“When the day that lies ahead of me, seems impossible to face. When someone else instead of me, always seems to know the way. Then I look at you and the world’s alright with me. Just one look at you. And I know it’s going to be a lovely day.” (Bill Withers/ Skip Scarborough – Lovely Day)
If the Timber Trail was likened to a song it would be something like Maroon 5’s 2006 cover of Withers’ whimsical ballad, Lovely Day. Like a spring breeze or a well made souffle, the trail unfurls over 82km of light and breezy walking. We were dropped off at the start of the trail at Pureora by the avuncular Val, who we discovered on the FB Trail Angels page and who ferried us from the uninspiring town of Te Kuiti to the start of the track at Pureora. The total cost for this 50- something kilometers was $60 which can be considered a bargain when the history of each farm and one-horse town you drive through is thrown in gratis. Riding with Val meant that we were able to miss a particularly narly section out of Te Kuiti plus a 36km on gravel road and State highway to reach the camp site at Ngarhenga and the start of the Timber Trail.
We had cycled the Timber Trail over two days in 2017 and encountered a largely unkempt trail, so we’re slightly apprehensive. Our experience this time was far better. We set off on a well-groomed track and it wasn’t long before we were in magnificent virgin forest as we sidled around the slopes of Mount Pureroa. I found that progressing at walking speed allows one to take in far more detail than riding and we were both slack-jawed at the calibre of the forest around us. At one point, a side track invited us to climb to the summit of Mount Pureroa but, given the darkening clouds and our recent experience with Pirongia, we decided to eschew that option. The promised rain arrived at about 1.30pm and we trudged on for a couple more hours to finally reach Big Inn hut. The hut was built in 1960 by the forestry service and was showing her age. She featured 4 sagging bunks and a woodburner and daylight showed between the weatherboards where people had helpfully stuffed chip packets to reduce the draft. Presently, we were joined by Dave, an Englishman from Cambridge who had some great trail stories including how he started out with a pack weighing 32kg! He assured me he had trimmed down to a more modest 22kg but that still dwarfed my 16kg luggage.
The following day’s hike came with the promise of beer and pizza, so we set off with a spring in our step on a beautiful sunny day. It was amazing walking along a well formed track through beautiful regenerating bush with the cries of kaka resounding in the treetops. There are 35 bridges on the Timber Trail and on this section we crossed the largest of them, a 141 meter span suspension bridge soaring 53 meters above the Maramataha gorge. This was all thirsty work so we were relieved when the Timber Trail Lodge hoved into view. Whilst their $300 per night rooms were beyond our trip budget, their beers were not and we were soon esconced on their sunny balcony tipping back beers swapping stories with fellow hikers and cyclists. All in all a lovely couple of days on the trail.