After a deep and peaceful sleep, I pulled the curtains back to complete darkness; I could see a glimmer of the moon, shining on the lake. I brewed a coffee and, wanting to see it again, I ventured back out to Lou’s Lookout to watch the sunrise. As I mounted the bike the temperature showed 1 degree. This was bloody arctic! I pedaled up to the lookout, still not warm, and tried to get my blood pumping up the small rises that take you in and around the lakeside. With my light on full beam, it shone the way up the frosty dirt lane. The silhouette of the tall forest stood high above, showing me just how small I was in Te Urewera’s presence. I crested the hill and was in awe of dawn’s beauty over the Panekire Bluff. The sky’s colours were insane - orange, red and pink - and made the early morning ride worth it. I sat down to take it all in; the serenity of this area is immense. Looking out over the lake whilst sipping coffee out of my flask, I couldn’t think of a better spot to be.
In these places, often further afield, time seems irrelevant. I feel like, in these remote parts, you’re taught to take on life at a slower pace. We often rush from one thing to the next in life, whatever it might be, and sometimes we forget to see the small details that lie in front of us. On this particular morning, that was my awakening; perhaps I just needed some solo time or maybe Te Urewera was speaking to me, asking me to slow down.
After watching the sun come up, I pedaled back down to the cabin and watched the frost catch the sun’s rays. Back at Waikaremoana, there’s an inlet with a few boats dotted around. I opted to have brekkie by the water; the early morning mist was evaporating from the lake, and warm porridge and strong AeroPress brews warmed me up. I strapped on my bikepacking bags and was excited for the day, and what would lie ahead.
Before I took off, I visited the Te Urewera Visitor Centre. This is a must if you’re passing through. They are always up for korero and will inform you of the area’s rich history. Erin Matariki Carr welcomed me in and brewed me a cuppa, then we sat by the wood burner and talked away. The discussion was deep and varied, and I felt like I was leaving a friend when I left. I learned several things about the land in this short history lesson, but the one that stood out the most was the fact that Te Urewera is a breathing person - it has a legal personhood - it owns itself. Tūhoe talk about it being like their mother. So, whilst you can play in her arms, you must respect what she says.
Back on the road, just a few minutes from the cabin, was a detour to Aniwaniwa Falls. The great thing about these falls, is that they are only a short gravel road and short track from the end of road. Once there, you can see the sheer mass of water that runs down the mountains and the impact it makes when it hits the bottom, creating an intense spray. The water then runs into Waikaremoana at a rate of knots. This spot was stunning and, in my opinion, I think this is why an ‘out and back’ is so good. You get to stop at the spots you missed on the way there and you get the see the landscapes that were behind you on the first day.
The bitter cold and heavily forested roads meant the light couldn’t creep into some spots under winter’s darkness. My hands were cold and double gloves (merino and wind proof) still weren’t enough. The combination of dense native forest and being so deep in the bush, made it closer to a mountain bike ride rather than road riding. Diesel fitness, rather than high-octane fitness, is needed for these long hauls. You have to be mentally prepared too, as the area doesn’t give you anything easily. Being off the grid makes me get back to the basics. Often in these modern times we are inundated with digital messages, so being only answerable to yourself for a few days feels restorative. For me, the bush also has a calming effect. It makes me play what’s in front of me now, rather than thinking about all the other stuff that needs to be done in the future. Sometimes I don’t want to return back to society but it’s needed, to make a living. We make a living to be able to return to nature - oh, the irony.
As I made my way back up the road, the sun’s rays lit up the moss trees. The trees are prehistoric and this forest is ancient. I got to the top of the Taupeupe Saddle, which is an easier climb from this side, and the layers of mountain ranges stood before me - there’s no easy way out. The area is incredible and once you’re in, it does have a grip on you. Te Urewera makes you feel different; she has a way of making you feel apprehensive, but still has a warmness to her.
This was the last of the fine chunky climbs for the second day. I was the only one out there, hours would pass before I’d see a wild horse or maybe one car. I grabbed another jacket and started the long descent back to Ruatahuna. The road switched its way around the multiple layers of the mountains. Being on a bike that could take 2.2 MTB Tyres made the downhill a helluva lot of fun. The handling and the response of the bigger tread across rough roads was supreme.
“The area is incredible and once you’re in, it does have a grip on you.”
I entered the small village of Ruatahuna, walked into the new cafe there and ordered a coffee. This new place is amazing and helps with the area’s revitalisation. It has eco lodges, and the cafe serves some mean Maori cuisine; there’s also a new Te Tii which invites manuhiri (visitors) to experience a Tuhoe way of life, to spend time in Ruatahuna and get to know Te Urewera. However, the area is still rural and a few horses were being walked up the road. A few bros came up to me and asked me about my travels; I told them my story and they told me theirs. This is what I love about these places: sharing stories.
The bike: MTB Tyres - handling and the response of the bigger tread across rough roads. Spare bottle cage, lug mounts.
The kit: The bikepacking bags, spare sleeping bag. Extra food, warm clothes. CamelBak thermos for tea/coffee. JetBoil and dehydrated meals. Energy drains in the cold so ensure you have enough layers. PLB and be prepared for being cut off. Double gloves, booties and base, jersey and two jackets.
For this web post we haven’t delved too much into the history of Te Urewera, but be sure to pick up our print edition for a longer article.
Words: Liam Friary
Photography: Cam Mackenzie
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