A PLATE of hot wedges and pints of cold beer beckon from a picnic table outside Ohakune's Powderhorn Chateau. Such a treat makes mountainbiking rewarding, especially after you snap a chain going up a hill 3km into a 14km trail and resemble a Jackson Pollock painting with mud splatterings from nose to toes.
Still, there's nothing the washing machine and dryer can't fix at the Rocky Mountain Chalets.
The beer and spuds are one form of nourishment. Another is the Government's ongoing investment in Nga Haerenga, a network of 18 New Zealand cycle trails which will eventually extend 2000km throughout the country.
The Mountain to Sea link, as part of Visit Ruapehu tourism, adds pep to the community. It rejuvenates riders with fresh air by day and prises open wallets by night. It rekindles Kiwi childhood memories of the great outdoors.
As Prime Minister John Key says on the trail website, it is "designed to showcase the very best of our country our spectacular scenery, unique culture, and first-class Kiwi hospitality".
The Government has apparently invested $50 million in the trail over the past three years.
Ohakune Old Coach Rd
The skies gushed this week but the Ohakune Old Coach Rd cycle track from Horopito into town still generates a mean thirst and tall tales. Rain makes the journey challenging, but there is no substitute for the exhilaration of blazing down a slope after thrusting your pedals doggedly up an incline.
Ben Wiggins, the genial proprietor at the TCB (short for Taking Care of Business) rental shop, was responsible for the gifts on arrival at the Powderhorn.
He also came to my rescue (in his ute alongside the railway tracks) with a new bike to sort out the chain glitch. Customer service is real in these parts. TCB also offers a service taking riders to the start of the trail at Horopito.
While there, visit Horopito Motors next door to the trail. The 6ha car wrecker's yard was central to the plot in the cult film Smash Palace(1981) and newspaper clippings of stars Bruno Lawrence and a 10-year-old Greer Robson at the premiere beam from the walls. Scenes fromGoodbye Pork Pie (1981) were filmed there - when the stolen Mini was hidden under a Valiant. A gold coin lets you marvel at the enormity of the spare-parts museum upstairs.
Once on the trail the native bush makes a welcome respite from city concrete. There is also a chance to stand in awe of the engineering feats of the national rail network such as the now-unused Taonui and Hapuawhenua viaducts. Make sure you traverse the latter - a 284m long, 45m high structure where A.J. Hackett started his bungy jumping business in 1987 after the railway bridge was decommissioned.
With Blur's Parklife lyrics ringing in my head from the iPod: "You should cut down on your porklife mate, get some exercise," I readied for battle with the Fishers Track to rid myself of that desk-jockey flab which builds up sitting in an office cubicle. The 21km track takes riders to the Upper Retaruke Valley and provides spectacular views of Tongariro National Park. It is a trail that families can manage in three to four hours.
Indeed, the trip seemed a blur under the guidance of Lyall Crump (son of the original Good Keen Man, Barry) who has worked for years as an outdoors instructor in the region. Crump, who when pushed suggested he loaned his old man ideas for the book Wild Pork and Watercress, offered sage advice about biking gravel trails.
After an initial 3km climb it is mainly a downhill trail. It pays to keep a hand near the brakes but soft grass and generous cowpats further down the valley are a safety net for spectacular dismounts.
The track is backed by excellent service at the Park Travellers Lodge in National Park, which manager Jason Cameron describes as "affordable alpine ambience in our volcanic adventure playground". The chocolate muffins to take on the ride were moreish, too.
Bridge To Nowhere
Well, the famous bridge does go somewhere these days. It links the 33km bike trail from near Ohakune to a 40-minute tramp or bike-ride from the Whanganui River.
Joe Adams and partner Mandy run Bridge to Nowhere Jet Boats and Canoe Hire and have guests stay at their lodge 20 minutes downstream from the monument. In addition to the lodge's modern amenities, they offer kiwi calling sessions by playing a tape on the deck at night and listening for the responses across their 565ha of freehold land and the native bush beyond.
Adams is the sort of larger-than-life character such an operation needs to make it work. He reinforces that personality with a handshake that could pulp an Ohakune carrot in one swift squeeze.
He has lived and run businesses in the wider region much of his life and has expanded his empire to the Raetihi holiday park. His jetboat driving makes for a therapeutic experience observing the river as it snakes towards the Tasman Sea.
However, take a warm jacket to put under your lifejacket - even on the hottest days the chill factor will have you shivering.
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