Riding the Timber Trail
By Dave Mitchell
We headed up the Whanganui River Road and into Taumarunui ‘on the main trunk line’, going straight to the i-SITE visitor info centre, in the old railway station on Hakiaha Street. From there you can grab a pamphlet, book a shuttle and/or any accommodation you require for the trail.
We left our vehicle at the Ongarue trail end (and the lowest point of the track), before hopping on the Timber Trail Shuttle to the old timber town of Pureora, at the top end of the track. It has a DOC field base, camp ground and adjacent accommodation.
The track starts from just below the DOC camp, winding gradually trough a section of stunning podocarp forest. A short side trip heads to an old retired bulldozer waiting for visitors. We played driver, gave it a pat then returned the way we had come. The bird life was amazing, considering this slim sliver of bush is slap dab in the middle of a massive pine plantation.
We eventually popped out of the native forest and resumed climbing; through a logged area and pockets of regenerating bush, heading towards the highest point of the track, at 980 metres. A shelter is reached as you re-enter the bush, and nearing the top, a walking track veers east towards the top of Mt Pureora, at 1165 meters. We enjoyed the views south from the track over the Hauhungaroa Ranges and beyond, and were looking forward to the decent.
The downhill to Piropiro is legendary. With recent track upgrades and a profusion of suspension bridges, it’s hard to put a foot wrong. We snacked at Harrisons Creek after crossing two of these 100 metre-plus suspension bridges in a row - amazed by the Ongarue River far below. The first rider always gets a clear run, but those following have to compensate for an ever-increasing sideways sway.
For those wanting to split the ride in half here, there’s accommodation available at the Black Fern Lodge, signposted 7km off trail. There’s also a camp site with toilets, about halfway along the track at Piropiro, for those riding self contained.
Then it’s a mix of climbing and descending to the 1952 Tramway Terminus, after crossing the massive 141 metre Maramataha suspension bridge. We lunched in the clearing here - the most northerly end of the logging tramline, and 47km into the ride.
From there it’s all downhill; following the rail bench for the most part, as it winds along to Mystery Creek triangle, through No. 11 Camp which has a shelter and toilets, then onto No. 10 Camp - a carbon copy of No. 11. The Mangatukutuku Bridge is the last of the eight large suspension bridges on the track, and has interpretive panels with old photos and text, which really bring this section of trail alive.
The surrounding bush, much of it re-growth, is coming away nicely - providing plenty of leaf litter to camouflage the upgrades. We rode through railway cuttings before heading down the famous Ongarue Spiral, exiting 270 degrees later via a strategically placed tunnel. Near the exit, a great set of photos shows an old steam locomotive negotiating the tight turns, wagons in tow.
The last section of downhill was a blast, then we followed the Magakahu Stream on its true right bank, out to the trail end at Ongarue, where our vehicle was patiently waiting. Food and lodging was just a short drive away in Taumarunui, for two tired mountain bikers.
The Timber Trail may not be a particularly technical ride but it has a great track surface, stunning scenery, a real sense of history and some great downhills in what most of the time, feels like the middle of nowhere.
We take our MTB helmets off to the track and bridge builders, two of whom we met along the trail - they proudly showed us the drainage upgrades they were implementing. May the NZ Cycle Trail initiative continue to build new trails like The Timber Trail - we loved every bit of it.
doc.govt.nz(Search ‘Timber Trail’)