Leader: Louise Sinclair
Cyclists: Louise Sinclair, Maureen McRae, Sarah & Simon Bucherer, Matt Crozier, Marlene Hiestand, Janette Lloyd, Ron & Susan Jackson, Reg Churton, Athol Berry, Erica Gilchrist, Paul Cook, Rebecca Heap, Pieter Holl
The name Taumarunui originated in the 18th century after a successful battle headed by chief Ki Maru ( “Tau-maru-nui” means “Maru the Great”, or “Maru the Conqueror“). The town is situated on the Adventure Highway (SH4) at the confluence of the Ongarue and Whanganui rivers, half way between Auckland and Wellington. Its main industries are farming, timber and more recently tourism including cycling. It proved a great place to stay for a 15 person hub tour with a large new supermarket and great choices to eat out – fairly new Indian and Thai restaurants as well as an RSA and Cosmopolitan Club. At the end of the street we had one of a number of marae in the area.
Day 1 Tuesday 20th June – Opotiki Road Loop, 55.4km with 892m recorded on day, 66% gravel
Author: Erica Gilchrist
After all scary talk re low temperatures and possible or probable fog we got off rather lightly!
Certainly the fog was around as we set off from Twin Rivers Motel at 8.30am, all well togged up, but it was relatively light and I don’t remember it after the first brief climb up to the hospital south west of town. The bonus was also that while the air was “crisp” it wasn’t deadly cold as I had feared.
Soon after the hospital we turned into Kururau Road taking us quickly downhill where the road was blocked by a large truck, two diggers and a team of workers moving a huge culvert pipe off the truck – 10 to 15 minutes of entertainment there but luckily they flagged us through as soon as they could and we were away uphill for a long steady climb of 5+km!! (the first of two).
Again the idea was scarier than reality – Louise had told us the gradient was pleasant but that much uphill is quite hard to believe as “pleasant”!! However she was right! Long certainly but the unsealed surface was as good as it could be and soon the views were really rewarding – looking back down toward Taumarunui that was shrouded in a sea of fog.
Most of us stripped off a layer at the first view point and put it back on again, well warned by Louis, at the top of the long shady descent – the top half of which was on a greasy clay surface.
Truly a great run with absolutely no traffic. And another long climb ahead but again a steady and manageable gradient.
Sparsely populated with the occasional gate, old farm buildings and stock that ran at the site of bikes, we turned into Otunui North Road aiming for #899 where a truly generous couple (Geoff and Jose Heale)whom Louise and her team had chanced to meet when scouting the ride previously had offered their wool-shed, hot water and toilet for our morning tea.
What a great stop. Jose had told Louise that she had baked us a cake but as they had family there scanning the ewes there was actually generous quantities of three cakes left for us – very delicious. A short tour of the scanning added to interest especially with both Louise and Rebecca having started their careers as farm advisers and a few ex-farmers amongst us.
Then back on the bikes and another steady climb up through a classic narrowing valley with beautiful scenery and no traffic and a great road surface. Facing another long run downhill we were warned to look out for and stop at the “skis” – mysterious but very obvious once spotted and a great team photo resulted. This property was recently sold so maybe the skis won’t be there next time.
I keep repeating myself “another great downhill” – not to appear too obsessed with them but that fantastic feeling of freedom and lucky to be alive and able to be out there really comes to the fore on an unsealed, good surface, no traffic back road downhill!
We started to see evidence of logging near the bottom and fortunately only the last three down had encountered a logging truck which had passed the rest of us already getting our lunches out in a sunny side road intersection.
Now just a short distance and then a left turn onto SH4 which felt a bit counterintuitive until we turned right again into Okahukura Bridge road, crossed the river and rode back to Taumarunui via Ongarue Back road adjacent to the rail line.
Home by about 3pm I think for a laze about before we all enjoyed dinner at ‘Jasmin’s Thai’ only a short walk away. My overall memories of the day were great weather, beautiful bush, good road surface, long downhills, last up all hills and of course great company. A ride worth repeating.
Day 2 Wednesday 21st June 2023 – Kakahi/Owhango/Hikumutu Loop 56.6km with 612m ascent, 41% gravel
Author : Sarah Ley-Bucherer
Our second day dawned foggy and bitter, much like the day before. It was difficult to leave the comfort of our lodgings and put on shoes dressed like some Michelin man with every article of warm clothing on. A very quick couple of photos as Louise gave the day’s riding details to the group then we were away promptly at 8:30am.
It was wonderful to see blue sky peeping through the mist very soon after we left the lowlands and river. Soon we came across an unusual site requiring a team photo.
And in no time we entered the suburb of Manunui around 6k East from the centre of town. Quite a mixture of old colonial houses with much newer builds lined our route. Soon we came across the community garden stall outside their hall with 2 very friendly women in attendance. They were intrigued by the 15 brightly clad cyclists who suddenly arrived. There was some wonderful produce on sale. This stall runs weekly for the locals and the gardens are very productive both summer and winter.
Whilst it was good fun chatting, we thought it time to move on. Soon we found an interesting depiction of the past in a field as we rode past – the horses looked too shiny to be real. A peep of the main trunk line was also interesting to view from above with old totara fencing rails beside the road.
Our next section of the ride entailed some riding on the busy SH4, with in some places, not much of a shoulder or old concrete barriers that were obviously not cycle friendly. So we split into 3 groups of 5 until we reached Kakahi which was 4k off this busy road. This little place is outstanding for the shop keeper and owner Manu Lala who has lived most of his life in this little part of the King Country. At 81 years old, he seemed in remarkable health and was very welcoming to our group. What a treasure trove he has in that shop, quite a few items not for sale but merely historic pieces.
To get more of a feel for the place, we did a ride around the block and stopped for a photo beside the very brightly painted Kakahi school where Maureen found a newly skinned deer hide. She decided to add this to our photo.
Although we had a snack or two here, we were warned we needed to save space for our morning tea stop, the lemonade scones in Owhango.
As we continued our ride there were many of us wondering what must Manu’s home be like as a self-confessed hoarder (3 bedrooms and a basement full of stuff). One can hope that in the future, someone will see the benefit of turning these treasures into a museum.
We were enjoying the sun very much but there were only small tables outside at the Blue Hills Café. They had very kindly set up a large reserved table inside. Anyway it was time to peel off our many layers and prepare for our next leg of the journey. The lemonade scones were certainly epic, the coffee was good and plenty of choices for other foods. Being lunch time some had toasted sandwiches.
Then we crossed SH4 again and headed away into the beautiful back country along Hikumutu Rd heading back towards Taumarunui with views of the Whanganui river.
This is a beautiful ride along a very scenic valley – gravel but a very good surface. Most of us stopped for lunch at a super community place with a flush loo especially built for locals, cyclists and walkers on the TA trail. Leaving there we came across a very curious ostrich which we had heard about from Louise. All in all another wonderful day on the bike.
Day Three – Thursday 22nd June – Ongarue/Ngakonui Loop 67.6km with 669m ascent, 42% gravel
Author: Maureen McRae
Ongarue/NgWe started off out into light rain which holds off for most of the day. Very mild temperatures so we have been super lucky so far, you would hardly realise it is supposed to be winter. Off out of town detouring around a few back streets discovering new parts of Taumaranui which most of us wouldn’t have known were there, many thanks to Louise and her meticulous organising. Then out onto the Old Ongarue Road making our way out to Ongarue village, where we rode down the main street to read the information boards before turning around and heading on out to Bennett Road car park being the end of the Timber Trail Konui Loop 67.6km with 669m ascent, 42% gravel
They have upgraded the facilities here and we arrived just before a light shower. Morning tea was enjoyed in the kitchen shed, along with chocolates which Peter handed out. We parked our bikes in the new shelter and were able to use the flash new flushing toilets, which are a big improvement on the long drop. From here it is onwards and upwards on Ngakonui-Ongarue road. Pretty much having the road to ourselves, but still being mindful it is a public road all the same, where the odd vehicle can appear when you least expect it. A bit more climbing up to the beginning of Mangakahu Valley Road which was soon all forgotten about on the long run downhill when we were back onto the tarseal. Flew past some of the Māori trust farms before soon arriving at Ngakonui School.
Here we were lucky enough to be able to take shelter on their front deck. By this time a cold wind has picked up. Easy ride back into Taumaranui with a good strong tail wind. Louise leads the group up and around the top of the hill on East, West and South Street where there are some lovely old homesteads. Then down The Incline Road, under the railway line and back to town. Dinner tonight was bringing your own food to the cottage where Rebecca supplied homemade waffles and icecream afterwards. (She came well prepared with her own waffle maker). Our last night together was a nice social evening enjoyed by all.
Day Four. Friday 23rd June. 40km
Author: Maureen McRae
We drove 45 minutes out to Waimiha Sports Club where we parked our vehicles. Becoming a smaller group with a few more people heading off home.
Off out the gate heading up Ongarue Stream Road riding past The Forge which is a very classy woolshed converted accommodation which was updated five years ago now with rooms including their own ensuites. Then just around the corner and down a steep driveway to our morning tea destination being The Black Fern Lodge, where Rachael had tea, coffee and savouries awaiting us.
What a beautiful luxurious retreat. A short walk up to the water fall which had received a heavy deluge of rain the day prior followed by a walk down to feed the trout.
Unfortunately, there were no Whio (Blue Ducks) to be seen. A few people had their bikes carted up the hill while the rest of us enjoyed peddling up the forest track. We will be some of the last to be using this short cut as the pines are about to be harvested shortly leaving Black Fern in a bit of a predicament re access onto the Timber Trail.
We rode up to The Timber Trail Lodge where we were fortunate to be allowed to eat our lunch out on their deck. They are presently building a conference room to add to their already very impressive facilities of which is all totally off grid.
Then out the gate across a road and though the Piropiro DOC campsite to find out way onto Koromiko gravel road which eventually lead us down a wonderful downhill. From here we could see the massive change in landscape where the pines have already been fallen. A quick stop to look back in time at Endean’s Mill.