Mountain Biking for the meek

Turatea Hills, Manawatu, New Zealand

It’s very curious. There is clearly something in the air in New Zealand that makes even somewhat sedentary folk want to go out and exercise.

Although New Zealand has its share of large people, there are huge numbers who are out running, jogging, plodding or biking most days. Part of it is the weather, which is so much better than the UK. But the general mindset here is clearly a factor and probably one of the reasons why New Zealand consistently punches way above its weight in all matters sporting. So, with some encouragement, I found myself on it on a push-bike, slogging up the hills.

You have to be a bit selective about offers to go out ‘walking in this country,’ as some of my former colleagues are inhumanly fit (we are talking ultra-marathons). He once took the department out for a spot of exercise, culminating with one of the registrars lying face down in the mud and snow with exhaustion. I wasn’t there, but the rest of the team thought that he was dead.

So far, courtesy of another colleague, I have had two very pleasant trips up into the hills. Twenty-two kilometres and a 500-metre vertical climb for my first effort was not bad for an old fart like myself, I feel. This week’s trip was up into the hills above the house.

Palmerston North, New Zealand
The gorge road, Manawatu

One of the defining features of the Manawatu are the many wind turbines dotted on the hills above Palmerston North. The wind farms produce about 14% of New Zealand’s electricity. There are the usual protests, mainly from NIMBYS but I thoroughly approve of renewable energy sources and think the turbines themselves are quite beautiful, especially in motion. I live relatively close to them, never hear them, and have had no problems.

After puffing up the hills, we were presented with spectacular views of the Tararua wind farms from the Aokautere forest. The forest itself has been logged out and replanted, so many of the trees are about five years old and an astonishingly vivid green. The logging roads are brilliant for biking (although I have a sneaking suspicion we were trespassing).

While going up is slow, coming down is rapid and exhilarating. I keep getting the feeling that I have regressed since coming to New Zealand and screaming down the rough logging roads on my bike produced a combination of the sense of having regained my youth, perhaps a more mature concern that I was about to kill myself, and a dose of old-fashioned exhilaration.

Approaching 60, doing things like this carries an extra piquancy that probably only those of us who have become old whilst remaining stupid can truly appreciate.