We arrived at the start of the trail around 3:30pm, so it was a late start with lofty goals. Realistically, we didn’t actually start until 4pm. Georgia Petrie decided to join me on this trip; she’s the designer of this journal. We dove straight into the native forest and onto windy sections of single track. Straight away, there’s a long climb up on this entry to the trail – it’s around 11km and to be honest it felt longer than expected. Along the way we stopped in certain spots to take in the tall, thick podocarp trees and the untouched native forest.
After this, we finally ascended Mt Pureora (982m) and flowed straight into fast, bumpy, technical single-track sections. The drop bar bikes made the trail feel really fun – it wasn’t always easy to ride with no suspension, but it asked you to concentrate and pick good riding lines. I pushed the pace and Georgia followed my wheel closely - we were both hooting and hollering as we whizzed down the trail.
The night started to creep in and the track opened up a little but didn’t relent, with constant ups and downs across mixed surfaces. Georgia and I kept hustling our adventure bikes through the tight switchbacks. The light was fading and as the day had been so clear, we were greeted with a stunning afterglow. Of course, the back of my mind was slightly worried about the situation we’d found ourselves in and, like most minds, it thought about all the negative outcomes. But, I had to put those thoughts to one side and continue on with a positive outlook. As mentioned, the lessons and learnings are always there in these types of trips.
We made the turn off to Black Fern Lodge, which sits 6km off the Timber Trail, at the 35km mark and then all of a sudden I came a cropper. The fatigue and fading light got the better of me. At around 8:30pm, we went across an old bridge and found our mate Mark from Black Fern Lodge with his 4WD. We couldn’t believe we’d made it - it had been touch and go at some points. Turning the last corner, we found our haven for the evening. The Lodge was all lit up – a nest in, quite literally, the middle of nowhere. Mark’s wife, Rachel, greeted us and showed us around the place - our food was already prepared and waiting in the oven, so after a shower we cracked a beer and enjoyed some delicious homemade tucker. Dinner was a lamb pie, vegetables and potatoes topped off with a Tiramisu dessert, which was all delicious.
We got ready to roll out for our second day; Mark offered to drop us off at the top of the hill in a 4WD Shuttle Truck and we took up his offer – I was still stuffed full of brekkie! We meandered onto the trail and stopped in multiple locations. One place was the newly constructed Timber Trail Lodge, which was built just over two years ago. A cuppa’ and a biscuit were served just as we walked in the door and I thought to myself, ‘this ride might take a while?!’
As with the first day, there were plenty more bridge crossings. After one of them in particular, we got down to the river and splashed water on our faces, under the bush canopy. We sat on the rocks and snacked on lunch. A delicious wrap, homemade granola bar, nuts and raisins, and even a few jet planes, added up to what was probably the best backcountry lunch ever – there’s something about eating food in the middle of the wilderness that makes it taste so damn good.
We headed off on our way again, with around 30km to go. There were few a final pinches on our way, before the long descent of 20km into Ongarue. We hit the 65km mark and started to descend; in parts it was fast and sketchy. We popped out onto a gravel road – civilisation! The trail then meandered around a deer farm and frankly it felt a little disconnected at this point. I suppose it’s a means to an end, but it just becomes more of transfer ride from the end of the trail to Ongarue and I would’ve like to end it on more of a high.
We drove back to Black Fern Lodge and as we parked up, Rachel said, “I’ll do a roast dinner and we’ll join yas, if that’s alright” - to which I keenly replied, “of course – that sounds bloody brilliant!” What an excellent way to end our journey! We all sat around the table in the wooden lodge - which was once their uncle’s garage - and ate and yarned the night away.
Having time on our side, we slowly packed up, ate some delicious muesli and were shown around the property by Mark. There’s plenty to see - they even have trout and their own waterfall. There’s a few more gravel and forestry roads that come in and out of the Lodge, and my mind was already thinking about the next adventure around the region. That’s the beauty about these trips: whilst they take time with planning and time away, and are hard, with tough riding every time, you come away completely satisfied. The more you do them the more lessons you learn. And, as you gain knowledge and learn from your mistakes, the urge to do more of them becomes greater. They will never be faultless, you’ll be tested again and again, but that’s the draw card: to resolve and keep on going.
Words: Liam Friary
Images: Cameron Mackenzie