With a new bike built up, I took a drive up the line to do The Geyserland Classic, a route from the Kennett brother’s book ‘Bike Packing Aotearoa’. This is a 245 km loop starting in Rotorua, heading north up to the coast to the Bay of Plenty, then back down through country roads and farmland via Maungakakaramea (Rainbow mountain), Waikete Valley and then back up to Rotorua. I did just over 100 km each day on the first two days, then a nice short ride back to my car in Rotorua on the last day. I reckon this was the best way to do it as you have a pretty nice place to get to each day (which is good to have something to look forward to) and a nice place to relax in the evening.
The first day followed mostly gravel and paved country roads and a short bike trail through Roydon Downs Scenic Reserve (This took me a while to find, as the entrance signage was overgrown, and I ended up riding up and down the same street a few times going crazy before a kind farmer pointed me in the right direction!). This led me through a little hidden pocket of native bush before I popped back out onto another country road where there was a load of old bikes nailed to the fences and trees in an evolutionary form from kids bikes to adults, which was pretty funny to see in the middle of nowhere!
From there it was farmland and logging roads up to the coast. As I approached the beach at Pikowai I’d been riding for about 100 km and I was hyped at the idea of riding my bike down the beach, so I crossed the railway track, carried my bike through a stream and after a dip in the ocean I tried to ride my bike down the beach to the campground which would be the finish line for the day, it was fun for about 2 minutes followed by my tyres sinking in to the sand - I gave up and got back on the highway for the last few km’s down to the campsite with the obnoxious logging trucks passing by!There are two campsites to choose from, and I went to the cheaper DOC site in Matatā. I camped right by the beach, enjoyed a warm shower, cooked some kai on my stove and had a few beers.
The next day I was up early with the ambition to get to the campground at Waikite Valley early enough to enjoy the natural hot springs, anticipating my knees would need a good soak by then! The ride to Waikite was similar to the first day - it was mostly quiet country roads and rolling hills. These led to a great section of single track around Maungakakaramea - it was bitter-sweet as the trail was so fun it was hard to slow down and take in the beautiful native bush surrounding it, but it was the best riding of the trip, which ended at Waiotapu. Then a few more kilometres and I was in the spa pools with a beer by 4:30pm.
The campsite at Waikite is surrounded by geothermal landscapes and native bush, and has a restaurant and bar to top it off. I was ‘glamping’ by now and enjoyed feeling like I was on holiday, which was different to the usual bike packing trips of camping wherever you end up when you're tired!
The next day I had another soak in the pools at 6am. Afterwards, I felt like a new person, ready for a short ride back to Rotorua via some redwoods and some nice bike trails. Mostly following the Te Ara Ahitrail, which was a super fun way to end the trip. Followed by a few loops round the city centre trying to remember where I parked my car!
The highlights were definitely the off-road sections. I love riding around isolated back country farm roads, it kind of reminded me of riding around the countryside in Yorkshire where I grew up, so that’s quite nostalgic to me - but nothing beats smashing it down some trails on a drop bar bike through some beautiful landscapes after so much road riding! That’s what got me hooked on riding gravel bikes, the ability to have fun riding both on and off-road comfortably. Whether you’re riding local trails, bike packing or touring you can do it all on one bike which is great.
The bike I rode was a custom-built Mehteh by Brother cycle's. Custom painted black with all black components.
I started building this bike not too long after losing one of my closest friends, Calum, back in the UK. This was an incredibly hard time for me as I couldn't go back due to the Covid restrictions. I guess this project was a coping mechanism, something to focus on. As weird as it sounds it really helped me get through this time and even though it's still hard I have a bike that’ll always remind me of him and on those long rides he’ll always be on my mind. The one sticker I have on the bike is of Calum’s graffiti name, OOK. <3
I built the bike myself, I got into a bit of a black hole of intensive researching to make it exactly how I wanted it to feel. After a few years of riding an alloy gravel bike I knew what I wanted to change - mainly to have more tyre clearance, steel frame and a bit more of an upright riding position as my backs always aching from working as a tattoo artist full time (this paired with cycling isn’t so great!).
I originally bought a medium frame, then had a panic that I should have gotten a large. Luckily, Greg at Bicycle Junction kindly let me swap it out! I figured a large frame with a short stem would put me in a more upright mountain bike position and some super flared Ritchey Beacon bars for stability made for good handling and all types of riding.
I set it up with a 42 tooth chain ring paired with an 11-50 cassette, which made the climbs easy enough with a loaded bike, whilst not spinning out on the downhills. I use a mixture of bike packing bags and a cheap 10L Trade Me dry bag strapped to my bars. I could have definitely packed lighter as this route has plenty of options for food and drink along the route, but I like the ritual of cooking each night. I’m quite a restless person, so it fills that void after you’ve stopped cycling and gives me something to do. So I carried a stove and cooked my dinners each evening, and coffee and breakfast each morning. I bought stuff from the dairies along the way, so I didn't have to carry as much food...now I'm just talking about food and not the bike... I love the Mehteh, it's exactly what I wanted from a gravel bike, and I feel super privileged to have been able to get hold of one.
My advice would just be to go do it! It's a pretty easy ride if you can manage some hills and if you want to pack light you could probably do it with very little supplies as there’s plenty of places for food and water along the way (even motels if you don’t want to camp!).
If you’re new to bikepacking I'd say this is doable on any mountain/gravel bike, I just suggest at least having tyres that are fast rolling for sealed roads but can still handle off-road trails.
Get to Waikite early because they drain the pools at 7:30pm!
If you're a competent cyclist you could probably do it in two days and start and end at Waikite Valley, camping at Matatā in between, so you get two stays at the hot pools.
Thanks Jord! It was lovely meeting you, and we hope to hear about many more adventures of yours in the future.