Cycling NZ’s North Island: The Timber Trail

The Timber Trail, one of New Zealand's great rides, is remote and rugged and tells a story of New Zealand's past.

The Timber Trail is one ride on The New Zealand Cycle Trail network – a combined 2,500km of multi-day cycle rides through spectacular landscapes.

Located in the heart of the North Island, Pureora Forest Park a precious remnant of native forest saved from loggers’ chainsaws by conservationists in the 1970s. Remote and rugged, it was largely the realm of hardy hunters and hikers until The Timber Trail blazed its way through in 2013, revealing not only awe-inspiring beauty but also human stories that echo down through the years.

The 85-kilometre trail follows old bush tramlines and logging roads, linked up and smoothed out with flowing, purpose-built single-track. It’s graded easy to intermediate (grade 2–3) with a few gentle climbs, but its remoteness and occasional tricky sections make it most suitable for reasonably fit, experienced mountain bikers. 

Most commonly ridden from north to south, the Timber Trail starts at Pureora, once a thriving sawmilling village. Today it’s the site of a visitor information centre and Department of Conservation campground, while nearby Pa Harakeke offers cabin accommodation and shuttle services run by the local iwi (Māori tribe).

From Pureora, the well signposted trail plunges straight into another world, one ruled by iconic native tree species such as rimu, matai, miro and tawa. Eagle-eyed visitors may spot some of the forest’s many special inhabitants such as North Island kōkako, robin and the cheeky, screechy kākā (forest parrot). Even rarer species include the kārearea (New Zealand falcon), kākāriki (parakeet) and whio (blue duck) as well as both species of native bat (long-tailed and short-tailed) and primitive Hochstetter’s frog.

The trail climbs gently up the side of Mt Pureora (1165m), the park’s tallest peak created in an ancient volcanic eruption. At 980 metres, the trail’s high-point is shy of its peak, and the beginning of the predominantly downhill journey across the western flanks of the Hauhungaroa Range, all the way to the trail’s end at Ongarue.

That’s not to say it’s not undulating, because it most certainly is. Steep gorges slice down densely forested hillsides, bridged by some of the highest and longest suspension bridges in New Zealand. There are eight in all, the granddaddy being Maramataha Bridge at 141m long and 53m high. It’s an impressive sight all right, and quite a thrill to cross – best to ignore the wobbles and don’t look down.

Around the trail’s halfway point is Piropiro Flats, a logical place to break the journey by staying overnight at the conservation campground or nearby Black Fern Lodge, or by arranging a shuttle transfer to accommodation further afield.

The second half of the trail is easier, on the whole, and boasts an interesting mix of ancient forest and regenerating bush, punctuated by more bridges, various huts and the Ongarue Terminus. The long-gone sawmill here was serviced by the Ongarue Tramway, which the Timber Trail follows onwards through fern-lined cuttings and around the ‘spiral’, an internationally significant engineering feat.

The trail finishes at Ongarue, the usual pick-up point for shuttle services. Cyclists with gas left in the tank can ride the extra 24 kilometres to Taumarunui along a quiet, and undulating road, taking an extra couple of hours or so.

The Timber Trail’s location makes it easy to combine with other Great Rides including the Mountains to Sea that traverses Tongariro and Whanganui National Parks, and the Great Lake Trail skirting the shore of Lake Taupo.

Background: New Zealand Cycle Trail

In May 2013, the New Zealand Cycle Trail was named as one of the best cycle trails in the world at the International Trails Symposium, hosted by American Trails in Arizona. 

A network rather than one single route, The New Zealand Cycle Trail is a series of multi-day off-road trails and touring routes throughout New Zealand offering 2,500km of riding through outstanding landscapes.

A complete list of the New Zealand Cycle Trails and associated accommodation and providers is available at: www.nzcycletrail.com

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