We found cycling on the roads of New Zealand to be relatively dangerous. Narrow roads with no shoulder lanes, speeding drivers and the fact, that to get a driving licence one does not need to go to a driving school, but could be taught by any experienced driver – helped us to make the decision to stick to gravel roads and singletracks. Most of the trails in New Zealand provide riders with the opportunity to not only appreciate the stunning landscape of this fascinating country, but to use all their available gears and riding techniques, as some of the sections are extremely difficult. To reach the famous volcanoes in the Tongariro National Park, we decided to take the “42nd Traverse” – a rather rough MTB trail.
The main reason to follow the “42nd” was the fact that it is the shortest and most adventurous way to get from the end of the Timber Trail to the national park, and to accomplish yet another spectacular bike trail. As we were getting closer to the beginning of the trail, numbers of cars carrying high tech mountain bikes passed us by. It was Friday afternoon and all the weekend MTB enthusiasts were heading for their ride. When we arrived at Owhango on our fully loaded bikes (a rare sight), one of the local cyclists approached us with a confused look on her face and said:
“NO! You are not going to do it, are you? Not on THESE bikes – she pointed at our steel, overbuilt touring frames, well broken-in leather saddles and racks-equipped bikes. It is impossible! You gonna die!”
We explained her politely that we knew what we were doing. After months of cycling through Australia our legs were strong, and all the time spent in the high mountains of Asia made us pretty aware of our riding skills. We wish we had our pictures from the Annapurna Circuit printed out to calm her down. Eventually we rode towards the beginning (or the end) of the trail, where a little unofficial campground became our destination for that night. We pitched our tent and spent the rest of the evening preparing for the ride – drinking beer and chilling to be precise. We saw a lot of “proper” mountain bikers in their colorful t-shirts and fancy, baggy pants, equipped with full-suspension bikes, finishing the trail riding past us – two fully loaded touring cyclists – and not even one of them had the need to say “hallo”. Maybe we did not fit in their model of a hardcore mountain biker or maybe with our presence we were spoiling their dream, weekend ride? We felt a bit like entering a gala wearing swimwear – definitely we did not feel welcome. How could we even dare to give it a try?
The trail was indeed difficult. There were many sections where we had to hike-a-bike. But we did it in less than 7 hours and we were awarded with a view of Mount Ngauruhoe covered in clouds…
Somewhere behind those clouds were some of the most famous volcanoes of the Southern Hemisphere. The mountain were Frodo Baggins said goodbye to his beloved ring.
We stayed for just a short time in the Tongariro National Park – we wanted to avoid the crowds of hikers and backpackers and headed towards Pipiriki – to join a section of the Mountains to Sea trail to eventually reach the coast at Whanganui.
For most of the time we followed a beautiful, relatively slow flowing river.
We spent quite a lot of time on the Northern Island and most people kept telling us, that we should go to the Southern one, since the landscape on the other side of Cook Strait is regarded way more dramatic and picturesque. We wanted to do one more bike trail before catching a ferry, so we decided to complete the southern section of the Rimutaka Trail.
That was a hit! As soon as we left the paved section of the trail, we entered an uninhabited area of steep mountains and a rough, rocky coast.
There were almost no people on the trail, as it is not allowed to drive it. The most beautiful sound on earth – grinding of gravel underneath our tires – accompanied our exploration, as we were making progress towards the capital of New Zealand.
A bit of pushing here and there, some river crossings and technical sections. All of it in spectacular surroundings!
We were stunned by the amount of marine wildlife we stumbled upon!
We spent our last evening collecting Paua shells on the beach and enjoying the place that for this very moment existed only for the two of us.