Follow Megan Gale as she ventures deep into Pureora Forest Park on a trail featuring ancient forest, suspension bridges and landscapes steeped in history.
Located in the heart of the North Island, Pureora Forest Park is a mix of virgin, regenerating and exotic forest hosting such unexpected scenes as ancient trees crowding out a timber-miller’s tractor abandoned in the bush. Traversing this deep wilderness is an 87-kilometre trail (part of the NZ Cycle Trail) revealing not only awe-inspiring beauty but also stories of how this special place has changed over the ages.
The Timber Trail follows the path of old logging roads and tramlines, linked and smoothed using modern trail-building techniques. It runs between the tiny settlements of Pureora and Ongarue, with similarly small Piropiro around the halfway mark. Limited road access and remoteness make a two-day, one-way ride the most rewarding approach, starting in the north at Pureora.
After an easy warm up through a precious remnant of native forest near Pureora Visitor Centre, the trail gains 350m elevation in a steady fashion up Mt Pureora before it tracks predominantly downhill across the western flanks of the Hauhungaroa Range, its gorges spanned by eight of the highest and longest suspension bridges in New Zealand.
The first day’s ride usually ends at Piropiro Flats where there’s a basic campground, cycle access to Black Fern Lodge, and shuttle pick-up point for accommodation further afield.
The second day is easier and features mixed forest, various huts and bridges, and the ghostly terminus of the Ongarue Tramway that the trail follows through cuttings and around the nationally significant ‘spiral’.
The trail ends at Ongarue where riders can be collected by pre-arranged shuttle. Fit riders may continue onward for 26km to Taumarunui along an undulating rural road.
The trail can also be ridden as a one-day ride by choosing one section only, or by taking a return trip from one of the three main access points. Hardy riders can also complete the whole trail in one day.
View trail map here.
While the Timber Trail’s predominantly wide and smooth surface classifies much of it as grade 2 (easy). Some decent climbs and trickier sections, however, push it to grade 3 (intermediate) and make it most suitable for reasonably fit, experienced cyclists with a ship-shape mountain bike, toolkit and basic mechanical skills.
Although the trail is well signposted, riders should carry a map, cellphone (although coverage is patchy) and consider hiring personal locator beacon (PLB). Riders should also take plenty of food and water; there are water supplies along the way for topping up, and toilets at convenient intervals.
The trail passes through a mountain environment with a highpoint 980m above sea level, so warm clothing and wet weather gear are essential regardless of the forecast.
Bike hire, shuttles and accommodation can be arranged with Timber Trail Shuttle in Ongarue, Epic Cycle Adventures in Taumaranui, Blue Tui in Te Awamutu, and Adventure Shuttles in Taupo. Taupo-based Tread Routes offer shuttles, hire and fully guided tours across various North Island cycle trails.
There are Department of Conservation campsites at Pureora and Piropiro. Lodging is available at Black Fern Lodge near Piropiro, Pa Harakeke at Pureora, and The Sleepout in Benneydale, and various other guesthouses in the surrounding countryside. The larger towns of Taumaranui, Te Kuiti and Taupo are all within an hour’s drive of the trail.
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