Tour Aotearoa Day 7 – Mangakino to Timber Trail Lodge – The Timber Trail

In 1978 protestors climbed into the treetop canopy to prevent loggers from deforesting native timber. Their efforts led to the birth of Pureora Forest Park. Their protests would also accidentally form the Timber Trail, an 84 kilometre remote wilderness mountain bike trail, as epic as it is important – and so they reclaimed the forest from the loggers who once extracted its natural wealth, to the mountain bikers who admire that same natural wealth, leaving only muddy tyreprints and taking only memories.  It’s a conservation success story.

The Timber Trail is part of the Nga Haerenga, meaning it’s one New Zealand’s 23 Great Rides. After the long days I’ve been doing, its total length of 84 kilometres seemed simple enough, so I ignored the warning signs that suggested splitting it into two days, and rolled along an old logging tramway back into New Zealand’s forested past.

The first 35 kilometres rose gradually uphill and around the flanks of Mount Pureora. This extinct volcano rises 1,165 metres, rising an island above the plains of surrounding farmland. Because of its inaccessibility, even the loggers struggled to penetrate deep into the dense mature forest. Relatively untouched, I found myself craning my neck to gaze up at the gigantic trees that rose vertically above, while my eyes darted from the trail to the array of unique flora and fauna. Moss cloaked the gigantic tree trunks with blinding shades of green.

As I descended from Mount Pureora towards lower elevations, the evidence of recent logging became visible. I’d see forests stripped of their big trees and the woods were a little quieter without the full orchestra of birds. And then, as if in explanation, I’d stumble across an old Caterpillar tractor, left to rust, as if one day, the loggers had simply got up and left. Reassuringly, there was evidence that the forest was beginning to regenerate.

The riding was epic, twisting and turning indirectly as if showcasing the highlights of this forest park. The off-road terrain was tough, particularly on my heavily-loaded gravel bike which appeared conspicuous compared to the other sleek suspension mountain bikes that had passed me. The forest felt timeless, a place where the trees measure its passing in millennia, but for me, the afternoon was creeping along, and the prospect of reaching Ongarue seemed unlikely. I remembered the sign advising splitting the trail into two days. Still only on my first week on the Tour Aotearoa, it seemed smart to enjoy a shorter day to allow some recovery, especially ahead of the longer days planned on the South Island.

This tough decision proved to be the right one when I rolled into the Timber Trail Lodge. This amazing off-grid lodge was only finished in 2017, but its modern and welcoming interior and staff make it a paradise for cyclists on the Timber Trail. There’s a bike wash area, covered bike storage, bike service stand and tools, and amazingly for an off-grid lodge, e-bike charging facilities. I was sitting outside on the deck gazing across the pristine forest when five cyclists rolled into the lodge. They’re on the same exhilarating Tour Aotearoa adventure as I am, and I’ve met them twice already, on 90 Mile Beach and on the ferry to Helensville. It was great to have dinner and a beer and share stories from the trail so far.