We had driven for five hours to be told by the tired looking receptionist that the weather was turning for the worst and that we should jump back into the car and head back home. Four of us had eagerly ventured down to the middle of New Zealand’s north island to hike the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing but the clouds above were pitch black with the cool air giving us all goosebumps.
For a split second we did consider turning the car around and heading back home, but as we drove through National Park village looking for a bite to eat we spotted the sign that would change our whole weekend. It read ‘BIKES FOR HIRE’.
After a quick enquiry we left armed with four bright red mountain bikes, four matching helmets and instructions of how get to a gravel road known to the locals as Fishers track. The track was easy to find, it began just over the railway track at the edge of the village with a trusty road sign pointing us in the right direction.
Happily we left the smooth road tarmac and found our wheels bumping over very rocky gravel. We gripped our handle bars and found ourselves pedalling around twisty bends, over small potholes and up and down dips. To begin with our views were obscured by the waving fingers of flax and the fluff of towering toi toi stems (a native New Zealand grass).
The native bush was knitted tightly together with no peeking allowed. As we cycled closer to the edge of the hillside the native bush loosened its knitted weave and gave way to expansive views of the rugged Retaruke valley below. The hills surrounded us like decorative layers of cake, a patch work of green covered in curling fern fronds and the pom-pom effect of the cabbage trees. The road began to narrow as it tightly hugged the heights of the hillside.
The gravel disappeared and was replaced by a powdery dirt. It became more of a challenge to stay on our bikes when this powder turned to slippery mud.
We found ourselves wobbling through water filled trenches trying to keep our bikes up right – it was a laugh-fest watching the action unfold. Surprisingly we cycled past a mini digger in the process of fixing this muddy section. It was perched on a steep slope and it looked frightfully uneasy on the hillside. I hope the operator made it home alright?
We rested our bicycles at a bend overlooking a canopy of green and enjoyed a tasty snack before enjoying our free wheel descent down a grassy path. It took us over trickling streams, past a wild bunch of excited running goats and through the shadows of tall towering trees. The road finally widen again and the rocky gravel returned beneath our wheels. We were down in the valley and the stormy clouds in the sky had disappeared.
The sun draped itself over the trees as we pedalled onwards nearing the end. The farm fences followed the lumps and bumps of the hills as we pedalled past a few worn wooden cottages before finally reaching the cross roads where we waited for our lift back to National Park Village.
We decided to stay the night that evening and the following day even though the stormy cloud had returned it was deemed safe enough to hike the Tongaririo Alpine crossing. So we wrapped up warm and headed up the peaks of the volcanoes… and it was amazing!