Sunday, November 28, 2010

Riding For Fun... Whirinaki Road Trip

Given that I'd just spent a year and a half training for world champs, and then 4 weeks barely riding the bike from a bad case of 24 hour saddle sore, I've been pretty keen to get out riding (hasn't this weather been magic???!). A couple of weeks ago, at fairly short notice, I found myself with a 3 day weekend, so called my mate Piki to see if she would be up to an off-the-beaten-track MTB adventure. So we found ourselves and our trusty steeds piled into the back of my van that Friday afternoon for the trip down to Whirinaki forest. We'd heard about the recently completed Moerangi trail, a back-country mountain bike trail that threaded it's way around the forest past hiking huts and back into the small town of Minginui (and I mean small... Later confirmed when we tried to find somewhere that had a petrol station).

We headed south, past Rotorua (with our bikes in the van??? First time for everything) and turned off towards the forest. Instantly, we felt like we had the whole place to ourselves, and I was delighted when I saw my mobile phone dip out of range, to be out of contact for the the next 2 days. It was quite late and dark when we arrived at the campground. We set up camp, Ayup headlamps blazing and crawled into bed after the long drive. I always find it a really bizarre experience arriving somewhere unknown in the dark and then waking in the morning to see completely unfamiliar surroundings... I looked forward to it.

In the morning, we woke to the sound of the bubbling stream we had camped next to to and went for a bit of a stroll and had some breakfast. It was a pretty small campground, but pleasant, and we felt a million miles from anywhere... Perfect! We packed up and drove to the Jail House Farm Stay, where we would be shuttled to the beginning of the Moerangi track... Now, before I go any further, I would like to point out to those of you who know me that I still do not condone shuttling. My original suggestion was to ride to the start of the trail, then do the trail and ride back, turning the 36km trail into a respectable 80km full-day epic, but my hopes were quashed by the more sensibly-minded Piki (in hindsight, I'm secretly quite glad because the amount of climbing we ended up doing after me having not ridden for 4 weeks was plenty for my out-of-practise legs). So we arrived at the start of the trail, got dumped with our bikes and left to our own defences. The first thing we encountered was a set of steps that went up. Great, hike-a-bike first thing, but once at the top, I don't think the smile eroded from my face for the rest of the day. There was a great deal of climbing (which I LOVE), and also some very very sweet downhill single track. This was, without doubt, some of the best riding I have done in months, possibly years. There was so much amazing scenery you couldn't possibly see it all on your first ride of the trail... I'll definately have to go back. We took our time and stopped off at each of the huts. I couldn't help but wonder how fast I could do the trail at race pace = awesome fun. After we finished we rode back to Jail House and picked up our car, talked bike porn with other riders, then headed off to a new camp site for the evening.

The new camp site was amazing... It was right next to the Whirinaki river with a huge waterfall dropping into the river at one end of the campground. There was noone else in sight, so we have the whole place to ourselves. It was magic. A quick dip in the freezing river was in order to have a wash and cool down, which also resulted in the loss of one of my beloved jandals (RIP my friend) which got sucked to the bottom of the river and pulled from my fott and must have floated off down stream. I had no chance of finding a brown jandal on a river bed (for the record, my new ones are bright red). We slept that night to the sound of rain and the roaring waterfall, more riding in store for tomorrow... What a perfect day!

The next morning we woke, had breakfast and packed up our tents to leave for the Whirinaki forest MTB trails before the long drive home. I was sure nothing could top what we had ridden yesterday but I was dead wrong. More sweet singletrack, amazingly fast downhills... And it's all marked clearly so you don't get lost! My advice would be that people get out there and experience this place before it becomes an over-crowded mecca. Whilst there isn't a real quantity of trail, the quality will leave you salivating for more, and it's all set in untouched, protected native forest. Well worth the drive!