Places To Ride: Getting Dropped In The Kaimanawas

With a population of 4.5million in an area half the size of California, New Zealand is immensely underpopulated. Actually this isn’t technically true, it’s more akin to the fact that Auckland and the country’s top 7 cities account for 62% of the total population. This leaves huge parts of the country either extremely sparsely populated or totally uninhabited. Areas such as the Kaimanawa Ranges south east of Taupo are a particular example, a hotbed for hunting, fishing, tramping and camping, but somehow remaining relatively unknown for mountain bikers.

DOC has recently opened the Te Iringa trail as a trial for mountain biking, a fantastic mix of highly technical, natural and native trails challenges even the best riders who visit. But that is not the full extent of world class riding in the area.

Over the last few years helicopter charter company Heli Sika have been busy building and providing heli drops to a little known track accessible only by air.

The 10km purpose built mountain bike trail-head is found on top of a summit devoid of vegetation, surrounded by scree, scoria and valleys hiding trout rich streams and deer filled hillsides. Perfect panoramic shots abound, views roll out farther than the eye can focus upon: it’s like being on the moon! It would be a challenge in itself not to stay here all day soaking the location, but ahead stands some 10kms of amazing varied singletrack riding.

Starting off on a mix of coarse grained sedimentary sandstone, the trail, or rider's interpretation of a trail starts to snake and weave downhill. Wide open multi line sections characterise the first couple of kms, where riders could easily pick ten different lines through most sections make for a fun mates' racing experience.

Dropping slightly, the trail base changes from rocky and wild sandstone to a loamy soil type with a smattering of smaller rocks and a more defined singletrack nature. Conversely providing a great mix of confidence-inspiring grip and break loose drifting this section is quite unique, yet strangely predictable. After a fill of this flowing descent the trail climbs slightly yielding a breath-taking view over the surrounding valleys. Suggestively named the Halfway Point, the singletrack continues to flow through the rolling hills like one of the babbling brooks that characterise the area.

By this point, gone is the sandstone, replaced by a trail full of heavy loam, the sort of organic blend that mixes with a light rain shower or heavy dew to create perfect hero dirt. The singletrack dances down the hill, flowing corner to corner, yielding fresh roost at every turn and willing riders to go faster. With the cushiony effects of tussock grass, riders will find themselves braking later and pushing harder into turns, low consequence and maximum fun.

Brake Burner is the final drop back into the heli pickup, ready for lap two. Steep, tight yet achievable turns dominate the section which will put a smile on all riders faces. As riders plummet downhill, keeping speed in check is key as the corners sneak up at a surprising rate, tightening up before spitting riders out onto the next short straight section. One final steep straight section directs riders across the plane at max speed where Heli Sika pickup for another lap of backcountry trail goodness.

Rarely is mountain biking perfect, but this is pretty close.

As many people say––it’s about the journey not the destination––and whilst this is true, in this case they go hand in hand. The trip starts and finishes with a helicopter ride with views and scenery to rival anywhere in the world. Endless rolling mountains, flowing rivers and overnighting huts look like a toy town from up in the sky. With knowledgeable pilots, Heli Sika provide a great insight to the local area, from hunting and fishing stories to the history of the Maori tribes involved in ownership, it’s almost a guided tour in itself. Adventure is based on new experiences, and if adventure and riding is what makes you tick, a day helibiking will leave you with a huge dirt-filled grin!

For more information on Heli Sika and their heli biking options, take a look at their website http://www.helisika.co.nz/