Crikey !! What a ride that was, but more on the trail later. I awake at 5.10 and it’s the rain that’s caused it, literally splattering down on the roof with a consistent drumming that hums in the ears. Somewhat surprisingly I manage to drift back off until 7.15 when I wake once again and this time for good as light is creeping in through the kitchen window which has no blinds.
I lie and listen to the rain hammering down, wondering whether to move on again today or stay put in the comfort and dryness of the cabin with the added bonus off a brilliant shower next door. Eventually I summon the required energy, mental more than physical, to rise up and flick on the jug. Coffee and porridge is the mornings rations and I somberly partake whilst watching lakes form outside the window. Having emptied all my panniers last night, I reorganise and pack them to assist with balance on the bike. Lord knows I’ll need everything in my favour if I set off in this deluge. Once packed to my satisfaction I notice that the onslaught outside has eased to a steady drizzle. I reason with myself that if I were to go and take another long shower, then it may well have ceased all together by the time I get out and dried. To be honest, it’s just a combination of procrastination and ensuring that I get total value from my $40.
I come out a winner on both fronts ! Not only is the shower pure bliss once again, but as I emerge from within, lo and behold the drizzle has eased back to nothing and taken away my only real excuse for remaining put. It would be beyond optimistic to conclude that the days moisture has passed completely as the entire wide sky around me is a patchwork of very dark greys indispersed with thunderous looking shades of black. I pack the panniers onboard, strap a freshly dried Bob onto his front seat and then gaze longingly back at the warm cabin. Ordering myself to harden up, I pedal off through little rivers and lakes formed overnight down the track that leads to the Timber Trail. I’ve only sloshed my way 1km in when the light drizzle reappears and steadily increases in velocity until it’s rattling down on my helmet.
Entrance to The Timber Trail
Historic Caterpillar Tractor
To be fair the scenery is spectacular, it’s only bush and trees but what a fantastic array of plant life and so incredibly lush. If I’m this impressed today when mud, water and filth is splattering me, then I imagine it’s doubly impressive on a sunny day. Rain aside it’s a tranquil ride with the path reasonably wide and much easier to navigate than the Waikato River Trail was. Things become more dicey though as the track becomes steadily wetter and more boggier. In some of the more steeper sections, little streams trace their way down to greet me and it becomes Russian Roulette when heading through the lakes formed on the trail. I pick a line, flick the electrics up a gear and pedal like crazy which works to a point. The front wheel skews viciously from time to time and I find my heart in my mouth on several occasions. I’m constantly amazed at how far sideways my front tyre can slide without me crashing over. I pedal furiously and somehow retain balance ... in most but not all cases. Trying to cycle 1 handed whilst turning the GoPro on and off becomes a definite no no. It’s amazing how just a short distraction can lead to some incredibly tense moments and early on I learn to stop before performing these functions. Some footage I would very much like to have captured goes begging as at times it’s just a lot safer to keep on moving through difficult terrain.
The early part of the ride is pure climbing although not nearly as steep as I’d presumed it might be. There are no tight switchbacks which is an absolute blessing as these are horrendous with my load on board, even in the dry. Part way up a more serious incline, I slowly pass a couple who are pushing their (unladen I might add) bikes up. I give a polite “good morning” as I slowly slog past only to be told “that’s not cycling” in an abusive tone. I presume he is referring to my e-bike and quick to temper in this weather, I retort, “well neither is that, but I’d rather be ON my bike than pushing it, you might as well have left it at home and walked!” He has no reply and I flick the bike into a higher gear to prove my point, spraying mud backwards as I fly onwards and upwards leaving them to their tramp.
These are the only rude people I encounter all day, infact all trip thus far.. Most are polite and even complimentary that I’m attempting to cross the track fully loaded. Damn good idea says one young lady who is battling along on a road bike, going to get me one of those. The majority of people I come accross are hikers doing the entire Te Araroa walk through NZ, a few are European but in the main it seems to be Americans and Canadians, all of various ages ranging upwards to their 60s and usually alone or in pairs. All are looking sodden but upbeat and cheerful.
Video before the rain set in
Onto the bridge
The longer it pours, the more difficult cycling becomes. It’s hard to see where best to aim the front tyre for traction and I find myself constantly slipping and sliding sideways each time no less scary than the last. Amazingly I only come off once for the entire day. I hit a water filled rut at what I thought to be optimum speed, which is just a little faster than slow. This had been working for me for several hours in similar situations but on this occasion my tyre skewed away quickly and I ended up doing a sideways slide that gave Bob a snoutful of water and my leg a minor graze. Worst off were my right side panniers which instantly tumed from yellow to dark brown. They took the brunt of the slide and amazingly on inspection were not at all damaged but just filthy. Poor Bob was less than impressed with my abilities as his seatbelt hadn’t restrained him and he was unceremoniously dumped in the mud. When retrieved he was now double his original weight and I belted him on more tightly. I’m constantly surprised how many peoples actually think he’s real, several more today have exclaimed in surprise that I’d take a pet hedgehog on such a trip only to look sheepish once I’d explained.
The track is well signposted and warnings are given for steep decents ahead and other such obstacles. At every kilometre there is a post with the number marked. The magical number for me today is 35, for its where I will turn off to head to The Black Fern Lodge, my destination for the evening. As I head into the 20s my upper body is feeling it a little more than usual. Most days it’s Tane and Mahuta that do all the work, but today it takes more upper body work to keep the bike upright. I also find myself standing on the pedal a lot more today which gives me slightly more control on the downhill corners. Once again I can’t really explain how unnerving it is to slide sideways on a bike when there is a drop below you on either or both sides. I’m sure that in the dry the track would be a lot easier to negotiate, not to mention if you had no load to carry.
Just short of marker 35 I come across a large tree stump that used to be used as a dwelling for foresters many a year back. The entire track has little boards and notices with interesting facts and stories to read
The track is consistently well marked
Woohoo, I’m soaked and cold
Finally marker number 35 rolls into view and it’s fair to say I’m quite chuffed about it. If I thought my hard times were over for the day then I’m seriously misguided. The next 6 km are easily the worst of the day and somewhat akin to nitemares I faced back on the River Trail before Mangakino. I’d read some rather less than complimentary reviews on this path that came back to me now as I flailed around desperately trying to stay upright. How I managed to do so is anyone’s guess and I put half down to sheer luck and the other half to battery power. Excuse me for a minute while I get to my knees and bless the battery gods ...
I am totally convinced that the extra power and thrust that you get from the motor in these situations are the only reason I didn’t come a cropper more often. This is later confirmed by an Australian couple who had to be picked up by a 4wd trying to access the same path. They came in looking exhausted and drowned saying they just couldn’t negotiate the 6km path. After discussion we agreed that it was the traction the e-bikes power gave me, that got me through. To give you an idea, I set off at around 9 and got in just after 1pm. They set off at 10 and and were picked up 1 km into the final 6 at around 5.20pm. Excuse me one more minute while I give up an offering of a barley sugar to the battery gods ...
Start of the 6km nightmare
Some poor bastard didn’t make it
It’s a little more than a challenge to be fair ...
I’ve yet to see how the GoPro footage came out but will add it in here at a later date
Finally arriving at the office, I breathe a sigh of relief and head up the stairs to checkin, having paid the friendly lady, she then informs me I have ‘a wee way to go’. There must have been an involuntary look on my face as she quickly adds, oh it’s not nearly as bad as the ride in.
For all the difficulties one has in actually reaching the place, The Black Fern Lodge pays you back tenfold. It is an idyllic piece of land as you’d ever hope to find anywhere in New Zealand. Breathtakingly beautiful native forest with a crystal clear river winding its way through It, every corner of which is filled with regenerating trout. The Black Fern Lodge is a nature reserve and are doing their best with Docs help to regenerate the forests and rivers in the local area. Through the trapping of pests such as stoats, rats, wild cats and the like, to the relocation of fully grown eels to areas where they won’t eat the eggs of the rare blue ducks that are beginning to increase in numbers, the work being done here is having a positive effect.
An easier part of the track in (video)
Poor Bob isn’t as impressed as me
I’m given a lovely little cabin that was apparently the original workshop of a timber mill worker. It is quite amazing and very cosy. All the walls are rough sawn timber and the smell is indicative of that.
From the outside
As I arrive a party of locals is setting off to check the eel traps for the relocation efforts. I’m invited along, and being an eels fan, who am I to turn down the chance to see them in action. In just one trap they have 9 eels, some of which are almost as thick as my arm and quite a bit longer. Theee are all put into a damp sack whilst the little ones are thrown back. The larger ones are moved to an area well away from where the blue ducks are breeding.
I’m shown around the lodge, bike storage area and given directions to the waterfall and various bush walks. Again I reiterate what a wonderful set up they have here and the scenery is simply stunning in all directions. I park up my bike and use the available hose and brushes to give it a decent clean. I also hose off the panniers and watch them change back to their original luminous yellow, still not believing that there is no damage from my slide earlier today. Completing my work by lubing the chain, I decide that since I’m alredy wet, I might as well explore the area before my shower. I head off in the direction of a huge roar which a carved wooden sign indicates is the properties waterfall. While there is quite a noise eminating from ahead of me, I’m not expecting the volume of the falls that come into view. It’s spectacular and must be even more so on a fine day. High above in the forest a torrent of water cascades down to a rocky ledge where the water hits and flows over into a beautiful lake below. What an absolute treasure of a swimming pools and what a volume of water it holds. Bob and I sit for several minutes just taking it all in.
Video of Black Fern Lodges Waterfall
Bob considers a dip
From here we make our way back and down to the trout feeding area with supplied bread. I tear little pieces off and no sooner have they hit the water when there is a flash of speed and the bread disappears before you can blink. No matter in which direction I throw the bread, there are hungry trout snapping it from the surface.
Trout feeding video ... wait for it
Here also reside 2 tame eels, one of which named Charlie has been here for years. He is so tame that he comes right to shore and allows you to pat him, much to Bobs consternation.
Bob and Charlie (you’ll need to zoom to see Charlie)
Charlie coming in to shore
Having walked a couple of bush tracks the rain begins to settle back in and so I head for a well deserved shower. I’m literally covered from head to toe with mud from the ride myself. Although it seems to take around 5 full minutes for the water to eventually gain some heat, it eventually spits some out just as my arm is about to freeze off and I’m about to give up. I spend long enough in their to raise my body temperature back to normal and then head off to the huge communal area to see if anyone else has arrived. As it turns out, I’m the Lone Ranger and Bob is Tonto. The Aussies are still a few hours away and the other couple that were coming, apparently turned back after 7 or 8 km and rang to say they’d flagged it.
With little else to do, I challenge Bob to a few games of pool and whip the quills off him every time. He’s a gracious loser however and so I give him the best seat in the lodge next to the heat pump whilst I cook my pre prepared dinner. All is awaiting me in the fridge along with instructions to preheat the oven and cook on 200 for 30 mins. I manage this quite capably and am rewarded with a major feast of potato bake with cheese, an array of vegetables with cheese sauce and a need hotpot strew with crumbed topping. It’s both tasty and filling and I’m barely able to stuff in the dessert of 2 cream lamingtons. Halfway through my dinner the rescued sodden aussies arrive and join me at the table as their own meal cooks. They are in their mid 60s and have just spent 4 days cycling the bridge to nowhere track and kayaking the Wanganui river. After dinner they are bushed and head straight for bed. With little else to do on my own I likewise retire and here you find me, writing this just for you as I’ve never gone back and reread anything I’ve ever written, which quite possibly explains the multitude of grammatical and spelling errors.
Spot the bee with my incredible photographic skills
It’s now been raining non stop for hours and I fear the track tomorrow is going to be a major challenge once more. Outside my wee cabin small rivers are flowing past and I dread to think how the actual track is faring.
Video of the small rivers formed in front of my cabin.
Once again tonight I’m without the luxury of wifi or internet in general. This means that Strava and Relive for the past few days cannot be loaded until I’m back in coverage. So until then I bid you adieu and will leave you with my dinner