Since I started this blog, I’ve identified myself as “A Canadian living and writing in New Zealand”. This identity allows me to post content about my life as a Canadian, in New Zealand and not just about books and writing.

One of the things I’ve incorporated into my life over the past couple of years has been mountain biking. It started when my wife arranged for us to cycle the Timber Trail, the first time we’d been on bikes since we were fifteen years old. From there, we purchased bikes, I cycle to work and we have explored various trails and tracks in the centre of New Zealand’s North Island.

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Fishers Track if part of the Mountain to Sea series of trails

Along with the Timber Trail and the Old Coach Road, cycling Fishers Track completed a local trio of trails for us. (We don’t include the 42 Traverse, a Grade 3 trail, though maybe we’ll be game someday). We had been told by others that the track was essentially all downhill, descending, overall, 600 metres from the Central Plateau from National Park through the Retaruke Valley to Kaitieke.

For our excursion, we arranged transport through My Kiwi Adventures in National Park. We met with them there and were given a brief description of the track along with a map detailing key checkpoints along the way. The track is 27 kilometres long with the last 14 kilometres covering a metal road.

You can access the track right out of National Park. The first few kilometres required an uphill slog along a metal road, but it wasn’t more than 20 minutes before we reached the first checkpoint, the gate officially welcoming us to the track.

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Retaruke Vally

From there, as promised, it really was almost all downhill. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever cycled such a long, continuous downhill and, after an initial immersion in toitoi-lined bush, the valley finally opened up for us to some incredible views. The scenery is superb in the Retaruke Valley, seemingly untouched in wide swaths, interrupted only by some power lines and occasional signs of farming, some failed and some successful. The valley is known as difficult farming territory and the bush has reclaimed abandoned attempts.

After a couple more gates, the metal road thankfully ended and we rode down a grass and dirt track which was more fun and the views along the path were even more remote and spectacular. Still, it wasn’t long before evidence of farming appeared again and it was a wonder to me that people live there, a wonder that makes me feel both envious and daunted.

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Horse sculpture made of old horse shoes, Kaitieke, New Zealand

In an unusual moment, the trail exits back onto a metal road from behind an enormous, opulent homestead apparently owned by some clothing magnate whose brand my wife recognised. From there, the road leveled out and it was generally easy riding over the last 14 km until we met our shuttle at the war memorial and new horse sculpture in Kaitieke.

After completing Fishers Track, I would describe it as the poor cousin of the Timber Trail and the Old Coach Road. It doesn’t have the viaducts and swing bridges and tunnels which are exciting features on the other two. However, it does offer an easier ride, although much of it on metal road, and one with sections of true bush remoteness which we enjoyed.

My writing and living do go hand-in-hand in many ways. I imagine it won’t be long before I create a character who cycles.

Antony Millen is a Canadian living and writing in New Zealand. He is the author of three novels: Redeeming Brother Murrihy, Te Kauhanga and The Chain.

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