The Annual Off-Roading Riding Dept. Trip to Rotorua
By Mike Cowlin
Over winter, even the hardiest and most stubborn of mountain bikers, yearns for the sunshine. With dry trails beaconing for summer, and the ability to walk into a pub post ride, without leaving behind a trail of mud, my riding crew and I decided to celebrate the best way that we could think of: a road trip to Rotorua, one of New Zealand’s premier mountain bike destinations, for the 2W Enduro Gravity race.
The Wellington Off-road Riding Department (W.O.R.D) team has done the trip to Rotorua many times before and has a well-established plan of attack for the 7 hour journey north; ditch work early, grab a kebab in Bulls, reach the Thermal Holiday Park by 9.30 pm and set up camp. Like clockwork we are in our tents by 10pm trying to sleep despite the excitement bubbling up like Christmas Eve when we were kids.
Despite the lack of sleep, the anticipation of racing wakes us up early, a mix of nerves and eager anticipation of riding against the clock. A mandatory food and caffeine fix from the legendary Zippy’s Central Café is called for; a place famous within the mountain biking community.
With bagels and coffee down and ready to power us through the day, it’s time to race. Enduro races are multi stage-mountain bike events requiring downhill speed, technical prowess and the ability to push yourself till your Zippy’s bagel wants to come back up. The second ever 2W Gravity Enduro, pulled around 300 riders out of hibernation to stretch their legs. The race, consisting of five downhill stages, was run on a selection of some of the best trails in Whakawerawera Forest’s vast network with shuttles provided for the more arduous climbs. The guys and girls at Dare2Sweat Events have put in place a great event capable of hosting a large number of people across all riding levels. A unique feature of the 2W Enduro is a timing system that allows riders to do the stages in any order they want with their mates in tow. It also allows you to have another crack at a stage if you ate a bit of dirt or blew a tyre mid-stage. This strategy seems to play out well with minimal queuing at the start gates and a fun relaxed atmosphere all around.
The start of our race was marred with some last minute stress when I find my brakes no longer braking. Thankfully, having learnt from the previous summer of racing to always be prepared with a good riding kit, the problem was fixed with some new brake pads and a bit of ingenuity in time to cross the start line. Once under way the toll of winter hibernation on the body and fitness levels is telling. Not even an extreme atrophy of muscle tissue and poor fitness were enough to diminish the exhilaration and adrenalin rush of racing red-eyed down some of the best tracks to be found in the North Island. At the end of the day, the W.O.R.D team came out with some good race times, but most importantly had an amazing time. With the race done, we set about enjoying some well-deserved beers that evening with other riders at the local Croucher Brewery.
The next day it was time tackle the journey home. However, just 25 KM south of Rotorua another legendary trail pulled us in, Rainbow Mountain. Many of our group had been told about the fabled Rainbow Mountain descent, but no amount of excited tales could have prepared us for how much fun we had. Unlike Whakarewarewa, the descent on Rainbow must be earned. Riding from the Kerosone Creek car park on Waiopu Road (just off SH5) along the start of the Te Ara Ahi Cycle trail, it’s an easy roll to the start of the uphill only Te Tihi O Ruru trail (the summit track). This amazing trail through native bush, with views of active volcanic vents leads you on a 50 minute grunt. Despite being told by everyone that it’s near impossible to ride the whole track, I kept cranking. Eventually a rutty technical section of wet clay forces me to dab a foot; it was finally time to start pushing, and admire the surroundings. Once at the summit we were rewarded with 360 views of the surrounding mountains and lakes. The main reward however, comes once you point your bike down the Te Ranga trail.
The Te Ranga trail is an enigma; rooty, technical, tight lines, yet forgiving enough to let you get away with riding as fast as you dare. Fun and adrenaline wrapped up so neatly you can’t help but “whoop” with excitement. Halfway down, the trail changes attitude. You are met with the sublime flowing trail, with plenty of jumps and smooth berms, letting you keep your speed. A light covering of leaves adds to the rush as tyres gently slide into every corner. Pure unadulterated fun on two wheels. Once at the bottom my first thought is to head straight back to do it again. However, once you accept that you are just too exhausted to climb back to the top, it’s time to wash the fear and adrenaline off in Kerosene Creek, a natural hot pool used by locals and tourists alike.
Sitting in this hot pool at the bottom of a small water fall is a great place to loosen muscles, recount close encounters and off-the-trail mishaps, and generally just blather on with excitement about what was just ridden. For me it was also a great way to finish up an epic weekend getting loose on bikes with mates in an area that has cemented its place as one of New Zealand’s premier mountain biking destinations. So make sure you pack your togs, and who knows, you may just encounter a bus-load of handsome/beautiful Swedish tourists to share the pool with just when you thought things couldn’t get any better.
Whakarewarewa - www.redwoods.co.nz
Zippy’s Central Café - 1153 Pukuatua St, Rotorua
2W Gravity Enduro - www.2w.co.nz