Located in the heart of the North Island, Pureora Forest Park is a magical mix of exotic, regenerating and precious virgin forest saved by environmentalists in the 1970s.
Once the realm of hardcore trampers and hunters, this deep wilderness can now be explored on an 85-kilometre trail that reveals not only its awe-inspiring beauty but also the story of how this special place has changed over the ages.
The Timber Trail follows the path of old logging roads and tramlines, linked with purpose-built singletrack and a series of thrilling suspension bridges. It runs between the tiny settlements of Pureora and Ongarue, with even smaller Piropiro around the halfway mark. Limited road access, remoteness and memorable accommodation in the middle make a two-day, ride, starting in the north at Pureora, the most rewarding approach.
- huge, ancient trees such as rimu and tōtara
- eight spectacular suspension bridges, three more than 100m long
- Mt Pureora’s mysterious Cloud Forest and lookouts
- curious logging relics, including the world’s only bikeable railway spiral
- on-track accommodation from camping to a luxury lodge
- delightful birdlife including the kākā, tūī and North Island robin
- fun, flowing riding with some trickier bits to test your mettle
- excellent information panels along the whole trail
The Timber Trail is divided into two sections, best ridden in two days in the order presented below. This makes most of the topography and efficient transport options, while – most importantly – allowing plenty of time to see the sights and soak up the deep, green atmosphere. The overnight stay at Piropiro will almost certainly prove a highlight, too.
40km, Grade 2–3/easy–intermediate, 4–7 hours
The trail starts at the Department of Conservation campsite and car park, well signposted from SH30.
It winds its way through the bird-filled, virgin forest of Pikiariki Ecological Area. Not far from the start, a short detour leads to a 1920s Caterpillar crawler tractor, long-since abandoned in the bush and now preserved as a rather peculiar memorial to the area’s logging past.
After passing through an open area of regenerating native and exotic trees, it’s a gradual climb up the flanks of Mt Pureora into the ethereal Cloud Forest with its verdant moss, gnarled trees and wafting mist. It’s a good place to get a bit Zen if you’re not in a hurry to get to the top.
A ‘whoop!’ or two is well deserved at the trail’s highpoint, 971m above sea level. It’s predominantly downhill for the rest of the day as the trail winds down the southern side of Mt Pureora and across the western flanks of the Hauhungaroa Ranges. There is the occasional lookout on the descent.
Around the 22km mark is the first of the trail’s amazing suspension bridges, the 115m one over Bog Inn Creek. This is quickly followed by another biggie, the 109m-long span over Orauaka Stream.
The trail continues downhill to Piropiro Flats where there’s road/shuttle access and accommodation – a DOC campsite, glamping, the Timber Trail Lodge, and Black Fern Lodge a few kilometres away. In the summer months, Piropiro has a particularly special atmosphere as a stream of bikers, walkers and hunters bring this usually quiet area to life.
45km, Grade 2–3/easy–intermediate, 4–7 hours
The trail heads off on a logging road before re-entering native forest on a flowing section of mostly uphill singletrack.
Around 5km in (at the trail's 44km mark), the Maramataha Suspension Bridge swings into view. At 141m long and 53m high it’s not only an icon of the entire New Zealand Cycle Trail, but also a thrilling experience with its wobbly crossing over a tumbling gorge. This is a good place to spot the beautiful kererū, New Zealand’s native pigeon.
The bridge signals the start of the last major climb – the steady ascent to Ongarue Tramway terminus. From here the trail follows the old tramway in a generally downhill direction, with the occasional short uphill.
In places, the tramway cuts through sheer rock faces shrouded in thick native bush, seldom reached by the sun’s rays. And that means mud, so be prepared for the odd spatter on this section.
Scattered along the way you’ll see remnants of the area’s logging past, and cross more bridges including the handsome 89m-long Mangatukutuku Suspension Bridge – a great spot for a picnic.
Around 10km from the end is the Ongarue Spiral. The finer points of this engineering marvel are explained in the interpretation panel alongside, but suffice to say that it’s pretty loopy with the bonus of a spooky old tunnel. It is also truly unique, being the only bikeable railway spiral in the world. How about that?!
The trail continues to Ongarue, mostly downhill except for a couple of short pinches along the final section through felled forestry blocks and farmland.
The official end of the trail is located in the middle of Ongarue township. At around the 82km mark you will pass Bennetts Road car park where you be collected by pre-arranged shuttle. The official end of the trail is 3km further away in Ongarue township where you can get a selfie with the official signage; shuttles can also collect you from here.
Fit riders can cycle an extra 26km to Taumaranui via the Ongarui Back Road, the undulating and farmy Timber Trail Connection Heartland Ride that forms part of the world-famous Tour Aotearoa. This is a pleasant and possibly essential option for those who haven’t arranged shuttle collection back to town.
The classic Timber Trail experience is the two-day ride, staying overnight at Piropiro. But it’s also possible to enjoy the trail as day rides making use of local shuttles, or your own transport enabling easier (and cheaper without shuttle costs) return rides from the three trailheads.
The Full Timber Trail
85km, intermediate, 8–14 hours
Keen, super-fit riders can complete the Timber Trail in one day. While it doesn’t leave much time for smell the roses, it may appeal to riders short on time or accommodation budget. Shuttle transport will still be required unless you get creative with logistics.
Crawler Tractor Loop
7km, easy, 1–2 hours
The Pureora end of the trail offers enjoyable rides for families, younger riders, or those lacking fitness or experience. Starting at the DOC car park, the 7km Crawler Tractor Loop follows the Timber Trail to the site of the 1920s tractor, from where riders should continue beyond it to join a gravel road back to the car park.
16km return, intermediate, 2–3 hours
For a longer ride from the Pureora car park, take a look at the Crawler Tractor then continue along the Timber Trail to take in the open area of regenerating forest. A gentle climb sees you arrive at the forest-edge shelter at the 8km mark – a pleasant spot for a picnic before returning the way you came. To extend the ride, keep going another 7km to the track summit for a total of 30km return in all.
Piropiro Flats—Maramataha Bridge
10km return, intermediate, 1.5–3 hours
From the campsite, head north on the Timber Trail to enjoy a mix of forestry road, singletrack through exotic and native trees, and the vertigo-inducing sight of the Maramataha Suspension Bridge. The gentle climb required is well worth the reward.
Bennetts Road—Ongarue Spiral
16km return, intermediate, 2–3 hours
From the Bennetts Road car park at the Ongarue end of the trail (closest to Taumarunui), it’s 8km of largely uphill effort to the famous Ongarue Spiral. If time’s on your side and you’ve got fuel in the tank, it’s worth riding the extra 14km (30km total ride) there and back to Mangatukutuku Suspension Bridge (arguably the most beautiful). No matter how far you go, it’s virtually all downhill back to the car park. Hooray!
FITNESS & SKILLS
The Timber Trail’s predominantly wide and smooth surface classifies much of it as grade 2 (easy). Some decent climbs and trickier sections – some involving gluggy mud – push it to grade 3 (intermediate) and make the whole ride best suited to reasonably fit, experienced cyclists. Day rides serve up easier experiences for families and the less fit.
TYPE OF BIKE
A ship-shape mountain bike is essential for the remoteness and terrain. Riders should ideally have basic mechanical skills and carry a tool kit. Officially, e-bikes are not allowed on the Timber Trail.
MAPS & NAVIGATION
Although the trail is well signposted, carrying a map will enhance the experience by pinpointing landmarks and assist with timings for shuttle pick-ups, etc.
You can also download the awesome Great Rides App to see where you are on the trail. It's free, works offline and has heaps of useful information, including trail descriptions and photos, trail services, food and accommodation.
The Timber Trail passes through a sub-alpine environment with a highpoint of 971m above sea level – it can get surprising cold around Pureora summit. It is vital that visitors check the forecast and track conditions before they set off, and take warm clothing and wet weather gear regardless of the forecast.
FOOD & WATER
Once you reach the trailheads, you’ve missed your chance to stock-up your lunchbox, so be sure to take plenty of food with you. Water supplies can be topped up along the way, where indicated. Trail lodges provide meals as specified when you book.
Cellphone coverage is patchy and cannot be relied upon. Service is good near the Mt Pureora Summit; signage along the trail indicates other hotspots. Trail lodges also have wi-fi.
EMERGENCY & FIRST AID
It is highly recommended that riders carry a PLB (personal locator beacon) a reasonable First Aid Kit; but also notify someone of estimated departure and arrival times.
There are toilets at regular intervals.
DOGS & HORSES
Dogs are only permitted on the trail from Ngaherenga to Maramataha and with a valid DOC permit only. This is generally for the purpose of hunting only.
Horses are not allowed on the Timber Trail.
In a relatively remote and sparsely populated part of the North Island, the Timber Trail takes riders even further off the grid. As the crow flies, small settlements are never that far away, but your experience will be easier and more enjoyable if your accommodation, transport and other bookings are all sorted well in advance.
The closest airports are Auckland, Taupō, Palmerston North and New Plymouth. All lie within around three hours’ drive, with scenic highways through Waitomo, Ruapehu, and the Forgotten World Highway to Taranaki, all highly recommended.
Nationwide Intercity buses service the closest towns, Taumarunui and Taupō. Enquire with your shuttle provider first as to where you may be collected from.
The Pureora end of the Timber Trail connects with Mangakino on the Waikato River Trails via the Centre of the Northland Heartland Ride. Fit riders can keep cycling from the southern end of the Timber Trail to reach Taumarunui via another Heartland Ride – the Timber Trail Connection.
BIKE HIRE, TRANSPORT & TOURS
Bike hire, shuttles and luggage transfers are available through several local companies, with Taupō and Taumarunui the major hubs and a couple of others dotted closer to the trail.
Several national bike tour companies also offer guided and other package trips on multiple trails, including the Timber Trail, with Rotorua and Taupō popular departure points.
All trail services should be booked in advance, the earlier the better if you plan to ride in peak season (December–March).
For full trail riders, booking accommodation at the Piropiro halfway point should be a priority, particularly if you wish to stay in a lodge or glamp during peak season (December to March)
DOC's Piropiro campsite seldom gets to full capacity, allowing campers the freedom to simply turn up and pay their fees on site.
Limited accommodation is available around both ends of the trail. A broader choice is also available in larger towns close to the trail, with Taumarunui and Taupō, Bennydale and Te Kuiti the obvious choices due to their complementary cycle trail services.
Professional cycle coach Janet Stark has developed a fun and easy-to-follow, 8-week training programme customised especially for the Timber Trail.
Download the plan here – it will help get you up to speed not just on fitness and bike skills, but also with practicalities such as bike set-up, clothing and other gear.