Timber Trail and The Forgotten World Highway

I’m slowly working my way across the middle of the north island from the east coast over to the west. Taupo was roughly the halfway point and the next part had two routes that sounded really interesting. The first was the timber trail which I had heard was a must do and the second was called the Forgotten World Highway which just sounded fascinating. These two routes would lead me along to a city called New Plymouth where I’m currently taking a few days off and having a bit of an explore. Below is New Plymouth with snow capped Mount Taranaki in the distance.

I had a few days in Taupo where unfortunately the weather wasn’t great so I didn’t get a chance to do the Tongariro Crossing which was a shame but not the end of the world, I’ll just have to get myself back there at some point to give it a go. After a bit of a break it was nice to get back on the bike and start moving again. My first day ended up being about 75km up to the start of the Timber trail. Most of the day was on nice roads which weren’t too busy and went through some nice scenery. It was a bit windy but the sun was out so not all bad. I did get a bit of a surprise as the last 20km or so were on a gravel (sorry metal…nope I still don’t get it either) road which in places was quite steep but it was a beautiful route (below) and really quiet so it worked out well. One other advantage of taking this route was I got to test out some new tyres I had fitted in Taupo, exciting stuff I’m sure you’ll agree. The ones I had been using from the start were doing well but occasionally when the going was tough on slippery roads or gravel they struggled and I was told the timber trail in particular could be slippery so I decided to get some new ones with a bit more grip. It was a new set of tyres or a skydive….I went for the more exciting choice obviously!

I eventually reached a place called Pureora which was the beginning of the trail and there was nice campsite so I stopped there for the night so I had a full day to tackle the trail. It was a DOC campsite so was super cheap, had basic facilities and water which was good. When I got there I had the whole place to myself but not long after I arrived a group of 5 Canadians turned up who were doing the Te Araroa route, walking from the top to the bottom of New Zealand. I ended up meeting a few people doing this trip while I was doing the timber trail, I felt like I was cheating a bit with my bike, they were all really cool and it was interesting to hear how they had been getting on. In the morning I woke up to rain but it wasn’t very heavy so I got packed up and headed to the start of the trail which was only about 500m or so away. It had rained most the night and the previous week had been very wet so I was expecting a bit of mud but my days, it turned out to be properly muddy!

The timber trail is 84km long and is a single dirt track right through a forest, guess that’s the link to timber…funny that! I set off and was loving it despite the rain picking up a bit, zooming through the trees was brilliant and I had to keep reminding myself that I was on a touring bike not a mountain bike. I kept getting too close to the trees forgetting my panniers were sticking out, more than once I had to take avoiding action to miss the various solid objects at the side of trail! For the first 8km or so it was pretty flat but I eventually reached the first hill which turned out to be the biggest of the day. I got to the top ok but it was a bit of a slog in the mud and there were a few massive puddles. One in particular was a deceptive bugga and nearly swallowed my whole front wheel as I plunged into it. I nearly went straight over the handlebars I stopped so quickly. I pulled Daisy out and had mud above the brake disc, shit that was a deep one. I carried on until I found small stream where I managed to wash most of the mud off, it had got into the calliper and on the disc so was making an awful noise. Also rather unsurprisingly it made the front brake as good as useless, not great but fortunately after a bit of a clean it was all good so I continued down the other side of the hill.

It was a really cool route but in these conditions on my bike it was tough going, I lost count of how many times I fell off and a few occasions I had to walk the bike up the hills. It was really muddy! I’m not sure I’ve said that enough…it was really muddy just to be sure that’s coming across. The rain didn’t stop until the last hour of the route so I got well and truly soaked so after 3 hours or so I decided to stop, there are 4 shelters along the route and this was the first one I came across so I ducted in and cooked up some noodles to try and warm myself up a bit. Now I know all instant noodles are pretty rubbish but the ones I had on this occasion were particulate shite. They had been amazingly cheap so I should have known better but still! According to the awful packaging they were chicken flavour, you could have fooled me! I poured one pack in my pan but hardly anything came out so I cooked up three in the end. Despite being rubbish it did warm me up and I had a healthy apple to offset my rubbish noodles. I cracked on and after a couple more hours I reached the half way point which was another campsite, it was only 1 o clock and I wasn’t ready to stop so decided to keep going. The afternoon ended up being even tougher, not because the route was particularly hard but I was getting tired and a bit fed up with the rain. I was also cold and everything was damp, at one point I stopped and shouted to the sky to tell the rain to sod off…amazingly it made no difference at all but for some reason I felt the need to have a bit of a moan.

After a little grumble I eventually pulled myself together, cheered up and kept going. One really cool thing about this route was there were 4 big wooden suspension bridges to cross, they gave you a great view to the valleys below and were fun to cross as they wobbled around as you went over them. They all had netting along the edges to stop people disappearing to a untimely ending below and on one occasion I lost my balance and caught it with one of my bags, again stopping pretty quickly and getting a bit of a shock as I bounced into the edge, long way down in a couple of places let me tell you! The last part of the trail ran along a path which used to be a railway. It went through the forest, past high walls of rock and around an old section called the Ongarue Spiral which was fun. The path went in a spiral (shock horror) and back underneath itself through an old tunnel, it was all cut into the rock and must have been a serious challenge when they built it. It was on this spiral I heard a noise from the back of my bike, at first I ignored it as it was raining and I didn’t want to stop but I eventually thought I should and found a tree which gave me a bit of shelter. I had a look and found my pannier rack was loose again but this time it was a different bolt and it had completely dissapeared meaning one side had come loose, not great! I stood there scratching my head for a minute wondering how to fix it when I remembered I had put some spare bolts in my toolkit. I know, I was a little impressed with myself as well! After I dug them out I had it sorted in no time. I’d checked all the bolts were tight in Taupo so it was a bit of a surprise they had come loose but I guess it was a pretty bumpy route! No matter I was back on my way and not long after that got to the end of the trail, the sun even came out for 5 minutes, I nearly cried with joy!

I reached the end and was pretty pleased to do the whole route in a day, I hadn’t really intended to so it was a cool little achievement. I looked for somewhere to camp at the end of the route but didn’t have much luck so I continued into the first town I could see on the map as it wasn’t far up the road. I talked to the only person I came across in the whole place and he showed me somewhere I could put my tent up which was very nice of him. He also let me use the hose at his place to have a bit of a wash off and gave me a free can of coke which was pretty cool! I camped on a patch of grass at the side of the road which was about 6 meters from a railway, I got there at about 6 and fell asleep a few hours later and no trains had gone past so I’d assumed it was a line that wasn’t used any more. I have no idea what time it was but in the night my theory of a quiet railway disappeared when a huge freight train went screaming past! It was so loud and frightened the life out of me, I thought I was being run over and I remember thinking shit have I pitched my tent on the track! It happened three more times in the night but the first time gave me the biggest shock!

The next day the rain had gone and sun was back! Happy Days! I had a pretty relaxed day cycling into the next town which was called Taumarunui (It’s a dyslexics nightmare here, people ask where I’ve been and I have to show them on a map as I keep saying everywhere wrong!) where I stocked up on food. The only hiccup was a puncture but that was sorted pretty quickly. Taumarunui was the start of the Forgotten World Highway and my plan was to take about three days to get to New Plymouth. As there wasn’t any shops along the route I got what I needed and got to a lovely little free campsite about 20km out of town. It was next to the river, not very busy and very relaxing. I was lying in my tent that evening reading with just the sound of the river next to me when a dog started barking somewhere up in the hills, no big deal but it did keep doing it for a while, I just ignored it and carried on reading. Suddenly out of nowhere a man shouted at the top of his voice “SHUT UP!” which echoed around the valley, the dog stopped but 5 minutes later he started barking again which resulted in another shout from the man. This carried on for about half an hour until eventually they both stopped it was all quiet again but every time they barked or shouted it made me laugh.

The Forgotten Highway turned out to be an amazing road, it was quite hilly but the views were stunning. There was a number of saddles which I quickly learnt was code for big hill. Fortunately they were never very steep and at the top you got some amazing views of the valleys all around so it was certainly worth it. My favourite was Tahore Saddle which had this amazing view at the top and a road that followed the ridge for a few kilometres. I stopped for a least half an hour at this one and just took it all in! About half way along the highway was the Tangarakau Gorge, it was a gravel road through it which was about 20km long and was all still covered in forest. Apparently this is what the whole road used to be like before it was cleared to make way for farming land. I stopped for lunch in this gorge at a little table at the side of the road. I had another classic noodle dish but just as I was clearing away an Australian couple arrived who were driving around New Zealand, they had a feast with them and very kindly said if I wanted to join I could. It was epic, lovely rolls with ham, tomatoes and cucumber. They also gave me a cola to wash it down with! Amazing!

I stopped for the night in the town of Whangamomona (another cracking name!) which is an interesting little place. It was a funny town with a pub, a few houses, a campsite and it’s also a republic. Apparently it had become a republic about 27 years ago when it turned out they were on boarder for two districts meaning they were paying two lots of taxes and it sort of carried on from there. You can get your own Whangamomona passport or if you’d rather you can get your normal passport stamped as you pass through. Another interesting thing I heard was they have a president which they elect every few years, apparently it was once Billy Gumboot the Goat (yep really) and another time it was Tai the poodle who apparently retired due to a failed assassination attempt, yeh I know, bonkers! It’s written on Wikipedia so obviously it must be true! A brilliantly random place I think you’ll agree! Turns out it’s not only America who elects interesting presidents after all! I had a beer at the pub in the evening and met some of the locals who were all very friendly, one even said he knew Phil Colins! I didn’t ask for proof of this but he was very convincing so I must have been true!

The final day on the Forgotten highway was another beautiful day, the sun was out and there wasn’t too much wind around. I carried on  for about 20km before turning off the main highway to take a cross country route. It avoided the last straight road from Stratford to New Plymouth and was even quieter than the main highway which was a bonus. The first part was all gravel and sand, a bit slippery in places but with views like the one above it was no worries at all! Along this section I only saw two people, one was hurding sheep and the other was an old man on a quad bike, I waved and all he did was shout at me “have a great day” and flew past me in the other direction which made me chuckle! I followed the route into New Plymouth and then got onto the coastal pathway which was really nice and took me across a bridge which gave me a great view of Mount Taranaki. I’d love to take credit for the idea of framing of the mountain in the bridge arch but an old man who was stood nearby told me about doing it, Im pretty sure I’m not the first person he’s told about doing it either. To be fair it did make a cool picture!

I’m in New Plymouth for a few days and I’m staying with Pamela and her husband Ken who are the relatives of some good friends back in England. They have been amazing and really welcoming. I’ve been shown a local art peice called the wind wand, had a look at the view from the top of a hill called Paritutu and Ken very kindly lent me one of his motorbikes so we went for a blast to the bottom of mount Taranaki. Hopefully I’ll get back at some point to maybe climb that too. After a bit of a break here I’m going to continue down to Palmaston North where I’m hoping to catch up with a friend from university and from there I’ll work my way down to Wellington!

Here’s a few other pictures from the last few days exploring.


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