The Freewheeling Adventures of Bert and Doug

Way back in the 1980’s, Natural High’s intrepid leader Andy had his first introduction to cycle touring, thanks to an adventurous pair of Americans called Bert and Doug…
cycle touring new zealand
I was a fresh-faced youngster in the 80’s when I met my first cyclist.

Bert and Doug were a couple of 20-year olds from Colorado, who were seeing the world by bike. They had made contact with the Auckland tourism hosting group my parents belonged to, which helped visitors to New Zealand arrange meals and accommodation with host families.

My parents were superb hosts. Mum would cook a Sunday roast of Yorkshire puddings and three veges fresh from the garden, topped off with a superstar kiwifruit pavlova. Then Dad would take visitors on a tour of the dairy farm, and if they were really lucky, give them a display of young calves feeding on a Kiwi invention called a “calfateria.”

Not surprisingly, Doug and Bert loved our hospitality and their planning seemed to take a while! Maps with notes, directions and contact addresses were constantly strewn all over our breakfast table. Cycle touring in New Zealand was very uncommon back then, and cars would often stop cyclists to ask if they would like a lift. Cycling was seen as a mode of transport forced upon by circumstances, certainly not something anybody would choose to do for fun.

I’d never seen anything like Doug and Bert’s bikes before – 21 gears, cable caliper brakes, drop-down handle bar, bags capable of carrying extreme quantities of gear and enough repair kit to start their own bike shop. Tubes, tires, spokes, derailleur hangers, brake pads, cables – they had it all!

Yet what amused me most of all was their choice of riding clothing. Tight, stretchy material that was ultra-revealing, yet they called it comfortable and practical?

Their New Zealand grand tour was split into two: North Island, back for Christmas at the Hunt’s, then the South Island. Their stories at Christmas were hilarious and featured eye-opening acts of kindness; a stay with an active mob member and his family, rides with local farmers when their bikes had broken down, kicking up their heels at a Young Farmers Ball…

Doug and Bert were no athletes, but their biking journey had taken them deep into the lives of Kiwis that the average tourist was unable to experience. It was the connection with the country, the land, the environment and the people that seemed to set cycling apart.

Doug and Bert had an acceptance that everything would always work out and a sense of freedom that was inspiring. Their experiences were to prove the catalyst for my own cycling adventures…but that’s a story for another day.

Inspired to start planning your own biking tour of New Zealand? At Natural High we offer a huge selection of both guided and self-guided cycle tours that will give you an exhilarating, first-hand glimpse of Kiwi life.

Not sure where to go? Feel free to drop us a line or give us a call on 0800 444 144. We’re always happy to listen to your questions and share our recommendations.

Until next time, happy cycling,

Photo: Andy and Kay freewheeling around New Zealand.

Small Town New Zealand: Raglan

We’re on a mission to show you our favourite small towns of New Zealand. This week we’re kicking back in the west coast town of Raglan, home to world-class surf, taxing uphill rides and smooth caffeine highs.

Raglan New ZealandPlay: Where to start? Surf, paddleboard, kayak, horseride, fish, walk, swim, rock climb…It’s officially impossible to be bored in Raglan.

Ride: If you relish a challenge, the 45 km slog around Mount Karioi will get your weekend off to a flying start. The route is predominantly gravel, with long, steep climbs offset by stunning coastal views. You might want to come back for the annual Karioi Classic race, which runs every July.

A little easier on the legs is the back route to Bridal Veil Falls, which takes you through rolling farmland. (Gravel roads again). Stop by the Raglan i-Site in the centre of town for maps and directions.

The road out to Manu Bay and Whale Bay is also popular with bikers but be aware it’s twisty and offers drivers limited visibility.

Java-hit: Raglan Roast, Volcom Lane and Te Uku Roast Office. Roasted daily.

Refuel: The Shack, Bow Street. Tasty breakfasts, lunches and dinner (check beforehand for evening opening hours as these can vary).

Tug at the purse strings: Heaps of great shops along the main street of town. Zinnia is a homeware store with an interesting mix of vintage, retro and new. Find recycled and new clothing at Frocking Gorgeous. Creative Market at the Old School Arts Centre every second Sunday of the month.

Admire: The Studeo Gallery on 21 Cross Street. Disguised as a 1950’s Studebaker car enthusiast’s backyard, this is where you’ll find the ingenious creations of local artist Chris Meek.

After-hours: Fish and chips at the wharf, followed by a sunset spin around the harbour on the Wahinemoe. Or head into town for sundowners on the Verandah Bar of the Harbourview Hotel. The Yot Club has bands most weekends. Pick up a copy of The Raglan Chronicle when you arrive in town for gig listings.

Sweet dreams: Find accommodation listings on There’s a campsite right in town for campervan travellers.

Getting there:
From Auckland: Take State Highway 1 south. At Ngaruawahia turn right at the BP gas station onto State Highway 39. At Whatawhata, turn right at the “T” intersection and follow State Highway 23 to Raglan. Approximately 2 hours depending on traffic.
From Hamilton: Take State Highway 23 to Raglan. Approximately 45 minutes depending on Hamilton traffic.

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Meet the Team

This week we’re getting to know some of the Natural High team…

Natural High AndyName: Andy Hunt
Job title: Colonel & head spokesperson
Home town: Lincoln, New Zealand.
Favourite New Zealand ride/trail: Gees – it’s a toss up between the Timber Trail and the St James but will have to go with the St James. It’s one of the harder epic backcountry South Island rides, with no cell phone coverage, majestic southern Alps, tussock glacial valleys and clear mountain streams.
Best spot for after-biking drinks: Zeroes Café (Cashmere, Christchurch) for either MTB or roadie – excellent coffee.
Favourite NZ small town: Hokitika
Who would play you in the film of your life: People used to say Brian Brown looked like me but I’d like to say Jason Statham.
Top tip for better biking: All physical activity requires energy, but for those long rides or multi-day tours, the right kind of food and liquids along the way become really important. While some of us may stop for a coffee and pub, the right nutrition can mean the difference between a enjoyable ride and an uncomfortable, miserable ride. I always take along some gummy airplanes, mini Moro bar, a bottle of water and bottle of electrolyte.
Bike you’d most like to own: 1988 Daccoldi in blue mother of pearl. This is actually Max’s bike (Natural High team member) that he imported from Italy to use in New Zealand… is it wrong to covert another mans bike?
What do you do when not riding: Skiing at small New Zealand club fields, playing crazy games.

Natural High LoganName: Logan McRae
Job title: Auckland branch manager.
Home town: Auckland, New Zealand.
Favourite New Zealand ride/trail: Heaphy Track. First multi-day MTB ride I ever did; stunning and diverse scenery in a unique part of the country and it’s an awesome track for riding.
Best spot for after-biking drinks: Beers in the car park straight after the ride. Or if riding Hunua, south of Auckland, drive around to the Hunua Falls after the ride.
Favourite NZ small town: Hahei in the Coromandel.
Who would play you in the film of your life: Henry Cavill.
Top tip for better biking: Get your bike set up right. Seat height, stem length, position of brakes and shifters all make a huge difference in your comfort and enjoyment of your riding. Also, RIDE MORE!
Bike you’d most like to own: Currently it would be a 2014 Rocky Mountain Altitude 799 MSL.
What do you do when not riding: Hang out with my son, read.

Natural High JamieName: James Warren
Job title: Auckland mechanic/fleet manager.
Home town: York, Yorkshire, UK.
Favourite New Zealand ride/trail: Redwoods, Rotorua. I love downhill/freeriding and it has fantastic options for both styles.
Best spot for after-biking drinks: Frasers Cafe, Mt Eden.
Favourite NZ small town: Cambridge/Karapiro.
Who would play you in the film of your life: David Beckham!!!
Top tip for better biking: Follow Natural High on Facebook for my weekly Workshop Wednesday posts.
Bike you’d most like to own: Specialized Enduro 26”.
What do you do when not riding: Dad, football, sleep!

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Andy’s Great Rides of New Zealand: The Timber Trail

Earlier in the year, Andy took on the Timber Trail – an 85 km adventure that runs from Pureora to Ongarue (and vice-versa) in the North Island. It’s a route that takes riders back in time; mixing diverse riding, beautiful native forest and tales of old. Here’s his account of the weekend…
Experiencing the Timber Trail

Day 1: Pureora to Piropiro

Distance: 40km

Our journey starts from Pureora Village, once a thriving sawmill town, and takes us south through 8kms of towering native forest. As we hit the lower-slopes of Mount Pureora, our legs get their first real test – it’s a 14 km climb to the western summit. Here the forest changes, with the lower half of the mountain replanted with modern commercial timber like pinus radiata, and the top remaining largely untouched.

Hats off to DOC – they’ve constructed a masterpiece of a track; the climb gradient is no greater than 6% and the switchback corners are easy to steer.

Mount Pureora, or Pure-ora-o-Kahu, is a spiritual place. According to Maori legend, Kahu was a woman of great status. While searching the lands for her lost son, she became sick and her group came to rest on the northern side of the mountain. To offer prayers, her tribe followed the stream Waimiha (wai = wate, miha = special incantations) to the summit. Upon returning, Kahu bathed in the stream and recovered to full health.

Recovery is on our minds too, as we reach the summit and start our descent, only slowed by occasional peeks of Lake Taupo and areas of boggy track. Maintenance is currently being undertaken on the track here, so expect a full pumice surface in the future.

A 30-metre rocky slope brings us to the first of six newly-constructed suspension bridges. These easy to ride wooden bridges are suspended from wire rope and anchored to basalt rock. They’re a modern engineering achievement and similar to the bridges you encounter on the Heaphy, another highly recommended Great Ride of New Zealand.

One more climb and a final swing bridge before a fantastic 14 km champagne downhill run to Piropiro DOC campsite. Wow – it makes the heart sing! Spying our comfortable Britz campervan ready and waiting is also a relief!

Day 2: Piropiro to Ongarue

Views from the Timber TrailDistance: 45km
We wake to fog, which wasn’t in the itinerary! Fortunately it burns off quickly, revealing a beautiful, bluebird day. Ranginui (sky father) is looking down on us favourably.

The second half of the ride follows the old logging tramways, once used to haul huge logs of timber from the forest to the timber mills in the Taumarunui district. At the height of the logging boom there were around 300 mills in this area – now there are just two.

Narratives placed along the trail tell the stories of the early pioneers of this region. As we sit re-fuelling on salty cashews, Moro bars and bananas, we can’t help wondering what they ate back then?

Logging ended here in 1963 and despite the presence of introduced pests such as pigs, goats, deer and possums, the forest is regenerating quickly.

Talking of those pests – the area is popular for hunting, so be prepared to see the odd hunter riding around on a quad bike with guns, pack of dogs and a dead pig. Yes, this truly is backcountry New Zealand!

A short distance on the flat and we’re climbing again. The reward? A fantastic downhill to the first of four suspension bridges, the highlight of which has to be the 90-metre suspension bridge over Mangatukutuku Stream.

Then it’s another, steady climb to the restored Ongarue Spiral, once part of the timber industry’s bush tramway, before a final, long downhill to the start of the valley and the forest boundary.

The last 8 km of the trail takes us along farmland and road, giving us time to reflect on the spiritual and historical journey we’ve just undertaken. Pure bush, crystal-green rivers and a mountain challenge all add up to a unique backcountry riding experience in the central North Island of New Zealand. We’ll be back.

85 km of mountain-bike riding through native New Zealand bush.
Eight massive suspension bridges.
A chance to step back in time and learn about the early timber workers of this area.
Excellent signage and well-maintained tracks.

Day 1: grade 3
Day 2: grade 2

Specialized Hardrock 29ner

This trail can be ridden in either direction, although riding from south to north is a more challenging route.

From the North: You’ll find Pureora Village located 45 minutes east of Te Kuiti, along State Highway 30. Turn off State Highway 30 at Maraeroa Road and continue on until just past the Harakeke Centre, where you turn left onto Barryville Road. The trail starts 2km down this road.

From the South: Turn off State Highway 4 onto Ongarue-Waimiha Road. Turn right and cross the river at Tuhua Road. Turn left onto Ngakonui-Ongarue Road and continue for 7 km to the trail start.

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