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October 2, 2008

Rotorua

Filed under: MTB Travel, New Zealand, New Zealand MTB, Travel — anotherheader @ 4:17 am

Hot pools at the Polynesian Spa looking out over Rotorua Lake

Hot pools at the Polynesian Spa looking out over Rotorua Lake

Thursday arrived with Dave’s most dreaded part of the journey—the arrival of the campervan. It was not so much that it was a campervan. The problem was the location of the steering wheel (on the left). We had already scared the shit out of ourselves the last couple of days riding around the virtually bike lane free, urban Auckland where the cars where doing exactly the opposite from what you expected. How was it going to be in the faster pace of a campervan?

Croquet in front of a Rotorua museum.

Croquet in front of a Rotorua museum.

Clearly we survived (so far). The adjustment was pretty quick. The bike rides around Auckland may have helped. There seems to be a side effect, though. Seems that Dave wants to shave with his left hand now. If we stay here much longer, he might be writing with his left hand also!

We left Auckland on Thursday morning and headed to Rotorua in the central volcanic plateau of the North Island. We thought that we might do some black water rafting and see some glow worms or raft the Kaituna River with it’s 7 meter high water fall along with mountain biking at Whakarewarewa Redwood Forest (known as “The Forest” to Dave and Becky, unless they had a little too much wine). Well, once we started riding The Forest, the other options seem to fade away. Much more about riding The Forest later, first we will give you a bit about Rotorua and non-bike things.

Extreme street crossing, American style.  Note that Becky is looking in the direction that the traffic is NOT coming from!

Extreme street crossing, American style. Note that Becky is looking in the direction that the traffic is NOT coming from!

Rotorua has roughly 70 odd thousand people. In and about the town are numerous geothermal features that leave the air with a hint of sulfur (or more than a hint, depending on which direction the wind is blowing). The town itself has a vaguely Western US feel to it (actually, Western Canadian is more accurate, given the British influence). Behind the façade, the town is vibrant with an art scene, good restaurants, and nightclubs. We ate and drank well. In case you get here, a couple of restaurant recommendations: Relish and The Fat Dog. Both restaurants put a creative spin on old favorites and serve up hearty fare in big portions. The New Zealand red wines we’ve had are great table wines that match the food well. They are also good bargains, but you do have to get past the screw cap thingy. Steals a little of the romance of having the wait staff pop the cork at the table.

The campervan that we didn't rent!  If this doesn't say "Pull me over" nothing does!

The campervan that we didn't rent. If that doesn't say "Pull me over!", nothing does!

Aside from eating and riding, we did manage a couple of activities including visiting the geothermal pools at Hell’s Gate and a trip to the Polynesian Spa that features multiple hot pools filled with natural hot spring water with slightly different temperatures and views of Rotorua Lake (see the pictures).

The riding:

“The Forest” is located a short pedal from our campground (not an accident!). Take Long Mile Road off of Tarawera Rd in Rotorua. It is similar to the Demo in that it is used to produce timber (there is a native redwood tree that grows there that is related to the Giant Sequoias). The local MTBing club made many of the trails in The Forest. There also seems to be a number of renegade trail building activities going on that they seem to be trying to work to bring under control. The trails were basically single use (MTB only) and were usually labeled as single direction. The only speed limits were on the fireroads.

Casa de Dave and Becky at the Redwood Holiday Park in Rotorua.  Conveniently located near the trails.

Casa de Dave and Becky at the Redwood Holiday Park in Rotorua. Conveniently located near the trails.

The first day we rode we did so without a map. We climbed up Nursery Road and found Grinder. Grinder is marked as a Grade 4 trail (trails are marked from Grade 1 to 6 with 6 being the hardest; we didn’t find a huge difference between trails labeled as Grade 2 through 4. The Grade 5 trail we did was at our upper limits.). We dropped Grinder, which is a fun swoopy mostly down hill trail with some log overs/log drops. Very fun and it, and many of the other trails at the forest, reminded us of the Magic Carpet trail complex at UC. We worked our way over to Pig Track (an uphill grunt on an old skid road), A Trail, Tickler, and then to B Rude Not 2. A Trail, Tickler, and B Rude Not 2 were deep and dark under the semi tropical forest canopy. They are similar natured trails with fast flow and well-constructed banked turns and occasional log overs. Tickler has an optional line in the middle that is basically a 20 ft drop in the middle. The drop has a perfectly shaped and well-maintained entrance and transition at the bottom. It also goes pretty much vertical a few feet down, a dirt mimic of the shape of a vert ramp. B Rude Not 2 is a flowy local favorite that features a fast section where you flick your bike back and forth to avoid the trees alongside the trail.

Becky on Pondy Trail

Becky on Pondy Trail

On the second day, this time with a map and suggestions from the LBS (directly across the street from our campground), we headed over to ride Pondy Trail. This trail starts with the Nursery Rd climb. As Nursery Rd rolls over the hill we took the optional trail, Mad If You Don’t and then headed over to 8 Mile Rd (sealed) for a long gently sloped road climb on a traffic free road (truck traffic earlier in the day). When we reached String Rd we took the left for a short grunt up the hill to Pondy. Pondy starts off on an old grown in skid road and then reaches a newly constructed singletrack. At this point, you learn how it must feel to be in a Hot Wheels car going down a track—super smooth, 30” wide track with ideally shaped banked turns. At the end of Pondy, we had, as the locals say, Chinese Dinner. Chinese Dinner is a combination of trails including Chop Suey, Spring Roll, and Sweet and Sour. These trails have the general character of Pondy though not as smooth and out of the canopy. We connected to Be Rude Not 2 and Pig Track and finished on Exit Trail—a nice alternative to the dirt road route we took last time.

The top of Hot X Bun (Hot Cross Bun)

The top of Hot X Bun (Hot Cross Bun)

At the end of the ride it was hard to see under the canopy and the end of the day. We were pretty hungry so we headed to dinner. We thought about Chinese food, but we just had Chinese Dinner and we were still hungry.

The campervan on the inside

The campervan on the inside

Day three took us to Hot X Buns (Hot Cross Buns). To get there, we took Nursery Rd, to Red Tank Rd past, you guessed it, the red tank, to Direct Rd. Direct Rd took us directly up the hill in a 500 ft grunt to the top of HXB. HXB is a steepish trail largely on an old skid road. The character was very similar to the rerouted steep sections on Gary’s Shortcut at EcdM. The trail was a blast, but it was over much too fast. We connected Be Rude Not 2 to a walking trail that went straight up the hill—we missed our intended trail—to Katore Rd. We climbed Katore Rd and dropped the upper portion of Gunna Gotta (Grade 4, similar to the other trails under the forest canopy but steeper this time with more North Shore style build ups). We came to a sign that said “To Do That Again” or “Exit”. We decided to head back up and this time decided to drop North Face (Grade 5). There are multiple line options in this area. We chose the harder/slower options when presented. The route we followed was very steep and rutted and relatively feral w/o a lot of riding traffic. It reminded both of us of the old days at Skegg’s—but behind the saddle just hoping to ride it out in the big ass rut that is the trail. The feral and steep nature also reminded Dave of Pemberton. This trail is definitely a serious puck worth the effort of a visit. We finished with a little dirt road followed by Exit Trail with some different braids from last time.

All of the rides were in the 2 to 3.5 hr range.

We had a blast with these trails. If you make to the area, be sure you check them out.

Pictures:  http://picasaweb.google.com/brainbucketster/Rotorua#

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