, stopping several times to check my chamois/map.
INTERACTIVE MAP FOR ROTORUA
- Click the big blue car for driving directions to the trailhead.
- Click Tracks or Icons for More Specific Information.
Rotorua’s temperature had climbed to the high 70’s but the humidity had to have been at least 20 clicks higher! I slowly realized the long sleeve shirt I had under my jersey had not been such a good idea (I had worn the shirt to prevent drooping ferns from scratching my arms).
Before I had even made Station #4 I was glad I had purchased the chamois/map instead of the paper version, for I was soaking wet. I wiped my face with the chamois, wrung out the water, and then spread the wrinkled material across my handle bars, brake handles, and shift cables. This position not only allowed me to study the map but also helped in the drying process.
The next trail I biked was called Turkish Delight, followed by Paddy’s Run and Lion. The bike felt great and the trails were incredible … each one snaking through a different portion of the plush rain forest. Zach had told me earlier that Paddy’s Run was named after a young, local cyclist named Patrick “Paddy” Avery, who passed away late in 2012 from an apparent heart attack in a race.
The forest was so thick I could not see with my sunglasses on, So I developed a routine. When a trail ended and I shot out onto a dirt road in the blinding light, I would simply put my sunglasses back on and climb farther up the dirt road. Then I would remove the sunglasses (and hook over the neck of my jersey), wipe myself off with my map, set my shocks to “soft,” lower my seat, and enter the forest on the next run.
I stopped at the top of Tokorangi and rested with a pleasant chap from Melbourne. I thought about asking him if we could ride together but it turned out he had already done Tokorangi and was going to do Gunna Gotta. I didn’t want to miss out on Tokorangi … rated a top 10 trail (in the pamphlet Helen had given me) so I didn’t ask.
Tokorangi was a nice, flowing singletrack that offered some good views or the town of Rotorua and Lake Rotorua.
From the end of Tokorangi I ground back up the road and took Katore Jumps and Tickler to reach Station #6, where I found a drinking fountain, and a table and two chairs carved from large logs.
I took off my jersey and long sleeved undershirt and draped them over the chairs and spread the chamois/map on the table to dry while I drank heavily from the drinking fountain and ate my nut bar and apple. While I was eating a few riders passed by. I think they were probably blinded by my winter white skin.
Twenty minutes later I pulled on a still-soaked jersey and poked a slimy, wadded up undershirt into my pack.
My next three trails were my favorites for the entire day … Be Kind Not 2, Mad If You Don’t, and Dragons Tail. Just fast and fun flowing tracks through a jungle.
Most trails on this mountain had few stretches of wide, swooping track. Instead I encountered tracks twisting tightly around trees with abrupt ups and downs to follow. Even though most corners had high, smooth berms I could not maintain enough speed to easily scale the next rise. So most of these ups turned into short grinds (I guess I need practice more so I can ride those berms faster)!
However, I found the large radius turns I crave on “Be Kind Not 2”, “Mad If You Don’t”, and “Dragons Tail.” The structure of these trails allowed higher velocities and enough momentum to carry me over their intermittent rises with little or no pedaling. And riding back up the hill under the total canopy of Red Tank Road was also nice.
Direct Road Was … Direct
After studying the huge map at Station #6 I realized I was just below another top 10 trail … Hot X Buns. All I had to do to gain access was to climb Direct Road.
Now, someone was really thinking when that road was named, for it did run “directly” up the mountain. No switchbacks. No turns of any type. Just a direct route up the mountain. What a grind!
I am going to have to agree with RotoruaNZ.com … Hot X Buns was a top 10 run. I found Hot X Buns a lot like the previously mentioned trails except for steeper terrain. I flew down sharp angled drops and glided over the following rises, just having a pleasurable time.
But then my ego got the best of me. I saw the sign for Tumeke and especially the part, ‘Experts Only.” Could I ride this trail? What made this trail so difficult? If I did this trail would that make me an “Expert?”
So, of course I left my Top 10 trail to give Tumeke a try. What a mistake!
Although I managed to ride all but about 40 feet of Tumeke, I figured the name must have meant slippery, slimy mess in Maori. Although some parts were dry enough to allow normal bike riding, most of the time I found myself sliding down long, steep, gooey inclines with both wheels locked up and acting almost like skis. So much for the old saying, “Ride it, don’t slide it!” At one point I came across a sign translating Tumeke from Maori to English … “Too Much!”
While sliding down Tumeke I did come across one of the greenest plants I have ever seen!
On to Station #7
A few seconds after I emerged from the jungle I immediately reached for my sunglasses … which were no longer hanging from my jersey collar! I had lost them somewhere up Tumeke. Did I want to ride back up Direct Road and back down Tumeke to look for them … I thought not! They were not expensive. So I left them up there.
The end of Tumeke had dropped me close to the beginning of the Bunny Jugs Trail, which would put me onto Pipeline Road and near Station #7. My plan was to get to Station #9 and the highest point in the area by taking Hill Road. However, I saw my strategy foiled just after I exited Bunny Jugs, for I came upon a forestry sign forbidding any passing on Pipeline Road. I couldn’t even make it to Station #7 much less Hill Road!
Going to the Top
So I laid out the old chamois and studied hard. Whelp … it looked like to reach the top of the mountain I was going to have to go back up Direct Road … again!
However, this time I decided to get out my earphones and listen to a story on my phone while climbing! I like the challenge of a steep climb but the sound of music or the plot of a story can help distract me from the pain!
Now this strategy must have worked, since my climb to the junction of Hot X Buns took me 10 minutes less the second time!
Soon after I passed the turnoff for Hot X Buns the thick forest to the north peeled away and I could see some strange patterns of tree growth and the Rotorua Lake beyond.
Frontal Lobotomy turned out to be a beautifully groomed trail but just continued the persistent slope of the Direct Road. I think I might have needed a Frontal Lobotomy by the time I made Station #9!
After studying the huge map posted at Station #9 I figured out how to ride to the highest point. Zac, while running through the trails at the start of my day, had told me about the incredible view I would have up there. I had to get up there and get a good photo for the website.
Some Good (but Ignored) Advice From a Local
While cranking up the unnamed road to the top of the mountain a young man with strong legs and long ringlets of hair protruding from his helmet pulled alongside and asked me where I was going. “I want to go to the top so I can get a good photo,” I answered between gasps for air while still riding. Riding beside me he responded with, “You’re not going to get anything good up there.” Still pedaling I looked over to him, with a question on my face. He added, “The trees are too thick.”
With that I began to wonder if Zac had been incorrect, or this guy was incorrect, or if I had not remembered exactly what Zac had said.
As we passed the beginning of the Billy I Trail he asked, “What kind of trail are you looking for?” To which I responded, “I was thinking about taking that trail that loops way around toward Split Enz.
“Oh, you must mean Tohoto Ariki. That trail will be extremely muddy due to yesterday’s rain. I wouldn’t ride that today.”
“What about the trail that comes down from the top and hits Billy T?” I inquired.
“Tihi O Tawa? That trail is not very good. Lots of roots. You probably won’t like it.”
As I continued riding the fellow next to me said he had to go. He said he was going to do a “Sprint,” and turned back down the hill.
Well, as you might have guessed, the lad had been right about the photo ops at the top. No matter how I tried to get through the trees surrounding the fenced electrical towers I had absolutely no view!
So, if he had been correct about the views, was he also right about the Tihi O Tawa?
Tihi O Tawa Trail
Of course he was! I thought I had seen a lot of roots on the Strand Hill Trail in Crested Butte, Colorado. Heck, that was nothing compared to this! The entire trail tread was covered by roots for most of the run. Riding the Tihi O Tawa Trail was not pleasurable!
Eventually I ran into another trail which I figured must be the Billy T, but I saw no sign. I stopped and pulled out my chamois to see how I might have screwed up. Everything had been so well signed all day. Every trail entrance, exit, junctions. Maybe I had veered off the Tihi O Tawa and wasn’t even on a official trail? Maybe this wasn’t the Billy T?
While looking down at my map (trying to find my error) I heard a swooshing sound to my right. When I looked up I saw a biker coming at me at an incredible speed. Before I could even move the rider flew off the jump to my right, landed inches from my front tire, and flew off the bank to my left and disappeared down the trail into the forest. As he passed I noticed the rider was the curly haired kid who I had just met. I yelled sorry to him for I had been standing right in the middle of the track he was running. I am sure he didn’t hear me.
Finding Split Enz
I followed his path and came to a road with an arrow pointing left saying, “To Split Enz via Time Warp.”
Feeling a little weary I struggled on the slight incline of this road.
I finally came to the Time Warp sign. The sign said I needed to climb 80 meters to get to Split Enz.
I sucked it up and powered up the steep incline until I got to a large
tripod structure (actually “quadpod” since it had four legs) and the sign marking the beginning of Split Enz.
From the tripod I could see for miles in most directions … a major photo spot! Aha! This had to be the place Zac had told me about. Not the point with the electrical towers!
The reason I could see for miles? No trees. All the trees along Split Enz had been mowed down. All that remained was the branches and sawdust. A pretty ugly sight! Later I met a local rider who said the forest grows so fast in Rotorua there would be new trees growing around Split Enz in a few years.
Split Enz was fun … but I would not have ranked it a Top Ten Trail (which RotoruaNZ.com had ).
I thought the trail directly following (Ponds New) had a much better design. Back in the forest this loopy piece was soooooo much fun!
I was trying to get back by the 5:00 rental deadline but began to doubt I was going to make it (I typically bite off more than I can chew). So I called Zac and told him I was just getting to Roller Coaster. He said, “No Worries. Just bring the bike back in the morning.” So I cruised along, taking my time … starting to feel the 20+ miles I’d put in.
Old Chevy was the last trail I biked before hitting the paved road back to my car and the rental area. Nobody was there… as I expected.
I loaded the bike into the hatchback and off I went.
I was very pleased with the bike and how smooth the bike rental process was handled. Zac treated me like I was important and was quick to suggest I return the bike the next morning.
Mountain Bike Rotorua offered shuttles to the top for $10 each trip but I am the type of rider who likes to pedal up the hills in order to go down. I like the fact that most of the climbing took place on well established dirt roads and trails.
I can not come close to estimating how many signs are posted in this forest. Traveling over thirty miles on more than twenty five different trails and roads and I only got lost once!
As with just about everyone I met in New Zealand my fellow trail users were very courteous and helpful.
But the best part of biking here in Rotorua was the trails. I am not sure how they can maintain so many beautiful trails. Almost every corner was precisely banked and most of the trail tread was smooth. Trails were not torn up and were designed for fun.
What do I regret about riding in Rotorua? Not being able to spend more than one day on that hill. I would love to ride most of those trails again and also give the dozens I missed a whirl.
During most visits I take many more photos than I can place on a page. To view every image I captured on these Rotorua Trails … 92 photos in all, please visit my Photo Gallery Site.
The following link can give you all the stats for my Rotorua Trails ride … just click on the box below.