Day 41 to 45 – A new set of wheels

Monday 26 November – Friday 30 November
Waitomo to Taumarunui
Day: 41 – 45
Km’s: 121km
Cumulative km’s: 1,032km / 3,000km

So… it turns out this whole blogging thing can be tough to keep on top of! Who would have thought that you could be so ‘busy’ despite the fact that all you have to do all day is walk?

Some time has now passed since our last post and if you are following us on Instagram you may have seen that we’re actually now at the top of the South Island (having completed our walk/tramp of the North Island). We’ve also made a minor change to our blog titles, replacing week numbers with day numbers which will hopefully make the writing process a bit easier for us going forward.

We’re hoping to get the blog up to date over the coming weeks before we head into the more remote areas of the South Island, where phone reception is limited at best.

Thinking back to over a month ago now when we tackled the section of trail from Waitomo to Taumarunui, the thing that really stood out was the prospect of being able to cycle 85km along the iconic Timber Trail, giving our feet a much needed break. It didn’t turn out to be quite as straightforward as we had expected, but it was a memorable experience anyway as you will see below.

Day 41 – Monday 26 November, 14.5km
Waitomo to Te Kuiti

After our rest day in Waitomo and caving adventure, we were excited to hit the trail again in slighter drier conditions than the last week or so. We were also excited by the promise of a short day on trail, a bed at the end of the day and lighter packs on account of only carrying one day of food to get us into Te Kuiti.

Crossing some farmland, we ventured into some short but wet forest sections with steep climbs and descents, the ground still soggy from the rain a few days prior. In contrast to our previous mudfests through Pirongia and into Waitomo, this section was short and sweet and not too draining. The fact that the sun was threatening to break through at any minute also helped with spirits but created muggy conditions which got us sweating up a storm.

Once the forest sections were behind us, we emerged onto a farmer’s newly planted crop field and carefully made our way around the edge, doing our best not to cause any damage. We were rewarded with some great views down into the valley.

Just when we thought the sun was here to stay, the rain clouds moved in and the rain started. Again. It turned out to be a perfect time to stop for lunch though in a nice little reserve that we had reached on the trail, making the most of the tree cover above us.

Building up the courage to venture out into the rain post-lunch, we zig-zagged across more farmland in what felt like the least direct route possible but a check if the TA maps sadly confirmed that were still on track.

After playing chicken with over a dozen bulls in a paddock, we crossed a private airstrip before our last big climb of the day – finally Te Kuiti had revealed itself and we could see where we were headed.

Our final descent of the day through Brook Park was an odd one. The park was full of derelict sheep with dirty and matted coats while the young sheep all still had their tails in tact, which we hadn’t really seen at all to date anywhere else.

Exiting Brook Park, we spotted our motel accommodation for the night across the road. Once checked in, we made the most of the extra space inside our room, putting up our tent inside to give it an opportunity to dry out properly.

We ended the day enjoying the 50+ channels on our in-room TV, by watching two movies back to back. First the classic tearjerker Armageddon, followed by a comedy neither of us had heard of before called Thanks For Sharing. It was definitely strange to be watching TV for the first time in a month and a half!

Day 42 – Tuesday 27 November, 0km
Te Kuiti to Pa Harakeke

Last time we were in New Zealand we had looked at cycling the Timber Trail but didn’t get around to it. As the TA trail includes the entire length of the Timber Trail, we decided it was a good opportunity to trade our hiking boots in for some wheels and give our feet a break. Our trail friend from Switzerland, Robert, would also be joining us.

Enjoying a sleep in before washing our clothes and a late check out at 11am, after resupplying at the supermarket, we headed to the local library in Te Kuiti to take full advantage of the free wifi. We also learned on route that Te Kuiti is the self-proclaimed sheep shearing capital of the world.

We had heard from a few people that the track from Te Kuiti to Pureora was poorly maintained and not overly enjoyable. With this in mind, we decided to bypass this track and head straight to the start of the Timber Trail, where we had organised a cabin through Pa Harakeke. With Edwina from Pa Harakeke not due to pick us up until mid afternoon though, we had plenty of time to kill at the library.

By the time Edwina arrived to pick us up we were surprisingly tired, considering that we’d essentially spent the day doing nothing. I even took the opportunity to snooze most of the way to Pureora in the back of the van.

After being called Andy repeatedly by Edwina (funnily enough, not the first time in my life I’ve been called this), we checked into our roomy cabin for the evening and picked up our bikes for the two day ride to follow on Wed and Thurs. Leigh tends not to have had the best luck with bike hire in the past, so we basically tried out their whole range of hire bikes before settling on our choices.

We spent the rest of the afternoon looking over the maps and trail notes for the upcoming days, and in particular, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing which looked set to coincide with some less than ideal weather, being a solid week of heavy rain. Fingers crossed we can catch a break by the time we reach the crossing in a week’s time!

Day 43 – Wednesday 28 November, 39km
Pa Harakeke to Piripiro Flats

As we needed to drop our hiking gear off at the Pa Harakeke office before starting our ride of the Timber Trail, and the office didn’t open until 9am, we got stuck into the complimentary tea and coffee in our cabin and had a bit of a cruisy morning.

Pa Harakeke would take our hiking packs to the overnight point and set up a campsite for us so that once we arrived in the afternoon all that would be left to do was eat! What luxury!

After dawdling through the morning, it came time to fashion our makeshift day packs for the ride out of existing dry bags we had been carrying in our packs and pieces of thin rope. We had originally intended to tie the dry bags directly to the bike frames but after trying to attach the things unsuccessfully for 10 minutes, we decided to wear them on our backs instead. It wouldn’t be the most comfortable thing but we thought it would do the job.

With our gear sorted, we set off on the 2km road section from Pa Harakeke before the official start of the Timber Trail. A quick stop at a cleaning station to get our bikes ready for the trail and we were on our way.

Immediately, the trail started to wind its way through stunning forest. After stopping for a few quick photos, we were on to the crux of the day – a gradual but steady climb for the first 15km or so. Not being regular mountain bike riders, this was the part of the day we were least looking forward to.

Riding at different speeds, Leigh, Rob and myself split up quite early in the climb. Early enough that we hadn’t agreed a plan for whether we would meet up at a certain spot or whether we would ride straight through to the campsite.

My plan was to ride at a steady pace until I got to the top of the climb before taking a break for lunch.

As I waited for Leigh to catch up, I met a few TA hikers who were doing the Timber Trail on foot. They mentioned that the passed Leigh a while back and that she had left her bike on the side of the trail and had taken an hour long side trail on foot to the summit of a nearby mountain.

I decided to use the time to listen to some podcasts and chill out until Leigh got back as I no longer had any phone reception to be able to contact her. When another hour or so had passed, I was starting to get the sense that something might not be right. Another hiker eventually came past and told me that Leigh’s bike was actually broken down and that she was trying to call the Pa Harakeke office.

As there was only phone reception on the first section of the Timber Trail which I had already passed, I rode back to try to find the spot where Leigh was broken down. About 5km later, I spotted Leigh just as the person from Pa Harakeke was driving up the trail on a four wheeler with a replacement bike. Turned out the derailer had been collected by a rock and snapped clean off while Leigh was riding. Luckily, she was able to reach Pa Harakeke on the phone and they were able to send a replacement bike at short notice. What great service!

With two working bikes again, we were racing to get to the campsite before the rain that had been threatening all morning actually set in. Sadly, we lost that race and had the ride the last part of the day in the rain. We did, however, get to cross some spectacular bridges which made up for the rainy weather.

We eventually rolled into the campground and it was such a great feeling to know that the campsite was already set up for the evening. We had the added bonus of being set up right next to a shelter, which kept us dry from the rain while we cooked our dinner. Score!

Day 44 – Thursday 29 November, 42km
Piropiro Flats to Ongarue

After yesterday’s excitement, we were hoping to get through the day without any more bike issues. We also had a tight timeframe to meet Edwina from Pa Harakeke at the end of the trail and couldn’t really afford to have any more breakdowns, particularly as there was no more phone reception on the trail today, so we would be on our own if anything went wrong.

We were just about to jump on the bikes to start our ride when we realised that Leigh now had a flat rear tyre. We decided that it was best for Rob to start riding while we sorted the tyre out. After realising that we didn’t have the tools needed to remove the back tyre, we instead went for a quick fix, reinflating the tyre and seeing how long the air would stay in. If we could get through the day by pumping up the tyre every hour or so, we would take that as a win.

With the tyre reinflated and just as we were about to leave, we spotted Rob walking back into camp with his bike alongside him. It turned out the chain had slipped off the gears and got completely jammed between the gears and the bike frame. We didn’t have the tools needed to fix it and we weren’t able to reach anyone at Pa Harakeke on the phone, so we tried a nearby luxury lodge instead as a last resort. A super helpful guy from the lodge came down with some basic tools to try to get the chain free.

The first attempt didn’t go so well. Using a large metal file to try and lever the chain past the choke point, the file snapped into three pieces! After heading back to the lodge to pick up some more tools, he was able to use a hammer and some tough love to free the chain. Thankfully, it remained in one piece and along with the gears.

Finally, we were on our way and the weather was good to us for the first time in a while. The riding was stunning, with a bunch of epic bridge crossings. Even the muddy sections were fun, trying to pick the best line to avoid losing all your momentum and having to step off your bike into the mud.

We ended the day with some enjoyable downhill hill riding where we could get a bit more speed up and give our legs a break from peddling. We also passed the 1,000km mark on the Te Araroa trail during the afternoon and took a commerative selfie, to mark the occasion.

By the time we arrived at the end of the track we were about 15 minutes late, but it was a pretty good effort taking the bike issues from the morning into account.

Chatting to Edwina from Pa Harakeke, she was very apologetic about the problems with the bikes and said that they would need to put on hold on renting out bikes for a while until they have all been serviced again.

Sorry in advance to ruin the fun for any other TA hikers out there who try to hire bikes from Pa Harakeke in the near future!

With our bikes returned, we set up our tents near the carpark at Ongarue. For the first time in a while, we were sharing the campsite with about 10 other people, which is likely to be a taste of things to come as the bottlenecks of people start to pop up towards the end of the North Island and the start of the South Island.

Day 45 – Friday 30 November, 26km
Ongarue to Taumarunui

Our goal today was to get into Taumarunui early enough to reach the post office and pick up our bounce box before it closed for the weekend.

Ahead of us was a mixture of gravel roads and sealed roads. While the first 2km was a buzz of logging trucks going past every few minutes, the road eventually became a lot quieter and was actually quite enjoyable when you can walk without having to constantly dodge traffic.

The terrain was mostly flat thankfully, which allowed us to reach Taumarunui around lunchtime.

Upon reaching town, we headed to the I-site tourist info office to get the latest weather information for the upcoming Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The weather still looked sketchy, so we chatted through what our alternatives would be if we by-passed Tongariro, to allow us to keep moving on the trail without losing any time. The staff were really helpful and were able to talk us into jumping onto a recent group booking for an extended version of the Whanganui River paddle which would allow us to catch a bus back up to Tongariro if the weather was better in a week’s time once we were off the river.

While the Te Araroa trail does include a few days on the Whanganui River from either Whakahoro or Mangapurua to Pipiriki or Wanganui, we decided to stretch this out to 220kms or so over 7-8 days, paddling from Taumarunui itself through to Wanganui.

With our plans for the next week sorted, we headed off to the supermarket to resupply for our paddle as we would need to carry all our food for the week with us in our canoe. We used the rest of the day to dry out our wet gear at our accommodation for the night and put a load of laundry through in preparation for our next laundry day being at least a week away!

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