Pureora Forest’s Timber Trail reveals a wealth of fascinating stories, and shows how the path through history can lead to a promising future.
The Timber Trail Story
To the west of Lake Taupo, in the middle of the North Island, is the Hauhungaroa Mountain range, with Mt Pureora (1165m) the highest peak. This maunga (mountain) gives its name to Pureora Forest Park, the 78,000ha reserve that covers the flanks of the Hauhungaroas and the Rangitoto Range to the north.
Up until a few years ago, Pureora Forest Park was barely known to anyone outside of hunters, hard-core trampers, and the local community. When the Timber Trail opened in 2013, it provided access to this special place to the rest of us. Now were all have the opportunity to discover the many fascinating stories this beautiful trail has to tell.
The tale begins with Aotearoa’s first people, te Māori, who named this mountainous area Te Pureora-ō-Kahu, the place where Kahu was restored to health after searching for her lost son. Back then, this area would have been covered in dense forest, alive with birdlife.
In fact, up until 1840, around two-thirds of New Zealand was still covered in virgin forest. But the demand for timber was high and the forests were felled quickly. In 1946 the Pureora Forest was one of the North Island’s last native blocks lined up for the chop.
The loggers moved in and cranked their saws, extensively logging large sections of native forest, while establishing exotic plantations in its place.
Protestors to the rescue
Somewhat miraculously, large tracts of native forest were still intact when in 1978 environmentalists climbed high into the canopy to protest against further logging. The government responded by preserving the remaining indigenous blocks, now managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC), and known as Pureora Forest Park.
It is one of the rarest, most precious stands of broadleaf podocarp forest in the North Island, and one of the last remaining intact podocarp forests in the world. It also sustains all sorts of native wildlife, including some remarkable birdlife.
The forest remained the preserve of backcountry hunters and trampers for the next 30 years, during which time the idea of cutting a recreational tramping track through the park was often discussed.
In 2009, the dream took to leap towards reality, when the New Zealand Cycle Trail Fund allocated a development grant to enable DOC to embark on this momentous project.
Momentum soon gathered, with the local iwi (tribe) seeing the tourism opportunity and setting up their Pa Harekeke Eco-Cultural Centre near the proposed trail’s northern starting point in Pureora Village. Aucklander Paul Goulding also relocated to live in Taumaranui and set up Epic Cycle Adventures, now a flourishing local business serving cyclists on the trail.
The big trail build
The major trail-build took place from 2010 to 2013, during which time the backbone of the Timber Trail, two old Pureora Forest logging tramways that had virtually disappeared under vegetation, were joined by fabulously flowing new single track under the guidance of the Department of Conservation.
It took many thousands of hours of bush-bashing and trail-building to finally link up the two tramways.
In all, 35 standard and eight suspension bridges were built to span this mountainous country’s many streams and river gorges, including the eight amazing suspension bridges that have become icons of the trail.
A new lodge, and more...
Now one of 22 Great Rides within the New Zealand Cycle Trail/Nga Haerenga, the 84km trail has already earned a reputation as one of the country’s best overnight mountain bike adventures.
The Timber Trail has proven just the beginning, with eager mountain bikers rediscovering other tramlines in deeper, more remote parts of the forest. The fabulous Timber Trail Lodge, opened in 2017, is destined to become a popular base for these intrepid riders.
Little known just a few years ago, Pureora Forest Park has been brought to light, and life, through the Timber Trail. It has spurred environmental restoration, heritage preservation, local road improvements, a new lodge, and the growth of many other associated businesses. It provides benefits and inspiration to local communities as well as visitors.
The Timber Trail has many stories to tell. Come and see for yourself.
Nau mai, haere mai!