A back country adventure in mid North Island, New Zealand
Returning home from a few months overseas I decided it was high time I got out to explore my own backyard once again.
It was a moody start to the day with a long climb looming, the top shrouded in mist. The steep gravel access road had recently been resurfaced and the small rocks crunched and squirmed under my rear wheel searching for traction. The air was muggy and warm but at the top, the wind whistled by as it crested the range and headed out towards the ocean. I decided it was wise to move on into the native forest before I got too cold - trusty trail buddy in tow.
Conditions were slippery and technical, large networks of roots and rocks covered in a film of green moss lay in wait to sweep my front wheel off the trail at the most unexpected of moments. given the recent rain, the first few kilometers were dicey, to say the least, you’d be forgiven for thinking I was riding a tricycle at times – two wheels, one leg. The forest was green and lush, and the air hung heavy with remnants of a past storm, the plants loved it, the inside of my shoes not so much.
Winding along the ridge, the trail varied greatly from dense rainforest to windswept tops. Off to each side, I could see where the ground had once given way to a landslide, vegetation slowly beginning to grow back, healing the scars of the land. The recent storm had left the trail strewn with heavy leaf litter and the occasional tree down. It made for a fun game of riding just fast enough that I could stop within my sight distance but also still ripping down the open sections, skipping over the rock gardens that peppered the trail and popping of ledges, transferring to the high side of the trail.
Leaving the tops, the trail dropped into the forest and skirted its way around the spur I had been riding on to start with. In an out of small valleys I went, beforediving down through tight switchbacks and a final steep cutting to the river on the other side of the range.
The route out was reasonably hike-a-bike, feeling like the slowest cyclocross course in the world on the uphills, the roots and rocks killed all my momentum and when I did manage to somehow find grip there always seemed to be another block of roots to spin my tire out or throw me into the nearest bush. When I reached the top however, the descents made it all the worthwhile. What seems more like a hike up, allows for some of the best grade 4 riding the north island has to offer. Steep, fully natural trail with line choice galore twisted its way down one final ridge to the rivers-edge, at one point blind natural steps in the trail all but sent me deep into the thick of the ferns to my right. There were no catch-berms here to save me, this was true wilderness riding at its best. A swift river crossing to dip the toes in indicated the end of the trail was in reach.
At 6 hours, covering 45 kilometers and just under 2000 vertical meters, it is definitely not easy going but is thoroughly rewarding and has once again given me an appreciation for the New Zealand Wilderness.
James was riding the RIP 9 RDO on this adventure.