Weekend Rides - Ride the Rainbow

Lester Perry | Sun 5th Jul 2020 09:12

After a long lockdown without any MTB riding, Lester hit the Rainbow Mountain with a group of eager riders, he tells us about the trail and the joys of winter riding.

After a few long months with a lack of bike riding thanks to Covid-19, our hardy bunch of mountain bikers got together for a winter weekend of riding, and post-lockdown banter. The first adventure of the weekend was a quick, rain damped trip up Rainbow Mountain.

My clean bike doesn’t know what's about to hit it.
The ‘Te Ara Ahi’ trail turns into the main climb ‘Te Tihi O Ruru’

Maunga Kakaramea, known as Rainbow Mountain, means “Mountain of Coloured Earth” (literal translation is maunga: mountain, kakaramea: red ochre), which is reflective of its bare brown, orange and red steaming slopes. Due to the low cloud and passing showers we didn’t get much of a look at Rainbow’s unique landscape, but having visited previously, we knew it was there.

Turning off SH5 into Waiotapu Road the highway turned to rugged gravel scattered with deep rain filled potholes. Our once clean cars were quickly coated in muddy splashes, but that was nothing compared to what our bikes were about to endure. The drizzle continued as we pulled up to the Kerosene Creek carpark (more on that later). Waiting for a gap in the showers before we unloaded the car to kit up, we blasted the heater and discussed the day's plan. No gap in the weather came, so a quick change into riding gear while standing in the rain was needed. Not the ideal way to start a ride!

Conditions were damp but fortunately it wasn’t too cold as we wound our way uphill.

Setting off we got a good warm up as we meandered our way along the ‘Te Ara Ahi’ trail (which can be ridden right back to Rotorua) towards ‘Te Tihi O Ruru’, the main climb to the summit. The climb goes from easily manageable, to barely manageable, to not manageable, as the trail pitches up. Even with pretty fresh legs and a good dose of banter from the crew, sections of the slippery clay climb were too much for us, engaging walking mode. While there are some steep parts, these are connected by some really nice, and manageable, sections which are great fun (for a climb!), and the steeps can make for some great “climbing challenges” with the riding crew.

Popping out of the bush you head up a few hundred meters of gravel road before reaching the summit at 743m high. On a clear day you can take in a great view of the surrounding farms and forestry, not today though, ‘pea soup’ sums it up nicely! A quick adjustment of gear, a bite of a bar and sip of a bottle and it was all downhill from there, largely so we kept moving and didn’t get too cold.

The summit offered nothing but pea-soup as a view.
Long riding pants were a favourite for most of our group.

Te Ranga Trail (Grade 4 -Advanced) begins rough and raw. The hand-built trail is steep in sections, narrow in general and a mix of surfaces, from traction friendly pumice surface to deathgrip inspiring (in the wet at least) slippery clay, and everything in between. Being a volcanic area with steam vents scattered over the slopes of the hill you have to keep your wits about you a little, as you never know what might be waiting around a blind corner. In our case it was a wheel size hole smack dab in the middle of the riding line. High levels of rain combined with a pumice underlayer and what appeared to be a new steam vent caused a few of our train a bit of a white knuckle, “lean back and hope for the best” moment!

Surviving the hand-built top section we dropped out onto the gravel access road for a quick debrief and a “whoa did you miss that hole”, “oh man, I nearly lost it” and a few “ah, wish I replaced my brake pads before we came out here in the wet” We’d descended roughly a third of the trail and the best was yet to come.

Heavy rain and pumice based soils meant our bikes didn’t get caked with sticky mud.

The lower sections of Te Ranga are digger built, more of a Grade 3 level, and have a distinct flow lacking in the upper hand built zone due to the nature of the terrain. Being wider and more predictable in nature, you can open the throttle and get some speed on, less likely to be caught out by an unexpected tight corner or a wheel swallowing hole! Swooping turns under silver ferns, floaty jumps and minimal pedalling as you wind your way to the bottom of the mountain. The trail surface on the lower slopes is largely pumice based, so even in the torrential rain there was pretty good traction. Autumn leaves lining the trail surface were no match for our aggressive tyres, but in areas where they formed a thick blanket over the trail things got a bit spicy. A good number of foot-out-flat-out turns, and two wheel drifts later, we popped out of the bottom of the trail, right back to where we began. Corralling under the trail-head shelter we traded stories of front wheel washouts, near-misses, corners roosted, gaps sent and many loose moments.

Big clean up job ahead!
Fresh Go-nut from Ciabatta Bakery

Back at the Kerosene Creek car park we quickly stripped off our muddy kit, leaving the barest essentials and headed for Kero-creek’s thermal waters. Kerosene creek has been on many a tourists ‘must do’ list for years and often sees crowded waters, but thanks to our closed borders, there were only a handful of others soaking in the hot, sulphur scented waters. A great way to recover, and warm up a bit after a wet ride.

Rainbow’s not a huge epic ride that takes much in the way of planning or logistics so you can quickly bash out a lap then head back to Rotorua and hit some trails there. We wrapped up our swim, set the heater for ‘high’ and drove the 25 minutes back to Rotorua, heading to Ciabatta Bakery for coffee and pastries, refueling before an afternoon on the Whakarewarewa Forest trails.

For more info on this ride check out Trailforks.