Just in case any Moles find themselves unexpectedly in Auckland New Zealand for the weekend, it is good to know that the mountain bike capital of New Zealand is just a few hours drive south, at Rotorua.
In fact most Kiwis would probably consider it the mountain bike capital of the southern hemisphere, if not the world. That is certainly the impression I got from Amanda during a recent Tea Stop at Newlands Corner when I mentioned I was obliged to visit the Antipodes on business.
Arriving on the Saturday afternoon I was greeted by the characteristic sulphurous stink associated with the hot springs, geezers and mud pools that attracts most visitors. But that day the numbers had been swelled by the World Single Speed championships, so hotel rooms were hard to find.
There are plenty of bike hire shops in town, but on the sunny Sunday morning I travelled a few miles out of town to the Whakarewarewa Forest trails area and hired a Scott Reflex from the caravan set up by Planet Bike in the Waipa car park.
The forest is on gentle sandstone hills so in many ways has a familiar feel to anybody used to the Surrey Greensand Hills – Leith, Holmbury and Pitch – with quick drying sandy singletrack winding through forests of pine and bracken, like Coldharbour’s Summer Lightning.
There are a couple of big differences though, firstly the density of great trails all well marked out and carefully graded for difficulty, and secondly the ubiquitous Tree Ferns – which like the name suggests are ferns that grow on top of trunks 5m of more high.
Planet Bike suggested a few trails so I followed their advice with a warm up on The Dipper, a green trail which Moles would find easy but flowing. After that I upgraded to some of the red trails including A Trail, Genesis, Be Rude Not 2, and my favourite of the day Dragon’s Tail.
With my confidence boosted by some fantastic flowing single track, I climbed the fire road a few hundred meters to tackle Hot X Buns – a blue trail, which in Kiwi ratings is more difficult than red. This trail was at the edge of my comfort zone, like the bottom of BKB before it was remodelled, but it gave me a great sense of achievement to complete it.
By now I had been out for 3 hours now and in the spring sun the temperature was over 20C, so my habitual lack of steady water consumption was beginning to tell. It was time to head back to the car park with a final blast down Dragon’s Tail, and Mad to Miss It.
Luckily there was also a refreshments caravan where I stocked up on water, caffeine and calories, before heading back towards Auckland. So thanks Amanda for the tip.