DAY FIVE. The Whirinaki Forest trail
Packing up camp and moving out usually comes with a bit of a downer, but not when you are moving on to a new adventure. Another 7:30am start with a quick breakfast and loading up the gear and bikes. By this stage we had got moving camp down pat and we were on the road ahead of schedule and aiming for the dark depths of the Urerewa National Park. The Whirinaki Forest trail to be exact, a 2-4 hour loop of grade 2 to 3 trail. After the good thigh bashing workout from the day before I was looking forward to this gentle mountain bike outing. We had originally wanted to ride the Moerangi Trail next door but realised that it would have been a killer logistically (transport and seven or more hours riding) so finally opted for the easy option. Turns out it was a wise move as another “best day ever” soon unfolded.
Things went a bit pear shaped first though. Heading into the badlands we were hit by a massive rain storm. The wipers were on super rad setting and soon there were torrents of water running alongside the road and the roadside culverts were attempting to mimick Niagara Falls. I kept telling myself that we’d be fine, the soil here is volcanic and drains quicker than a holiday camp washbasin plugged with loo paper. It was surprisingly quiet in the van with no lamenting of the weather. I soon realised that because these guys were from California, they had no idea what rain was, so I kept my mouth shut and sang a little ditty (in my head) and hoped everyone hadn’t left their rain jackets back home.
Once again I was heading into uncharted territory, I hadn’t ridden this trail before, but my BFF Google Maps and me were having a Tinder-like relationship and I navigated us through back and beyond, past ramshackle farm outposts, roughly graded metal roads and did my best to make the correct turns in the unmapped intersections in the forest itself. And whaddya know? As we pulled up to unload, the clouds parted, the sun shone through and we had mist rising through the trees and branches dripping fresh rain water only to get sucked into the earth through the rich dark loam that makes for some of the best trail surface in the world.
We had all our worldly possessions with us so after kitting up and locking all the valuables in the Ninja trailer with a few discussions on where to put passports etc (always in your riding kit people) we entered the trail head to begin what I thought was a clockwise loop (against the grain) to climb the more open ridge style trail and descend the tight native single track.
As soon as we entered the forest we were met by a Jurassic like forest that looked untouched by man since time began. There had been extensive selective native logging in the area but was banned many years ago and is now a protected forest and is as deep, dark and lush as any naturalist could possibly hope for.
After a dis-used logging trail climb we entered what was to be the best gradient, visually stunning climb I have ever done. Any fears that the loop was a little to easy were lost as we fell silent and lost ourselves in the wonder that is riding native single track with good friends on expensively quiet carbon trail bikes (ooh, that’s not very green is it?).
Everyone was on form and as we crested the main climb we were pretty much all together and had a blast on the fast flowing old double track weaving under and around old tree and rock falls until we hit the top junction were there is an escape road back down the middle of the loop.
Once again I made a complete ass of myself by getting very confused (ah… dementia my old friend) and started blaming the trail markers for installing triangle pointers that appeared to point everywhere but in the correct direction. Lucky for me, before I took us down the escape road, my good buddy Ninja Jeff whipped out his Strava and confirmed we had been travelling anti-clockwise like the trail route suggested. Luckily for me these top dollar paying Americans thought theknobfather was all part of the package and we set off happy as Larry for a very very long descent made quite exciting buy wash outs, water ruts, small log jumps and more dinosaur searching.
I had a blast racing ahead to take photos as the team rode through, then playing catch up to the next photo location so I got to ride hard and fast, nearly coming unglued many times as holes, drops and encroaching growth tried to best me.
Everyone appeared to be in their own nirvana and I was so pleased that this trail far exceeded expectations. Whether you are a beginner or an enduro god, you would love this trail. I had planned to offer a reverse loop for those who wanted more, or even a quick smash up the access road and then down the climb we had made earlier while the others could lounge at the nearby river. But everyone was sated and we loaded up happy that we had ridden a good two and a half hours in some of the best riding native forest ever.
So back on the road with a quick tourist stop to admire the Huka Falls and then on to camp #3, the luxury lakeside condos of the Clearwater Motor Lodge . So while the others chilled out and wandered around the lake edge I made for the water to try mybest Daniel Craig impersonation and lay back in the hot water stream that flowed alongside our unit and onto the beach.
And the best news ever… We went for a Thai banquet at the Lotus Thai, so my duties in the kitchen were non existent. Thanks Richard! Great plan.
Tomorrow…Helicopters, Alpine meadows, huge bike traps and big mountain views.