Flashback two years ago: During my first (and still only) enduro race on the foothills of Mt. Isarog, a fellow bike blogger said a section of the race reminded him of Rotorua. Though neither I nor ‘Prancis’ of AttackMTB had ever been to Rotorua, both of us had apparently watched a video of Wyn Masters attacking a trail in New Zealand’s mountain biking capital.
The lush forest of Mt. Isarog, especially the giant ferns that lined the wet trail, reminded us of Wyn and Sam Blenkinsop’s run on Stage 1 of the Enduro World Series in Crankworx that year. It was a beautiful trail, and both Prancis and me were glad to be riding on a track that was uncannily similar to it.
But not in my wildest dreams did I think I’d ever set foot on Rotorua itself. By some strange twist of fate, I and my adventure buddy from Travel Up found ourselves last year on a bus in New Zealand en route to this mythical mountain biking town in the Southern hemisphere.
We were still on a Middle Earth high from our trip to Hobbiton the previous day, but I couldn’t wait for the bus ride to end and set foot on yet another domain born out of legends–biking legends this time.
The bus ride from Hauraki to Rotorua took four hours. We were in a hurry to leave our hosts James and Fel because we were afraid of missing the bus. But apparently, we were worrying for no reason because traffic is non-existent in that part of New Zealand.
We arrived in Rotorua around lunch time. I had a fistful of brochures with me about where to rent bikes and was salivating at the thought of finally planting my feet on pedals and my butt on a saddle. But since we were carrying enormous backpacks that held two weeks’ worth of clothes, we first had to find a place to store our belongings.
Luckily, New Zealand is very tourist-friendly. All the major tourist areas have visitor centers called “i-SITEs” where you can store your luggage for a small fee, get some info on how to get around, and (best of all) get some free wifi–because mobile internet in Middle Earth costs a Smaug’s ransom.
After securing our luggage, we took a taxi to the Rotorua bike park, which to our surprise was just five minutes away. We could have just walked to the area and spared ourselves the NZ $40 cab fare, if we had done our research properly!
But then again at least it saved us maybe 15 minutes of walking, as the clock was ticking. Most shops in NZ close at 5PM and it was already past 1:00 in the afternoon then. We had less than 4 hours to ride.
BIKING ROTORUA (FINALLY)
Mountain Bike Rotorua is a bike guide and rental shop at the gate of the Whakarewarewa Redwood Forest (Rotorua Bike Park) itself. They rent out all kinds of mountain bikes–XC bikes, trail bikes and even downhill sleds. It’s no surprise that cross country bikes are the cheapest at just NZ $45 for 4 hours or a half day rental. Full suspension trail or downhill bikes are a bit more expensive at NZ $60 for 4 hours or half day.
Skyline Rotorua also offers lifts for the more gravity oriented riders. You can get DH bikes there for NZ $60 for 2 hours or NZ $90 4 hours, while the lift itself would cost NZ $30 for 1 uplift or NZ $59 for 15 uplifts.
Since we were penny-pinching tightwads who were just on the fourth day of a 15-day trip across New Zealand, me and my wife opted for the cheapest XC bikes. We got Giant Talon 27.5 bikes with XCM forks and Deore groupsets–cheap but still of very good quality. They also provided helmets, which are mandatory, as well as a map of the trails in the park.
After a short orientation about the bike park and how we could maximize the few hours that we had left (it was almost 2PM by then) we commenced pedaling.
If you’re from the Cordilleras, Rotorua would look familiar to you. Pine trees dot the landscape and the air is cool and crisp as it comes straight out of mother nature’s own inverter air conditioner.
There are fire roads that lead to the hillcrests and then branch out into several singletracks. The trails themselves have IMBA ratings so newbies to the place can ride according to their abilities.
Since Kara and me were both familiar with Timberland’s Blue Zone, we wanted to see what a blue trail would look like in Rotorua. It took an hour of moderate climbing before we saw our target trail. The climb itself wasn’t stressful at all. It was so cold that day that we appreciated the warmth that we generated from all that climbing.
And now it was time for some flow. After days of pining for some flow, we finally got a dose of flowy singletrack and then some. Needless to say, we were not disappointed.
The trail had quite a few surprises. Just as you are getting into the flow, it throws a drop on you. Amazingly, the coil shock XC bike handled it pretty well.
But after one such drop, I opted to take it easy. Last thing I wanted was to get injured on Day 4 of a 15-day trip, so I dialed down the instinct to get aggressive.
Still, it was hell of a lot of fun to ride. We saw a few kids on full suspension trail bikes heading into another blue trail. I wished I was one of those kids.
We explored around some more, but had to return to the bike shop by 4:30PM.
Sobrang bitin ang padyak, but we didn’t want the people at the bike shop waiting for us. We also had to fetch our backpacks from the visitor center before it closed at 5PM.
The guys at Mountain Bike Rotorua were kind enough to give us a discount and charged us only NZ $30 each for the 2.5 hours we used their bikes. The cafeteria beside the bike shop also gave us free sandwiches, which was very welcome since we had yet to eat lunch then.
AFTER MOUNTAIN BIKING
We picked up our luggage and walked around to see more of Rotorua. Outdoor adventures are a big in this town. There’s a bike shop in almost every corner, and one hotel even has an indoor climbing wall.
The town is also famous for its thermal vents, where steam and boiling water bubble up from the ground. The vents could sometimes smell sharply sulfuric–parang may kausap ka na kumain ng sampung nilagang itlog tapos dumighay sa harap mo.
The place also features a lot of restaurants. Most of them probably serve good food, but like I said, we were penny-pinching and opted for a cheap dinner of ‘fish and chips’ and some kind of ‘noodle soup’ from a small shop.
While we scrimped on food, beer was an entirely different matter. We were on the hunt for some quality craft beer. Our hunt craft beer led us to one of the most famous of pubs in new Zealand: the Pig & Whistle.
To cap off a great day of riding, we tried Monteith’s Red IPA, Black Dog Chomp Pale Ale, and Monteith’s Black Beer.
We still had a few hours to kill before the arrival of the bus that would take us to Wellington that night.
I know I barely scratched the surface of Rotorua during this brief visit. The Whakarewarewa Redwood Forest has 130 kilometers of well maintained trails that are just begging to be ridden. If you plan to bike in Rotorua, you should definitely stay for at least 3 days to sample most of its dirty goodness.