The hilly through-the-farmland section came to an end fairly quickly, and the blue slat-posts of the Te Ara Ahi route guided us along a couple of pre-existing driveways and side roads for a few minutes. Then, at another officially-signed waypoint, we began what I like to call the "sidewalk section". Ten kilometres long, it was essentially one very long downhill, running alongside state highway 5, but removed from the highway by about five to ten metres of ditch and scrub. The track's surface was essentially regular concrete sidewalk slab, although nicely aligned so that the ride was smooth. Scenically it wasn't that great, but a long ten-kilometre glide is still kind of fun. It was at this point that I came to the conclusion that it would be harder to do this Great Ride in the north-to-south (rather than our south-to-north) direction.
Beginning a long downhill
At the bottom of the long sidewalk descent, we stopped at a roadside pullout (a very messy pullout, full of garbage and with no trash bins) to have our lunch. Shortly afterwards, we reached Waipa Mill road, which led in a couple of hundred metres to the Mountain Bike Rotorua facility, where we met up with Andrea. She and Andy had been spending the day exploring the extensive network of mountain bike trails in the nearby Redwoods (Whakerewarewa) forest, and she taken a break while Andy finished a few more runs. We stopped here for another snack break (there was an operating canteen/cafe, and that meant cold drinks).
Meetup with Andrea
While Andrea waited for Andy to finish, we continued on. She and Andy would be meeting up with us again in downtown Roturua, at the scheduled 4pm meet up time at the main I-Site information center.
Redwoods MTB network
Crossing underneath an elaborate Maori wooden archway, the Te Ara Ahi route then briefly entered the Redwoods Park mountain bike network, although on an easy arterial path that offered no particular challenge. We then exited the park through another elaborately-carved wooden Maori archway, and entered the outskirts of the town of Rotorua.
Staying on the Great Ride route through suburban streets was tricky, as there was a lot of signage with which the Great Ride blue slat-poles had to compete. I missed a turnoff at one intersection and continued on for a few minutes, vainly searching for the next marker. Upon realizing my mistake, I took an educated guess as to how to regain the track (which fortunately turned out to be correct), and soon we were back on the signed route, having missed a (probably quite nice) two-kilometre streamside stretch of track.
The final section of the Te Ara Ahi Great Ride (in the northbound direction) led through an area of parkland along the southern edge of Lake Rotorua, the largest and most significant of the bodies of water in the Rotorua area. Geothermal activity is very much in evidence here, both along the lake's edge and along the small Puarenga stream which empties into it. Our track crossed many areas of blanched, desolate ground, often steaming from small sulfur-encrusted vents. Signs warned not to stray from the path for risk of getting scalds and burns.
Through geothermal features
This final bit of track turned out to be the most "geothermal" part of the entire ride, since one was essentially riding through the geothermal features, rather than seeing them from afar. It was a pleasant finale to the patchwork of various segments that made up the Te Ara Ahi ride, and reinforced my thought that the best way to do this ride was from south to north, ending in Roturua.
Despite our incredibly slow pace at the beginning of the ride, we had managed to gradually pick up the pace and were now a few minutes ahead of schedule as we rolled up to the Rotorua i-Site. Lori, Caroline and Jenn were already sitting waiting for us on a bench, and we had just spotted Andrea and Andy parking the van a block or so away. Soon, everybody was recounting the adventures of their day.
Before driving back south to our home base in Taupo, we decided to pay a visit - on this hot February day - to a local swimming spot, in the waters of Blue Lake - one of many non-sulfurous pristine lakes that dot the Rotorua region. The park adjacent to the lake's northern shore had good facilities and a surprisingly nice, big sandy beach. The sandy, non-rocky, non-weedy ground extended well into the lake, providing a very nice swimming experience.
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Te Ara Ahe Great Ride - click map to view
Cycle Data - Te Ara Ahi Great Ride
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain:
Total Elevation Loss:
* : +/- 75 feet
It was around this day that Caroline got some bad news from back home. Her lovable little Mr Cat had been sick for some time, and she got news that his health had further deterioriated to an unsustainable stage. She made the immensely difficult and sad decision - made more so by not being able to be with him - to have him put to sleep.