15 days on the Kopiko Heartland Ride

Thermal area in the Waikite Valley | Brett Leyden
Thermal area in the Waikite Valley | Brett Leyden

What do Adventure South NZ guides and office staff do when they are not leading cycle or hiking trips? Often the answer is ‘Go on a cycle or hiking trip!’


So when the COVID-19 lockdown concluded in New Zealand back in May, amongst the first out the gate were guide, Sue Clark riding her loaded down blue Salsa out the drive in Auckland, and Ops Manager Brett Leyden getting his Giant and bags boarded on a flight to Hamilton.

Days later the wee Salsa had banked a few hundred kms of gravel through Raglan and Kawhia coastal backroads and was having a well-earned rest against the Fat Pigeon café in Piopio. Meantime, the Giant had also found its straps on a day of Waikato and King Country backroads, and was hurtling downhill towards the very same Piopio café.

Why Piopio?

Happily our plan to ride the Kopiko Aotearoa - an 1150km brevet on remote gravel roads and trails across New Zealand, coincided neatly with the chance to recce some of Adventure South NZ's new North Island heartland cycle trips. Piopio made a worthy kicking off point, and is definitely heartland. World shearing record holders, Champion Axemen, and perhaps the greatest All Black of them all, Colin Meads, all rubbed shoulders in the rugged King Country hills around here.

Waikato backroads |  <i>Brett Leyden</i> Making tracks from Piopio |  <i>Brett Leyden</i> Waikato River Trails |  <i>Brett Leyden</i>
Can I do this trip with Adventure South NZ?

The good news is yes! Our Timber Trail and Waikato River Trails trip covers the Timber Trail and Waikato River trail sections for a shorter 5 day ride. 


Timber Trail – Amongst Giants and Ghosts.

The 85km Timber Trail cycle trail was opened in 2013 and links new purpose built cycle trail with historic bush railway cuttings. Here at Pureora in the 1970’s giant 800-year-old Rimu and Kahikatea were saved from loggers by environmentalists chaining themselves to trees in front of the chainsaws - bringing world attention to the area. The trail now flows away from the scene of these confrontations and through towering virgin forest - gradually climbing high to the sub-alpine flanks of conical Mount Pureora.

A side trail to the summit gives huge views to Lake Taupo, the volcanoes of Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngaruhoe, and the rich farmlands of the Waikato to the north. Down the hill and back in the remarkable bush, soon gravity is on our side - it’s a fun trail to let the bike roll and the scenery blur as we make towards Piropiro, and our roof for the night. Piropiro is half way through the cycle trail and home to the purpose build Timber Trail Eco Lodge.

Timber Trail |  <i>Brett Leyden</i> Timber trail |  <i>Brett Leyden</i> Titiraupenga |  <i>Brett Leyden</i>

The Lodge is off the grid, and features bike-wash and storage, bar, hot showers and chef on site – what’s not to like? We take the opportunity to kick back on the deck with a beer and enjoy the views. Kererū (wood pigeon) and Kākā (forest parrot) are common visitors here. As the sun eases behind the trees we head in for warm showers and fine food – somehow out of context with the pioneering surrounds.

Heading out the next morning much of the trail follows a historic bush railway, built to access the rich native timbers on the high slopes of Mt Pureora. Fortunes followed the steel, steam and timber path of the railway, and much of the 1930s North Islands houses were built from rimu felled here. Relics remain of rusty equipment and working timber villages, and it’s easy to hear the voices of history from the morning bush mist as we roll by.

Bridges span huge gorges on the Timber Trail |  <i>Sandra Appleby</i>
Forgotten World on the Forgotten Highway

Linking Taumarunui with Stratford in Taranaki, the 150km Forgotten Highway was built by colonials as a bridle path to give King Country farms access to New Plymouth export markets. In recent years when politicians shifted provincial boundaries around the historic half-way village of Whangamomona, angered locals grabbed headlines by declaring a Republic and electing a goat to mayor.

Riding in we encountered many mayoral candidates, as well as agile hill-country sheep and cattle, while aggrieved Paradise Ducks warn anyone in earshot of our approach.

The road traverses high country stations with views to snow-capped volcanoes, and eases through the historic 180m Moki tunnel or ‘Hobbit Hole’, before dropping in to rich podocarp forest of the Tangarakau Gorge. Here, giant limestone canyon walls shelve even more lush foliage. Fortunately no passport is required as we ride into the wild west main street of Whangamomona - it’s a quick check in at the old Butchers accommodation, crank up the wood burner, and down to the gracious old pub to meet the locals.

No trip in this part of the world is complete without a view of the perfect symmetry and sheer presence of Mt Taranaki's 2800m volcano, but that’s for tomorrow – in the meantime the pubs lamb shanks are calling…

Tuai hydro-lake on the way to Opotiki |  <i>Brett Leyden</i>
What About This Kopiko Ride?

Yep, after 1200km and some 20,000m of ascent we’d passed through some of Aotearoa's most amazing back-country. If you haven’t heard of a brevet, you need to be fully self supported, do your own navigating, carry your sleeping gear and fuel up with whatever food and snacks you can find along the way. The route is designed to be remote and off road as possible. The Kopiko is a classic, and to finish at East Cape is truly special. A good challenge, but sometimes it’s enough to enjoy trails with the lamb shanks, beer on the deck, and comforts of a nice bed along the way.

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