© NZPocketGuide.com
© NZPocketGuide.com

Downhill Thrills at the Craters Mountain Bike Park

© NZPocketGuide.com

302 Days on the Road

Update: Souvenir Outlet is now called “Four B”.

Taupo has had us trout fishing and sailing on the great Lake Taupo, kayaking and jetboating on the Waikato River, and skydiving over it all from 15,000ft. Today, we are switching things around and sticking to dry land at the Craters Mountain Bike Park!

After checking out of Base Backpackers, we head a few kilometres out of Taupo towards The Wairakei Tourist Park, the home of the likes of Huka Falls, Hukafalls Jet, Huka Prawn Park and many more! We arrive at the Souvenir Outlet & Bike Hire shop ideally located across the road from the Craters MTB Park, as well as being on the banks of the Waikato River with heaps of bike trails that loop around back to where you start. Like we said, we have spent plenty of time on the Waikato River over the last few days, however, our 365 Days of 365 Activities has not yet brought us to a mountain bike park… Until now!

Hiring bikes for the Craters MTB Park

We meet Richard at the Souvenir Outlet, who gears us up with mountain bikes that get updated every season, along with a helmet which is mandatory in New Zealand. At a huge map of the Craters MTB Park pinned on a wall, he recommends which trails to take for beginners like us that are still going to be a lot of fun. We pack a map in our backpack, which is already brimming with too many cameras, then cross the highway towards the Craters MTB Park.

It’s just a quick ride up a quiet sealed road until we see the sign for the mountain bike park along with more trail maps so we can really make sure we know where we are going (and we don’t accidentally find ourselves going down a grade 5 trail!

Easy does it…

Speaking of grades, the difficulty of mountain bike trails in New Zealand are identified by different grades. The grade system runs between one and six, one being the easiest and six being the most advanced. In MTB parks like Craters, these grades are identified by coloured trail markers, usually found on the trail map or at a sign at the beginning of a trail. Green is easy, blue is intermediate, and black is advanced. As this is our first time at a MTB Park, we figure green would be the smartest choice of the lot.

Hammering it to the top

We follow a trail called “Hammer It” which steadily takes us uphill inside a young pine forest. We don’t have to over-exert ourselves too much on the way up, which takes us over small wooden bridges and under tunnels constructed out of old car tyres. Fantails, a native New Zealand bird which, to be honest, are cute as hell, laugh at us as we power up the hill even cheekily flying into our faces!

Finally, we hit a crossroads where we can continue onto an intermediate trail or start doing some downhill on the green “Nail It” trail. Nail It is is!

Single track fun at the Craters MTB Park

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Nailing it to the bottom!

Standing on the peddles in a horizontal position, lifting our asses up off the seat, and keeping our fingers hovering over the brakes, we start our downhill run. The trail throws humps and bumps at us, wide slanted corners and tiny drops – anything to keep on gathering speed so we don’t have to peddle one bit. On some sections, the trees open up to give us quick glances of views that, to be honest, we are going too fast to make out what they are.

With plenty of corners, the trail makes the most of the downhill making the steady uphill climb to begin with definitely worth it! Once we make it back to the bottom and back to the car park we start in, we have huge grins on our faces. We did it! Our first MTB Park trail! Not only did we not manage to kill ourselves, but, man had a blast with the downhill thrills.

Riding the tourist trap

To make our way back toward the Souvenir Outlet, we take a track called “Tourist Trap” that gradually goes up the remnants of a pine forest that has been cut down, and into a stunning little section of redwood forest. It has a quick section of downhill and back to the highway where we cross back to the Souvenir Shop. We thank Richard for the bikes and have a quick visit to one free activity in the area, The Huka Honey Hive.

The Huka Honey Hive

New Zealand is pretty obsessed with honey, and manuka honey in particular. It’s the classic souvenir item to get from New Zealand containing all sorts of healthy qualities. Because the Huka Honey Hive does free honey tastings, we go to see what all the fuss is about.

With bright and bold signs, the Huka Honey Hive is easily seen from the roadside in the Wairakei Tourist Park, and the inside of the building is bolder and brighter. Yellow washes our eyes as we enter a large building decorated with bee and honeycomb sculptures. The largest selection of honey-related products lye before us.

Bees at work and free honey and mead tastings

On one wall, there is a glass case where you can see the bees at work in their hundreds. Towards the back of the store is where the tastings happen. The first booth we head on over to is the honey mead tastings. Yes, apparently honey is made into wine! So we have a tasting of all the sweet meads with grand names, such as “Exaclibur”. Next up, it’s the honey tastings with pots and pots of honey to try. We lick sticks of honey over and over again like a couple of bears, tasting the smooth creaminess and the sweetness of various different native New Zealand plants that the bees have got the pollen from.

Checking into Haka Lodge

Before we turn into a bear, we make our way back into Taupo where we check-in at Haka Lodge, courtyard and garden central! There are so many places to hang out, from the hammocks to the spa pool, that we wish we were people who had time to hang! Saying that, perhaps when you see what is on our itinerary for tomorrow, you will beg to differ… Join us then!

The final descent down the Tourist Trap

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