For the first of this year’s monthly away rides the club returned to the Whirinaki to ride the 35km Moerangi and 16km Whirinaki tracks.
We decided to try something different this year; rather than riding the whole Moerangi trail in one day we thought it would be fun to pack our sleeping bags, some extra food and camping gear, and spend the night in one of the Department of Conservation huts on the trail. While we would be carrying more weight, we wouldn’t be riding as far, plus we’d have more time to enjoy the stunning scenery of the Ureweras.
Another change from last year was rather than roughing it on the local DoC campsite, we based ourselves in the relative luxury of the Whirinaki Backpackers. Owned by the same family as the more well-known Jailhouse Farmstay, the Backpackers is a simple, well-equipped holiday house that comfortably sleeps eleven. We all arrived on Friday evening which gave everyone time to relax after the long drive, chance to get to know one another and be introduced to Peter’s jokes.
On Saturday morning we awoke to a beautiful clear sky and mist in the valley beneath us. Some of us were going to ride the 24kms of road round to the Moerangi track, others had opted instead to take the Jailhouse Farmstay’s shuttle service and four were planning on riding the whole track and returning to the Backpackers that evening.
The road from Minginui quickly changes from seal to gravel as you head over the pass into the next valley. With fresh legs and plenty of conversation we were quickly at the turn-off for Okahu Valley Road where a family of cows had gathered to greet us! The road from that point is a 4WD track down the valley before a couple of sharp climbs signal the end of the road and the start of the singletrack.
Last year at this point we’d been huddled in one of the toilets drinking coffee and hiding from the drizzly rain. This year, while we waited for the shuttle to arrive, we were hiding from the sunshine instead.
After getting the obligatory team photo, and chatting with a couple of trampers who were heading in to Rogers Hut for the night, we were away. The first section is a real gem with flowy downhills and moderate climbs as the track follows the river down the valley before starting the climb to Skips Hut, the first of the three huts on the track.
We stopped at the hut to regroup and had the first lunch of the day. When the trampers caught us up we realised we’d wasted enough time and pushed on for the next stage to Rogers Hut.
The two tropical cyclones that brushed past NZ in January had left their mark on the track with a few washouts and trees down. Nothing major but we did have to dismount and pick our way past in places. The track to Rogers Hut includes the first major climb of the day and gets quite steep in places. It’s worth the effort though as the saddle affords stunning views over the ranges and the descent into the next valley is a hoot.
At Rogers Hut, after lunch number two, we had an impromptu treasure hunt as we searched for some goodies left by friends of Simon a few weeks earlier.
DoC have been in touch since and have advised us they are treating the slip as priority work but it’s going to take a lot of resources to fix. In the meantime enough people have been across to form a rough track which is safe to cross, as long as you take your time. Being a large group we were able to form a chain and pass the bikes across.
It was now mid-afternoon and the temperature had really picked up so we were glad when we finally made it to the turnoff for the Moerangi Hut. After unloading our gear we headed down to the river for a bracing dip to freshen up. We bid farewell to the riders who were continuing on to return to the backpackers and then settled in for the evening. As the sun dipped behind the peaks around us we gathered some firewood and got a campfire going.
It’s amazing how, after a day in the saddle, hot food and drink revives the body. As the light faded we amused ourselves, seeing what we could heat up over the fire. Simon had brought a pack of pork sausages – legend! Roasted cashew nuts worked really well, and lacking any marshmallows we discovered the delight that is caramelized sour squirmy wormies. Peter had us in hysterics (or was it the exhaustion?) with his never-ending supply of jokes and party-tricks but never did get round to showing us his fire walking skills.
The bunks in the huts are basic, to say the least, so after a restless sleep we were up early on Sunday morning. I was glad to empty the can of rice pudding that I’d been carrying in my pack and suitably fueled up we set off for the final leg of the climb to the high point. This didn’t seem anywhere near as bad as last year, thanks to a night’s sleep and good weather, and we were quickly at the top and throwing back more squirmy wormies.
The 6km downhill was a blur. We stopped only once, at the helicopter pad, to regroup. Just as well, as Anna had overcooked it on a corner and she and her shiny new Trance X had been over the edge – thankfully no damage done to either of them.
I was grinning from ear to ear by the time we hit the bottom. Despite having an extra few KGs on a front-mounted Freeload Rack I was still able to pin it on the way down. The extra weight necessitated braking harder than normal but the effect on cornering wasn’t too bad, I just had to pitch the bike over more in the corners and steer more by leaning than turning – probably a good technique to adopt for everyday riding.
We stopped at this point for our second breakfast and took in the beauty of the forest. The trees in here are huge and some have been surrounded by vines almost as big. Truly impressive and humbling.
The final stage of the track is another cracker of a downhill that passes some impressive gorges and rivers. We arrived at the car park just as a party of tourists were about to set off on a guided walk so were fortunate to be able to watch their guide give a traditional Maori welcome. Amongst the giant trees it was a really special moment.
The valley around Minginui is riddled with Blackberries. Pretty unpleasant to bush-crash through, but at the side of the road they make a fantastic riding snack. Suitably energised we headed down the gravel road and round to the Whirinaki Track to meet up with the rest of our group.
They had made it back to the backpackers safely but were one person down as the previous day’s 50km had been enough for Grant’s legs. Loan on the other hand was raring to go, and had done the short loop already by the time we arrived. We hid our camping gear in the bushes and set off to do the long track. The first half of the track is through some of the most beautiful native bush you will see. The birdlife here seemed to be more prolific than on the Moerangi track, possibly due to more active pest-control operations. The second half of the track follows old 4WD forest tracks back down the hill and you can really get some speed up on these if you want to. The legs were starting to feel it by this point so we were glad to be back at the trail-head and after one last feed hit the road for the final few k’s back to the backpackers.
The total distance for the weekend was about 90km, split fairly evenly across both days. Everyone seemed to agree that staying overnight in the hut was a really enjoyable way to ride the track. It breaks the climb up nicely and adds to the adventure aspect of the ride. This is still one of, if not THE, best weekend’s riding in the North Island. We’ll be back next year. Maybe sooner.
The huts on the Moerangi track can’t be booked – it’s first-come, first served, although you’d be unlucky to find them full up – and you need to buy a hut ticket from DoC beforehand. Check the DoC website for all the details.
Full gallery of photos is on Flickr.