Using a superlative to name this trail is a no-brainer. While the ‘great lake’ is not on the scale of the Great Lakes of the USA, it is our country’s biggest lake and nearly twice the size of the next largest. I was expecting a lot from this trail when I visited the area, as it is one of the New Zealand Cycle Trail’s ‘Great Rides’ as well as being on the scenic shores of Lake Taupō.

Waihaha suspension bridge – gateway to the gorge

My adventure on the Great Lake Trail started at the Waihaha carpark about 30 kilometres west of the Taupō township. The trail is divided into three sections. The Waihaha on the Western Bay is the most remote, with most riders catching a water taxi to reach the following section. I arrive at an empty carpark and read an interpretation panel; behind me is the sound of water racing through a series of river rapids. My heart was racing too. I know little about this ride and I feel a little apprehensive about what I might encounter, as an approaching front bears down. Looking up, I can already see a sweeping veil of mid-level cloud blanketing the sky; I think the rains are just a few hours away. No time to delay. I check my bike, prime the GPS units and start to collect track locations – positions pinpointed by distant satellites in the murky heavens above – to aid in mapping this terrestrial trail.

The ignimbrite cliffs Waihaha Gorge

Just metres from the carpark I cross a suspension bridge over the Waihaha River, a sort of gateway to the gorge. The ride starts gently enough with the rhythm of the river. As I cycle east the trail slowly parts ways with the river as I travel consistently along the 500-metre contour line while the river cuts down deep into the ignimbrite volcanic walls that start to close in around me. The trail is wide, but around the corners the drop-offs get more pronounced, giving the feeling of a more precipitous, narrower track. On one corner the outside edge of the trail is bounded by large rocks; I suspect it’s a deliberate barrier built for those who lose control of their bike on this tricky bend.

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