Serious mountain-biking can be a bit of a back-of-beyond affair - pumping through twisty, dark little bush trails with sunlight in short supply. That’s one reason why Summerhill Farm, sitting high in the Welcome Bay hills with awesome views out to sea, is such a pleasurable off-road experience. Pick your day and you’ll receive hefty doses of sun and blue skies, not to mention rolling through lush green pasture, a dairy cow’s nirvana.
“Two wheeled therapy” is how one mountain biker describes Summerhill in the visitor’s book. It’s a nice description for the ‘on top of the world’ feeling of a property that sites at an altitude of 250 metres above sea level – with a mix of open pasture, mature exotic trees, and the remains of some native bush. Over 20 kilometres of mountain biking and walking tracks wind through 500 acres of bush, forest and pasture land that the farm’s owners, the Blackleys, generously opened up free of charge.
The working farm’s recreational area covers 130 hectares, with the Papamoa Hills Cultural Heritage Park forming one of its boundaries. The ‘recreational farm’ is run by former outdoor instructor Karl Young who’s described it as a ‘people’s park.’ Entry’s free but visitors are asked to drop a gold coin donation in the box, to help with the cost of maintaining the network of trails.
The farm has its share of fairly technical single track through pine forest, but thanks to those rolling green farm lands crossed by livestock tracks of smooth clay, novices can have as much fun here as far more experienced riders.
Summerhill Farm Park is easy and quick to access - less than half an hour’s drive from Tauranga (10 minutes from Te Puke). Head out of town on 15th Ave and follow the signs to Welcome Bay. The farm is 11 kms south-west of Tauranga, off Welcome Bay Road, and a pleasant 3 km drive up Reid’s Road through farm land and forest.
Swing into the car park and look for the khaki-green hut that marks the start of the trails – and home in on the wall map with a guide to the rides and walks. It’s pretty essential reading as the farm has yet to provide hand-out maps for visitors (it’d be hard to get lost though). A grassy knoll nearby provides some perfect picnic areas and panoramic views out to sea. There’s also a delightfully incongruous Mongolian ger which can hired for barbecues, etc.
Most of the mountain-biking is cross country style, providing challenges for riders of all levels. The tracks follow livestock trails, farm and forestry tracks, and they’re well marked with different coloured arrows and ‘recycled’ roadside markers. The red-marked SRAM Track is most popular mountain biking trail, with five kilometres of rolling, tight single track, a grade 3 ride of around 25 minutes. There are also dirt jumps, wooden ramps and platforms for the more adventurous. But a cautious novice could happily avoid all this, and puddle around the farm areas with its soft grass to cushion a fall.
One rider told us he comes up every weekend and prefers it “over Rotorua any day” because it is close to Tauranga with “very well designed and maintained” tracks. Mountain bike guru Jonathan Kennet sums it up as : “expansive views, specimen forests, Mongolian gers and great single track.”
Walkers can follow tracks like the Historic Pa Sites Link for a 3 km hike through rolling hills and pasture to the remains of the Maori fortifications in the Papamoa Hills. The walk takes 45 minutes through rolling hills and pasture, returning through forest.
Remember it’s a working farm so close gates, don’t annoy the stock, and leave your dog at home. And if this beguiling place grabs you, become A Friend of Summerhill for only $25 and help keep maintain a superb recreation area open.
More information: Karl Young 542 1838 , Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.summerhillfarm.co.nz