Adventure - - Riding Vegas -

It was 11:30 in the morn­ing; I’d fin­ished my last job for the week. It’s only Tues­day and with less than two hours to catch the Pic­ton Ferry to Welling­ton I was act­ing like a mad­man pos­sessed. Things were thrown into the garage from the back of the ute at break­neck speeds, only to slow tem­po­rar­ily as I placed my new Mt bike down gen­tly in the back. Lob­bing two boxes of rid­ing gear, a cou­ple of pairs of undies and my tooth­brush into the cab, I turned on the radar de­tec­tor and was off. Good-bye sunny Nel­son, see ya Mon­day.

I’d heard the Mt bik­ing scene was pretty good at the mo­ment in Ro­torua, which is nick­named Ro­tove­gas due to the main street be­ing lined with ho­tels and mo­tor inns. New trails had been built, there were now two shut­tle buses run­ning rid­ers and their bikes back to the top of Tawa Rd all week­end long, and some hot young rid­ers were step­ping it up. Isn’t it funny how we can eas­ily find ex­cuses to get away and play? But I re­ally did need to catch up with old friends and fam­ily; be­sides, the di­ary was empty for the rest of the week. Um, well, I’d fran­ti­cally crammed all my clients in to next week af­ter check­ing the me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal fore­cast and ferry sail­ing times last night. I just couldn’t re­sist the urge for some primo sin­gle track any longer.

“Kaitaki”, a Maori word mean­ing “Chal­lenger”; This is the largest ves­sel of the In­ter­is­lander fleet, and largest ferry op­er­at­ing in New Zealand wa­ters. She has sixty staff and ten decks from the en­gine room to the sun deck and can carry 1650 passenger as well as ve­hi­cles. The ves­sel is driven by four Sulzer diesel en­gines, each push­ing out 5760 kilo­watts of power at only 510 rpm. That’s about ten times slower than your car en­gine, so th­ese are big pis­tons do­ing some hard torque­ing.

Any­way, I made it on and was kick­ing back in the ob­ser­va­tion lounge when I got chat­ting with some Welling­ton XC rid­ers do­ing a cir­cuit of the South Is­land trails. I think Mt bik­ers seem to be able to sniff each other out, or per­haps it’s that dis­tinc­tive stale smell of sweat-en­crusted ny­lon cloth­ing that’s sup­pos­edly de­signed to wick mois­ture away from the body and be odour proof, but no mat­ter how many times you wash them…. The con­ver­sa­tion led to which track Mt Bik­ing is head­ing down in New Zealand th­ese days and whether rel­a­tively new dis­ci­plines such as Free-Rid­ing and Slope-Style rid­ing were go­ing to squash or at least de­tract from other dis­ci­plines such as cross coun­try and trial

rid­ing? I had spent seven years sky­div­ing full time, log­ging more than 7000 jumps while wit­ness­ing the in­tro­duc­tion and in­flu­ences Free-Fly­ing (three di­men­sional rel­a­tive work) and High Per­for­mance Canopy Swoop­ing had on that sport. It seems the ma­chines just get big­ger, orig­i­nal dis­ci­plines will al­ways have their place and fol­low­ing and con­tinue to grow, while the new ones branch out and of­ten bridge gaps be­tween two dif­fer­ent styles. We like to be pro­tec­tive of our cho­sen style and can view changes as threats. This is caused by our pas­sion and the en­joy­ment we re­ceive from some­thing. I love it when peo­ple de­fend their dis­ci­pline and de­mote oth­ers, it shows they have de­sire, lust and emo­tion for their sport.

Our tongue wag­ging con­cluded that, the more things change, the more they re­ally stay the same”. Then an an­nounce­ment came over the ships speaker, “Please re­turn to your ve­hi­cles but do not start your en­gines, we’ll be dock­ing in ten min­utes. Wel­come to the North is­land of New Zealand”.

Six hours later the il­lu­mi­nated “Red Stag” sign drifted into view through the heavy mist, my head­lights were on low beam as I droned past the Waipa Mt Bike Car Park and into Ro­torua. Sul­phur fumes sifted through the air vents and “The No­mads” Sec­ond Se­lec­tion CD was play­ing for the third or fourth time.

A large afro-haired woman swayed across the road in her flan­nelette dress­ing gown and ugg boots, grasp­ing a bot­tle of cheap liquor in one hand and try­ing to thumb a lift with the other - it was a quar­ter to twelve on Tues­day night. Ah, it’s great to be back in Ro­tove­gas.

With great weather and very few mid­week rid­ers about, I made full use of dis­cov­er­ing the new trails in the park. I’d just rid­den Spilt Endz, Pondy New and Roller­coaster when I seized the op­por­tu­nity to catch up with Edd in his Waipa work­shop. Edd and Len­nore own and op­er­ate Planet Bike, a very well equipped mo­bile Mt bike hire ser­vice based in the Waipa Car Park, the gate­way to rid­ing heaven. They cater for large groups, in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies with tod­dlers over three. Th­ese guys live and breathe the stuff and have ba­si­cally be­come part of the for­est. They both ooze pas­sion and en­thu­si­asm, par­tic­u­larly Edd, when it comes to mak­ing a cof­fee. Apart from be­ing the in-park Bike Me­chanic, run­ning re­pairs, hir­ing out bikes, tak­ing guided tours, school groups and es­sen­tially, the car park ‘Gen­eral’, he also cre­ates and sells cof­fee on site. His cof­fees aren’t so much made for the $3 fi­nan­cial re­ward but more for up­hold­ing his fine rep­u­ta­tion as the best cof­fee maker in the Whakare­warewa For­est and be­yond!

In­ci­den­tally the name “Whakare­warewa” is the re­duced ver­sion. “Te Whakare­ware­watango O Te Ope Taua A Wahiao” is the full name which means “Up­ris­ing of the War­rior (war party) of Wahiao”. No won­der lo­cals re­fer to it as “Whaka.”

They’ve raised the bar as far as hire bikes go too, by in­tro­duc­ing the Scott Ran­som full sus­pen­sion free-ride bikes to their fleet of seventy or so. You’re lucky to even own one of th­ese rigs, but to have them as hire bikes? Well, I guess that’s just meet­ing cus­tomer de­mand. This also prob­a­bly re­flects the di­rec­tion that Mt bik­ing is head­ing, grav­ity fed free ride tracks on su­per-plush full-sus­pen­sion ma­chines! So when you drop in, visit Edd & Len­nore if your bike is in bits or you need that oral fix.

Satur­day 9am, two Souths­tar Ad­ven­ture shut­tles roll through the fog out­side the Waipa car park. Like cows at milk­ing time, wait­ing rid­ers stroll over and slot their rigs onto the trailer like they’ve done a hun­dred times be­fore. Irene docked our tick­ets like we’re clock­ing into some old fac­tory for work. Katchafire was qui­etly pump­ing from the bus speak­ers and I re­called the chilled, hip vibe that’s al­ways been in this lo­cal Mt bik­ing scene. When friends here in­tro­duced me to it about ten years

ago, the at­mos­phere was preva­lent then. I’d no­ticed it my very first day back then and it hasn’t changed to­day.

One by one, both fa­mil­iar and new faces filled the bus, ac­com­pa­nied by that all too com­mon stale sweaty ny­lon smell again. There was a kind of chain-gang ca­ma­raderie feel in the bus as we rum­bled up the hill. Irene had turned up the vol­ume on the sound sys­tem. Damp pine nee­dles and sappy fra­grances filled the air. We rounded the last cor­ner be­fore the top, packs were zipped up and hel­mets went on, I likened it to jump-run 12,000ft above the earth just be­fore the pi­lot yells “over­head now, door up & go”, The pace had picked up a notch or two.

Th­ese shut­tles have def­i­nitely set Ro­torua apart from most other Mt Bike des­ti­na­tions in New Zealand. They run ev­ery week­end and can do mid-week trips for groups by ar­range­ment. Souths­tar Ad­ven­tures started with one bus just be­fore the World Champs here in Ro­torua in 2006 and now are set for a pos­si­ble third shut­tle this spring, ob­vi­ously de­mand driven and a ser­vice sec­ond to none. They can load twenty eight rid­ers and bikes on each bus and you can get about twelve or so runs in a day if you bring your mars bar and plenty of wa­ter.

There’s no less than five trail op­tions from the drop point at the

top of Tawa Rd, and they vary in grades from 2 (easy) to 5 ( very dif­fi­cult). The shut­tling sys­tem pro­vides some­thing for every­one, from the fam­ily group to XC rider and Down-Hiller. There are large weath­er­proof map signs at ma­jor in­ter­sec­tions to keep you on track. Maps can also be bought at all good bike stores and on site at Planet Bike.

There’s been some amaz­ing trail de­vel­op­ment here over the last few years, mostly due to ef­forts of the Ro­torua Mt Bike Club and their Trail Build­ing Con­trac­tor Crew headed by Mur­ray Avery and James Dodds. The fo­cus here has been on de­vel­op­ing qual­ity trails to suit a broad spec­trum of rid­ers that visit th­ese tracks - I could fill the rest of this mag­a­zine bab­bling on about the tracks and their un­usual names. I will say though, one set of link­ing tracks called Huck­le­berry Hound & Lit­tle Red Rid­ing Huck takes no more than ten min­utes to ride down but con­sists of well over a hun­dred jumps, I lost count near the end.

A six pass ticket will set you back $30 and is am­ple for the day. A day ski

pass would cost you more than twice that, so I think its great value. You can also buy sin­gle rides at $10 a pop or get your­self a one hun­dred ride ticket for $200. Mmm, two bucks a lift, what a steal.

Thanks to the chauf­feur­ing of Irene, Noreen & Slim I man­aged to clock onto most of the shut­tles each day and rode my glu­teus to the max­imus. Re­mem­ber I had trav­elled up from the South Is­land with only one CD in the car for th­ese few days and I wasn’t go­ing to let any nappy rash, mus­cle fa­tigue or blurred vi­sion dampen my fun. A cou­ple of near misses, some “en­dos” (over the bars) and tree hug­ging while try­ing to keep up with some lo­cal friends kept me hon­est as well as won­der­ing what the hell I’ve done with that “Fun­da­men­tals of Mt Bik­ing” DVD?. I usu­ally gauge my week­end rides by check­ing my bike con­di­tion at the end. A mis­aligned rear de­railer, and two bent rims, mmm… it just put an­other smile on my dial.

Ev­ery time I’ve turned up here, there have been new trail chal­lenges, the same good vibes and a level of ful­fil­ment I very rarely get at any other rid­ing des­ti­na­tions. I came for my six monthly Mt bike fix, and that I most cer­tainly got. But like a drug dealer of­fer­ing his vic­tim the first few lines for free, rid­ing Ro­tove­gas Style again has made me some­what more re­liant on that hit. This ex­cur­sion has only made me want it more. I’ll prob­a­bly have to join the In­ter­is­lander “Nau­ti­cal Miles Club” soon and move some more clients around.

If you’re looking for some lung-bust­ing five hour hill climbs, tech­ni­cal moun­tain­side switch­backs and river cross­ings along with a three day en­durance ride only the true West Coaster could han­dle, then for­get it, and head down the back blocks of Can­ter­bury.

But if you want to go hang out and get down with your mates, huck some lines and chill on the ar­guably the best net­work of sin­gle tracks in New Zealand, then Ro­tove­gas is the spot for you. The place has at­mos­phere, down to earth folk and a re­laxed vibe, along with pro­fes­sion­ally op­er­ated ser­vices and hand­crafted tracks made with love. Check out the web­sites above and sort out a trip - Ro­tove­gas Style.


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