Timber Trail – Piropiro to Ongarue

Tue 22 December – Day 38

45 km cycling

There was no wet dew this morning however Mother Nature had the last laugh with a couple of showers in the morning. They were short and sweet so with a little breeze later the tent was mostly dry enough to be packed away. I was up at 7am and beat the hordes to the kitchen and breakfast. There’s at least 11 kids and their parents to fill the voids in the kitchen so I opt to be in and out before this happens. It is luxurious to have toast cereal and endless tea coffee or milo for a hiker so I make the most of it with four pieces of toast and muesli to start my day off. I finish off my pack and leave it at the spot for transfer down to the end of the trail. I have my little backpack for todays essentials and set off at 9am.

Today is categorised as Easy so I am anticipating a track in better condition than yesterday and milder ascents and descents. If I could freewheel gently downhill for 40km I would be in heaven but then where would the fun be in that. There are a couple of trail highlights on todays section, the first being reached less than 5km from Piropiro. The Maramataha suspension bridge is the third largest suspension bridge in New Zealand and the largest on the trail. Like the other bridges it is wide enough to ride along and sufficiently strung so that there is minimal to no swaying. There is more movement when walking across than with riding. It may not be for the faint hearted however as it is a long way across and a long way down, if you care to look. My guess is that it is way over-engineered. For instance the 12m towers at each end have footings of the same depth into the ground. Despite this I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to be riding across when an earthquake strikes. Fortunately I still don’t know.

One of many bridges on the Timber Trail
Maramataha suspension bridge
141m long and 53m high
It’s a long way down
The 3rd longest suspension bridge in New Zealand

For the most part today follows a timber tramway from 1922 to the 1950’s. Ellis and Burnand built the tramway to extract timber their sawmill which was located in Ongarue. The Timber Trail is partly on the original tramway however this is only a small section of the tramway system that pushed out new lines into new blocks. They would extract the timber then pull up the lines as they retreated and relay them elsewhere. The rails were expensive so they were reused. Ellis and Burnand spent over 100,000 pounds building the lines before any timber was milled. Now, thanks to the tramline, riders can enjoy the regenerating forest track of the Timber Trail. It is certainly an easier ride than yesterday. The track is much wider and the gradients not too steep as they were built with the trains in mind. Today I pass Dean on the trail. He is walking through to one of the next campsites today and then hopes to rendezvous with Dion at the 1,000km mark of Te Araroa. Dion, like me, is taking to a bike for this section in order to catch up with Dean. Further along there is a large flat area where two trains once swapped over the log wagons. The smaller lokey (locomotive) would work the upper sections of the tramway whilst the more powerful one would take the logs down to Ongarue. Next was one of the workers camps, No.11 with its small hut, camping area and a steel turntable on which a jigger could be turned to the direction of travel. There was one log train per day so other travel up and down the line was done on hand operated jigger. These historical relics were certainly interesting and I am pleased they are so well documented on the information boards along the Timber Trail. Surprisingly for me, many riders didn’t appear to stop and read them. Maybe just not that interested I suppose. There was even a settlement at Waikoura between 1950 and 1963. It had the look of a little town with a main street with married couples houses. All that remains now are the concrete cookhouse steps.

Dreamy piece of the trail
The end point of one of the timber tramways
Chatting with Dean
Location where trains switched over the log wagons
The jigger turntable at #11 camp

From the No.11 camp there is a barely recognizable incline for about 10km. It looks almost flat and the e-bikers probably didn’t shift off their Economy setting but for the peddlers like me it just went on and on and on, and on. So it was with almighty relief when I reached the 68km sign and the trail sloped down to become the gentle freewheeling dream that I have been waiting for. It was bliss as not only was the track wide and with a good surface but it allowed me to take in the scenery more readily and appreciate the environment I was riding through. I certainly had to admire the engineering that went into carving out the tramway back in the day. It is equally an eloquent symbol of workmanship today as it was for necessity when it was built.

Nice easy trail section
Cuttings between the bush
E-biker zooms past me

One neat relic is an original steam powered hauler sitting next to the trail. The haulers were positioned at the terminus of the line and were used to haul the cut logs up to the terminus, where they would then be loaded onto the tramway. Each day the train would take eight logs down to the mill in Ongarue.

Rocky stream under the Mystery Creek bridge
Entertaining information boards
Original steam driven hauler

The original curved Mangatukutuku bridge was built in 1925 for the princely sum of 2,900 pounds. It was constructed of tar covered totara. By comparison the new suspension bridge finished in 2011 was $178,571. It is the last of the suspension bridges on the trail. When the line was closed the timber bridge was bought by two men who disassembled it and sold off the timber. There are likely to be totara posts in King Country fences from the original bridge.

Info board about the original Mangatukutuku bridge
Mangatukutuku suspension bridge

I am keeping an eye on my TA app for the 1,000km mark (from Cape Reinga). There is currently nothing official to indicate the spot but I am hoping to see an indication that a previous hiker has left behind, something written on the ground or such like. At 999km on the app I note that it is just past the 72km Timber Trail signpost however when I get to 73km my app still shows there is further to go to reach 1,000km. I am holding my cellphone with app open in my right hand, riding with my left on the handle bar when I suddenly come to the spot. It’s not pretty as I haul on the brake, lose momentum and know I am heading into the dirt. I toss my phone ahead and hit the ground. What an arrival for 1,000km! Fortunately nothing is injured damaged nor broken. Brushed off I set about making a sign from fern fronds and get the memento pics.

The 1,000km point for Te Araroa – 1/3 of the way

The final hurrah of the Timber Trail is the Ongarue spiral. Just like its Raurimu counterpart on the main truck railway line, this spiral is designed for maximum elevation in a short distance by doing a loop over itself. Coming down you cross a bridge before making the loop through a tunnel that then continues out and underneath the bridge. The spiral was much lauded and celebrated by the company and rail enthusiasts when it was in use. Today it is still a cool relic of design and engineering.

The trail then degrades for some reason. I would have thought that the trail would end on a high however from the spiral down to the end it is narrow bumpy and disappointingly overgrown. For TA hikers this is our norm but for a nationally recognized cycle trail I am surprised that the ending is so poorly managed. Anyway the final part of the trail is through farmland until it reaches the Bennett road carpark and hired bikes are returned. I have a short transfer to the Timber Trail shuttles base where Dad is waiting and soon after we are heading home.

My Te Araroa journey is taking a break until the New Year. Merry Christmas everyone.

Deep cutting for the tramway
Glimpse beyond the bush
An old pot relic
Timber Trail between the logs
Another nice cutting for the tramway
Cellphone reception point
Ongarue spiral tunnel
Ongarue spiral
Ongarue spiral
More like the TA trail at the end
Timber Trail sign with Te Araroa logo and distance in km since the start
Finished at Timber Trail shuttles
Categories: 2020 Te Araroa


  1. Happy Christmas Mark!!

    Looking forward to following your progress in the new year…

    Elaine x


  2. Have a good Xmas break. See you down country. Dean


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