Hardly anybody has even heard of the Austral Islands and Rurutu is not a place you read about in mountain bike magazines. The islands are so hard to visit that it is a wonder any tourists arrive at all. If you have crossed the Pacific andreached Tahiti, you still have to take another flight south before you are finally in the Austral islands. Unsurprisingly most people who make it don’t have mountain bikes or the time to explore.
But! If you have a sailing boat and if you have two mountain bikes on board, then Rurutu is “the” bike destination in the south Pacific.
Having sailed overnight from Tubuai, we visited the local mayor’s office and asked if they had a mountain bike map. No! But they do have a map of all the 4×4 tracks and paths which served our purpose.
The first day we met Terry who we knew from Tubuai. He showed us a cave hidden deep in the forest and together we crawled through a tiny opening to explore the hidden world of stalactites and stalagmites. Terry had a plane to catch so we left him and continued around the island.
Rurutu, like all the other Pacific islands, was formed when a volcano erupted and rose above the ocean. As it slowly sank back in to the sea a coral reef developed around the shore. A later upheaval pushed the island back up and the reef became mighty cliffs all around the island. It is all very impressive and the result is many caves in the coral cliffs and steep roads to cycle up and down. The tour round the island is only 36km but has 800 meters of climbing. And that in the middle of the tropical summer.
The next day we cycled up to a view point and then on up through the forest to the summit of the third highest mountain. The route was steep, the temperature was hot and the path not obvious. It was a challenge but the view from the summit, across the island and reefs were well worth the effort. The trail back down was steep and technical. Real mountain biking.
On the third day we took a rest from biking and instead rode local horses. We rode to the same summit as on the previous day and really felt for the horses as they carried us from sea level to above 300 meters. I can now confirm that cycling down steep, rocky tracks is definitely easier than riding down.
The next day we cycled to the highest summit and then along the summit ridge to the south end of the island. Another technical trail downhill and then two passes to get back home. The views were stunning but every local we met greeted us with “It is so hot today!” On the final climb my body gave up and I ended up pushing with no energy left. Heidi picked fruits from the forest to give me sugar but what I really needed was a day off.
After a day of lounging around, swimming and eating, we returned to the bikes and managed to cycle every trail on the map before we finally set sail back north.
Mountain biking the hills of Rurutu is a challenge. Steep uphill, technical downhill and the hot sun combine to suck the energy out of you. But it is absolutely worth it. The tracks are lonely, the views are beautiful, the people friendly and the trees are loaded with fruit.