Taupo – Wellington

18 04 2011

The day started at a brisk 10 degrees. It took me twenty minutes of concentration to summon the will power to leave the warm doona and face the day. I didn’t really have a plan for what I was going to do although I had already booked a second nights accommodation at Taupo so I was planning on staying.

I have heard many good things about the trails at Taupo. The ‘craters of the moon’ is apparently the spot to go to and so I packed my little wagon and headed off to find said trails. Somehow I had completely missed them when I was last in Taupo and the looks on peoples faces when I said I had been to Taupo but hadn’t ridden the trails was enough to fill me with vigour to actually make it happen this time.

Arriving at the carpark, it was raining and the wind was starting to pick up. I bought my trail map and then put on lots of warm stuff including my Gortex Jacket which was my saviour as the rain only intensified.

There is something about NZ soil which just makes every corner into a test to see just how hard you can rail it. Absolute hero dirt. I would deliberately come into corners and lay the bike over at ridiculous angles – enough that in Australia it would see you with a face full of dirt as the front wheel washed out, and you would just rail your way through the turn and think you hadn’t really pushed hard enough. It was grin inducing.

The lower trails at ‘craters of the moon’ reminded me of a wider version of Sparrow Hill. All the climbing was gentle, there were no nasty surprises, the trail meandered through a pine forest and the corners were nicely bermed. It was a great way to warm the legs up before I started to pick my way further up the hill.

The higher up the hill you ventured, the more ‘difficult’ the trail ratings and the more fun was on offer. I think I rode 75% of the trails and it was insanely fun. There were  lumps and corners and tree roots and all manner of things to play with. I ended up riding for 4 hours in the freezing cold (I lost all feeling in my toes) and started to bonk at the furthers possible point from the carpark (why is it that you never bonk 0.5k’s from home?). I shovelled the last of my food in and made a B-line for the carpark, which meant negotiating untold kilometres of winding single track with no real idea where I was.

Overall, I think I liked ‘craters of the moon’ at least as much as I liked Rotorua. There weren’t the same never ending descents that come with Rotorua however there also wasn’t the same brutal fire road grinding climbs to get to it. The climbs at ‘craters of the moon’ were all single track and I was even overjoyed to see switchbacks after all that fireroads I had suffered up the day before.

When I finally found the carpark again, I found a hose, washed down my bike, put on some warm clothes and headed straight back to the caravan park for a hot shower.

**There ends anything riding related in this story. The next bit is the insane drive that followed. For all those who view this blog for riding content – tune out now**

After the hot shower, I Grabbed some food, bought some lock on grips (who the hell thought foamies in New Zealand weather was a good idea) and then decided to head for Wellington. There is a Mountain bike park there with a good reputation and the trail maps looked interesting so I thought I would give it a go.

The wind was now really howling and combined with the bumpy single lane roads, it was a real handful to keep Lucy on the blacktop. Every gust of wind would send the van skittling across the road (mostly due to the big canopy ontop combined with the vans relatively light weight) and it actually became quite daunting. Switch off for a split second to admire the view and you were hitting the rumble strips with your heart in your mouth. At least it wasn’t raining.

As I started to climb up onto the plateau, the rain started. Lightly at first but enough to make you have to concentrate even harder through the streaky windscreen. There was plenty of things to gape at however,; snow capped volcanoes, amazing valleys and grand lake views and while it was sketchy, at least the road was pretty straight.

As we reached the top of the plateau, the road seemed to concertina into a series of death bends. On the New Zealand number 1 highway, there were corners with advisory signs of 25kph.  It seems I had also found the vehicle that corresponded to those normally pessimistic road signs. Every time I would look at the speedo and think “oooh, I’ve over cooked this one” I would be doing 30 kph and nervously chuckle to myself that this vans chassis dynamics were the benchmark which below all other cars were deemed un-roadworthy. At least visibility was reasonable, even through the rain smeared screen.

The road kept climbing and soon enough I was in the clouds. Visibility now dropped to less than 100 meters and looking across the tundra it was a chilling experience to see the sunlight filtering through the streaming clouds over a wind swept wasteland. Thank god it wasn’t snowing.

Yes, you guessed it, the next corner saw the first tell tale drifts of snow. Sleet was now pelting the windscreen and the slippery conditions just got a whole lot more skatey. To be honest, I hadn’t given a second thought to the conditions when I left Taupo, I had just googled the route and decided that 4 hours 50 minutes sounded manageable with a 2 pm departure and set to it. Now I was scuttling my way across a frozen wasteland, barely able to see where I was going and no clue what lay ahead. At least things couldn’t get much worse than this. I’ll be the first to admit that I am a total noob when it comes to driving in the snow and didn’t quite know what to expect however I was certain this wouldn’t have been my weapon of choice to attempt it for the first time.

I just had to think it didn’t I. The very next sign I encountered stated “Military training area: Live fire and ordinance may explode on either side of the road”. Well, that just takes the cake. Only NZ would route their main highway through the middle of a live fire range. To recap, it was blowing at least 50-60 kph winds, visibility was 100m, it was raining/sleeting, snow lined the roads and I was in a shooting gallery – outstanding!

After several lifetimes, the road started to descend and before I knew it, I was out of the clouds and amongst some of the most spectacular rolling hills I have ever seen. The sun would break through at regular intervals and light up the most amazing panoramas and I would smile to myself as I fought to keep my little van on the road.

The next 3 hours were more of the same eventually I was in the outskirts of Wellington. I knew I was headed for a caravan park in Lower Hut but I overshot the motorway exit and wasted the best part of 40 minutes correcting my mistake. Trying to navigate, control a runaway campervan and watch the ever depleting fuel gauge was starting to give me the nervous jitters. Several more wrong turns and I finally stumbled upon the van park in no small part thanks to the cue sheet I had downloaded from google maps several hours earlier.

Now I sit in the van, try to unwind, contemplate food and sway gently as the Gale force winds try to topple my dear Lucy. It is decidedly freezing at the moment and the prospect of  tomorrows ride in the howling wind doesn’t fill me with delight however I am here and so are the trails and there is only one way we will be introduced.

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