Gathan Beaga

happy trails in (roto-)vegas

School holidays… so last week we were up in the Rotorua area, sharing a lovely crib (sorry, “bach”) on the shores of Lake Tarawera with our cycling friends from back on the Rail Trail.

Clouds, Central North Island

This was our view.

Tarawera is pretty impressive, and always catches the light in interesting ways, especially in the evening. The lake was cold and clear, but that did not deter the kids who went for a swim anyway; and there were kayaks for everyone else (except me - I’m not really one for getting on the water, though I do like looking at it).

Maps, Rotorua Mountain Bike ParkWe also had our bikes with us and we’d heard that no trip to Rotorua is complete without a visit to the Mountain Bike Park right beside town. I hadn’t been on single track since my only disastrous visit to the Makara Peak Mountain Bike Park over two years ago - I have been riding instead around the open country 4WD trails west of the city, like the Skyline Trail.

I had collected some maps from the Redwoods Visitor Centre, including a rather cool microfibre cloth map handy for stuffing into a pocket, and so I plotted a roughly 15km route across the various logging roads from the Tikitapu (Blue Lake) side of the park through to the car parking area to get an idea of the lay of the land. Although I had been assured that the trail style in this park was more sweeping and “flowy” than Makara I didn’t want to take any chances.

I wish now that I did take some more chances.

Starting out in a cool frosty morning, we climbed hard to just about the highest point in the park, and I snapped a triumphal pic of a trail sign to email back to a co-worker trapped in the office back in Wellington.

Trail sign, Rotorua Mountain Bike Park

He sent back a dutifully envious email… but of course I hadn’t gone down any trails, I had just ridden past their entrances. Turns out that the joke was on me, as I later discovered that Split Enz was probably within my skill level.

While we were traversing the park on the logging roads, the others were ripping around the trails close to the main carpark, and once we all met up for lunch the others had had enough and it was time to go.

Luckily I did get to have another visit one morning a couple days later and that was when I had one of those little revelations when one finds one is actually a little bit better at something than one thinks.

On this visit, we started out on Tahi, then did the Dipper twice because it was so much fun, sweeping around banked-up turns through the trees. Then we headed further up, where we got a bit lost trying to find a way to the lookout overlooking town and had a couple of good frights on a trail called the Tickler. At the end of that trail we consulted a map board, where a friendly local rider advised us to try Be Rude Not 2: more fast downhill sweeps around bermed tracks. We’d seen people come down it and it did seem like the best option for the last trail of session before meeting the kids at the luge.

This last track was insanely good, even for my level of expertise and general timidity. My co-rider thought he was on the wrong trail, because I had gotten so far ahead of him he couldn’t see me anymore. I waited for him at an intersection, heart pounding, a stupid grin on my face.

“Yeah”, I thought, “I get this now”.

It seemed a little bit of a shame to get saddled up and head to the luge for some processed (and expensive) entertainment but family holidays are all about this sort of small compromise. There will be another chance.

Since I’ve been back home I’ve been scoping out new trips (Dun Mountain sounds great once the kids are a bit more confident) and new gear and jargon (a 29” hardtail with Shimano Alfine internally geared hub is the current fantasy bike) but what I really need to be doing is more riding… and a return to Makara Peak.

Not today though. Wellington wind, Wellington rain: Winter.

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