When riders visit Rotorua they are quickly ushered into the lush fern lined trails of the Whakarewarewa forest nestled on the edge of the city. There is definitely gold nuggets of trails to be found in here, but for those willing to look a little further afield there are many more trail gems to be discovered.
Southstar Shuttles runs the shuttle service in Whaka forest, it’s Director Jeff Carter and Manager Kim McVicker both have histories of managing the Rotorua MTB Club’s original Enduro event the Triple Crown. With Enduro racing increasing taking centre stage in Whaka forest’s racing calendar Jeff and Kim decided it was time to broaden their horizons and show riders some of these other semi-secret trails.
Enter the concept for the GT Bicycles Go Native Enduro, riders raced two laps on the Te Ranga trail on Rainbow Mountain, and the third stage on a section of the Western Okataina trail. The event finished with a BBQ and swim in Lake Okataina and prize giving held on the shores of the lake. If you missed this event, you missed out on exploring some of Rotorua’s best trails and an awesome day out!
Rainbow Mountain is a special place both culturally and geologically. Local Maori runuga (group) Ngati Tahu Ngati Whaoa consider the mountain and surrounding forest lands their food basket, with wild pigs, deer and watercress being harvested from the streams. Rainbow is also an active volcanic cone with steaming geothermal vents, multi-coloured mineral deposits, a natural hot stream to swim in and uniquely an amazing Mountain Bike trail right off the summit. The one-way mtb only trail was built in 2010 funded by the Department of Conservation. The Go Native Enduro used Southstar’s buses to shuttle riders up the forestry access road to the summit, avoiding the steep 45min singletrack climb.
If you’ve ever ridden Rainbow Mountain you’ll know the feeling of getting to the bottom of the trail and really wanting to do another lap, but not wanting to climb the hill again. So to do two shuttle runs on the mountain as part of this event was a real treat. Riders definitely stepped up their game on the second run with most dropping 5-10 seconds off their first run time.
Although many riders were there for a good time, it was all business at the pointy end of the field with Auckland Enduro specialist Byron Scott taking the lead after the first run, with a dazzling 6:21, 14 seconds ahead of World Cup downhiller Matt Walker in 6:35. Byron couldn’t quite hold it together, crashing over the bars on his second run but only losing 10 seconds, posting a 6:31, and Matt on 6:26, leaving Byron with a slender overall lead going into the 3rd stage.
The event then transitioned to the Western Okataina trail – only recently opened to Mountain Bikers on a 2 year trial basis, this historic logging trail traverses the ridges from Lake Okareka to Lake Okataina. The Go Native Enduro used the final descent of the trail as it’s third and final stage. With no road access, riders pushed backwards up the track and gathered at the top before dropping in. This is Rotorua’s fastest track with speeds of 65km/hr recorded on the fastest sections, it’s a pumice surface with rolling crests, and some good size ruts and holes to keep things interesting.
Byron managed to pull another storming run out of the bag posting a time of 3:42, just 2 seconds ahead of a charging Matt Walker.
Following the liaison stage back to the lake front, riders swam in the crystal clear lake waters and enjoyed a BBQ and prizegiving on the beach. The GT Bicycles major spot prize of a Carbon force frameset with Rockshox reverb stealth seat post was given away by coin toss with riders choosing sides of a rope on the beach, with heads or tails determining which side was eliminated until only 2 remained. Clinton Williams was the lucky man to walk away with a new frame and a massive grin on his face!
I already can’t wait for next year. Jeff and Kim are talking of more venues to add more awesomeness to what is already a fun day out.
Words:John Colthorpe Photos:Mead Norton Photography
Did you enjoy this article? If so, we would be stoked if you decide to support us with a monthly contribution. By becoming a supporter of ENDURO, you will help secure a sustainable future for high-quality mountain bike journalism. Click here to learn more.