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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