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Seven go cycling

Experienced cycle tourist Sheridan Gundry found herself up against it on a rainy, chilly day in February when it seemed all the elements were against her on a 30km trail near Lake Taupo . . .

I’m not a mountain biker. I’m not a mountain biker’s big toe. But there I was again in February on Grade 4 mountain bike tracks – having sworn black and blue in previous years my aversion to steep, rocky hills and multiple switchbacks. Apparently, they were only Grade 3.

In the past few years, I‘ve clocked up the equivalent of a return trip from North Cape to Bluff, about 4000km. Mostly, I cope fine with Grade 3 tracks. It’s the Grade 4 lookalikes that trip me up.

We had (almost) happily completed two days on the Waikato River Trails from Atiamuri to north of Arapuni, which threw in some absolute doozy rutted and rocky hill climbs and switchbacks. Followed this with an easy return trip from Cambridge to Lake Karapiro, then tackled the 30km, Waihaha to Waihora section of the Great Lake Trail in a rainy, north-west Lake Taupo just as a West Coast weather bomb shifted north. Not ideal.

The first 13km was as exhilarating as promised, following the Waihaha River high above a native bush-cloaked gorge; rocky outcrops commanding stunning views over volcanic landscape; and the spectacular Tieke Falls. We’re told one can travel up-river to them including by jet ski. Let’s not.

OK, there were tears on my behalf, a few histrionics. But despite multiple fall-offs, times wedged between bike and banks, and heavy pick-ups (this is one heavy, city electric bike), I kept going. What choice did I have? The septuagenarians were mostly loving it. And, as the sole sexagenarian, it was time I stopped crying for Mum.

One of our team, who patiently awaits a knee op, fell and battled an errant pedal. She’s a trouper. She carried on pedalling without complaint and didn’t want to stop at the 13km mark, even though we could have been shuttled out from that point. The shuttle driver had almost over-emphasised to this older mob. Nope, stoicism propelled her on and it wasn’t until she was back in G Town that a broken fibula was diagnosed. She was plastered up for six weeks.

The second half was equally scenic … until the rain intensified. With hands gripped tight to handlebars and negotiations coming thick and fast between hard volcanic rock, loose rocks, muddy ruts and drop-offs, there was little time for sightseeing. Couple that with sporadic slaps in the face from dripping overhanging branches, ponga fronds and low-lying trunks and you get the picture. On a clear day, we would’ve seen the volcanoes of Tongariro National Park and more.

Spirits bolstered after hearing younger group's news...

Ever-increasing rainfall and the fact we had a 1.30pm boat to catch back to Kinloch curtailed our usual convivial morning tea and lunch breaks. As we made the welcome and final descent alongside Kotukutuku Stream, each slippery switchback promised to be the last – but its fingers were crossed firmly behind its back. The relentless decline was almost the undoing of all of us.

Lunch was devoured at Waihora Bay by a cold and bedraggled soggy crew, thankfully under shelter. We gave up the idea of riding another 10km from Kawakawa Bay to Kinloch. Perhaps next time.

Our spirits were bolstered later that day with news that the group after us, at half our age, took so long they missed the boat.

Don’t get me wrong, most of the trails our seven-strong group have tackled have been magic. We cycle around wild country and towns we would not usually get to see. Through bush and pine forests, up mountains and down dales, beside streams and rivers, on excellent surfaces — so good, they can be boring — and absolute shockers.

We cut our teeth on the Alps to the Ocean ride and the Hauraki Rail Trail, conquered the challenges of the Remutaka Cycle trail from Petone over the Remutaka and across the rugged southern coast through Orongorongo to Eastbourne and mastered the West Coast Wilderness Trail, complete with its diversion to the strangest little place in Godzone, where the tumbleweed eerily rolls down the centre of a cowboy town; the Good, The Bad and the Ugly theme tune never leaves your brain; you don’t lock your bikes for fear of the lodge owner’s wrath; and seemingly captive pole dancers are on offer. That was no paradise.

Cycling trips are like childbirth. You quickly forget the pain. The cycling is just part of the package. It’s the laughs, the camaraderie, the meals, the discussions, the people you meet, the places you see, the challenges and the completions that make for the best of times.

We’re already planning our next trip.

CHECKING OUT THE VIEW: Otherwise known as resting. Some of the crew, from left, Mike Eriksen, Chris Somerton Tim gaddum, Bronwyn Gaddum and Janet Hercus of Wellington. All pictures by Sheridan Gundry
FEET UP: Mike Eriksen found little comfort in this resting place, specially built for photo opportunities beside the fast flowing Waikato River.
The seven: From left, Bron Gaddum, Mike Eriksen, Sheridan Gundry, Chris Somerton, Tim Gaddum, Janet Hercus and Dave Somerton.
HIGH UP: Bron and Tim Gaddum looking down to Tieke Falls, during the first part of Taupo’s Great Lake Trail.
POWERED UP: Atiamuri hydroelectric power station was the fifth of eight to be build on the Waikato River. Construction began in late 1953 and was completed in 1958, six months ahead of schedule.
HOLD YOUR BReath: Not for the faint-hearted, the 70m Mangakino Suspension Bridge sits 16m above the Waikato River.
BIRD SPOTTING: This giant tui on the Waikato River trail was crafted by Steven Clothier of Corrugated Creations.