The views of Mount Ruapehu in Tongariro National Park dominate the landscape around Ohakune in the centre of New Zealand’s North Island. Ruapehu is an active stratovolcano with major eruptions every 50 years or so. The last one was in 1995-96, sending mudflows into surrounding rivers and spewing ash into the air. Smaller eruptions occur regularly but Mount Doom of Mordor remained quiet during the days we saw it. (Some scenes in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy were filmed here on the slopes of Ruapehu)
From Ohakune, the Old Coach Road winds its way through the forested hills into Whanganui National Park. We put together several cycling routes through the centre of the North Island to take us to Rotarua, north of Lake Taupo. These routes included the Old Coach Road, the Mountains to Sea Cycle Route and small back roads, and trail. They are well marked and fairly easy to follow. The trails vary in difficulty from easy to challenging, up and down many mountains.
One of the more difficult sections was down to Blue Duck Station. It’s a single track mountain bike trail through dense forest that is challenging despite its 15 km descent, and required careful bike handling and some pushing. It was a blast but by the time we arrived at the station, we were quite exhausted. Thankfully, the Blue Duck Inn offers showers and meals, as well as accomodation for weary bikepackers. We availed ourselves of the showers and a hot meal but camped in the adjacent Department of Conservation camp site.
It took us a full day to ride 75 km from Blue Duck Station to Tamaranui on back roads, some gravel and some paved, to pick up the Timber Trail, another one of Cycle New Zealand’s Great Rides. It’s a two-day ride over the mountains of the Hauhungaroa Range in the Pureora Forest.
Logging of this native forest began in the 1940s but by the 70s, environmentalist pushed for protection for the last remaining stands of native podocarp forest and the government responded by creating Pureora Forest Park. It is now one of the last stands of intact broadleaf podocarp forest.
Three days later, we rode into Rotorua where my bike’s bottom bracket conveniently began acting up. It was Sunday but a bike shop in the centre of town was open and an hour later I had a new BB and we were able to carry on.
Picking up the Hauraki Rail Trail, we eventually made our way to Auckland where we had a reunion with Sven, the young Dutch cyclists who accompanied us for much of our South Island journey in November and December. With our departure date from New Zealand looming, it was time to figure out what to do with our final couple of weeks before we had to return home to Vancouver.