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It was raining when I stepped out of my rental vehicle at The Redwoods – Whakarewarewa Forest near Rotorua, New Zealand — and the prospect of mountain biking in the rain was anything but appealing.
Truth be told, I was nervous. I didn’t have much experience with mountain biking, and my last try in the Canadian Rockies hadn’t gone well. (A stick had gotten caught in the spokes as I was moving down a trail at high speed, and I had flown right over the handlebars.)
But there were two reasons I had booked a mountain biking tour in the redwoods of Rotorua with local New Zealand operator MDA Experiences. First, my grandpa always said that you have to get right back up on a horse that bucks you off. And, second, this particular spot was awarded gold-level Ride Center status by the International Mountain Bicycling Association. (Status is awarded based on a variety of criteria, including the location’s number of miles and trail types and the quality of nearby lodging.)
Oh, and one more reason: I think California redwoods are the most beautiful trees.
Although clients may not expect to find a forest full of towering California redwoods in New Zealand, Whakarewarewa Forest is filled with them. The government of New Zealand imported the redwood saplings and planted the forest in 1901 as part of an experiment to see if various species of trees would grow well in New Zealand and become a viable commercial crop. As it turns out, they were right about the redwoods’ growth: The trees grew as much as four times faster in New Zealand than they do in California. However, the tree’s wood is generally less dense and undesirable for lumber. The forest remained and has become beloved by locals and visitors alike ever since.
When I stepped in the tour office and met my guide, Marcello Ojerio, he understood why even a nervous novice like me would want to mountain bike the redwoods of Rotorua.
“People come from all over the world to experience our trails,” he said. “They are some of the best trails on the planet, and they’re accessible year-round.”
He also assured me that of the 85 miles of forest trails, a significant number were designed for beginners. Even someone with no experience can enjoy mountain biking in this area.
My next task was to choose a rental bike. One of the challenges North American riders experience is that the brake positions are switched. In North America, the right-hand brake lever operates the rear brakes, while the left-hand operates the front. In New Zealand, it is set up the opposite way.
By the time we hit the trails, the pouring rain turned to a light drizzle. As I peddled among Rotorua’s giant redwoods, my heart pounded — not so much from the exercise as from the unrealistic fear I might be thrown over the handle bars at any moment. But as I went along, things got better.
The scenery was amazing: Native ferns formed a carpet at the base of the thick trunks, and mountain bike trails twisted through it all. Before long, I was so enraptured with the scenery that I forgot to be nervous.
Grandpa was right — getting back on the horse (or the bike, in this case) was the right thing to do.
- Mountain biking tours in Rotorua can be arranged with MDA Experiences. Three- to four-hour cycling tours are customized to participants’ riding level and begin at a rate of about $85 per person. Experienced riders sometimes like to join a guided tour on the first day of their trip and then rent some equipment to explore on their own for subsequent days.- The operator also offers rafting tours, private transfers and educational experiences, such as learning navigational and bush survival skills during hikes. The company provides net rates to travel agents.
The DetailsMDA Experienceswww.mdanz.com