Start Point: Due to the lineal nature and the gradient of this cycle/walkway, the easiest and most rewarding way to tackle this ride is one-way from Horopito. Although, historically the track begins in Ohakune.
This fantastic multi-terrain cycle and walking track forms part of The New Zealand Cycle Trail and provides a great family-friendly cycle that is steeped in history. The 15km track winds beneath the cool canopy on the lower slopes of Mount Ruapehu and offers a rare opportunity to get into the heart of one of the few remaining sections of virgin native forest in the North Island. Day trip riders choose to make the most of the overall downhill riding and catch a shuttle to Horopito then ride back to Ohakune. If you’re tackling the entire Mountains to Sea – Ngā Ara Tūhono as one journey – then you will most likely choose to start on the Ohakune Mountain Road and traverse the Ohakune Old Coach Road to Horopito.
The trail was built in the early 1900s to ferry passengers by horse-drawn coach between the two railheads of the unfinished North Island trunk line. The cobbled route became obsolete with the completion of the railway and was lost to the forest for almost 100 years.
Following its rediscovery and restoration from 2002 onwards, Ohakune Old Coach Road has been steadily gaining popularity with cyclists and walkers for its diversity, the rich history that is recounted along the route and the unique opportunity to cycle across the impressive Hapuawhenua Viaduct. In the early 1900s, this was the largest wooden curved railway bridge in the world.
The terrain varies greatly along the route, ranging from well-constructed pathways of varying widths to the original cobblestoned roadway. Sections can become particularly muddy and slippery following heavy rain. It is recommended that you seek advice before cycling this route if you are less confident on a bike.
Horopito to The Hapuwhenua Viaduct
The Old Coach Road starts at Smash Palace and flows through from Horopito down a gravel road before crossing a stream and heading into the Tongariro National Park, from here the track takes a short climb before following part of the old railway alignment through to the present day railway line. The railway line must be crossed at the designated crossing point. Use caution when looking for trains that regularly use the line. The Taonui Viaduct will come into view, this is the perfect place to stop and take a picture, as you descend past the viaduct you will go into the forest before a long climb up a hill where you are met with a grassed picnic area surrounded by rimu and tawa trees, before crossing a bridge and riding over a beautiful spring-fed stream.
As you progress through the trail you will pass by some magnificent rimu and rātā trees where there are beautiful views over farmland and hills. Throughout this part of the trail, there are old campsites established when the dray road was upgraded. While not much can be seen of them, they are a reminder of the hardships the road workers and their families faced while living in canvas-covered houses in the midst of a cold, wet rainforest. On the way to the highest point, the trail passes the old quarry which supplied much of the rock for the cobbles as the old dray road was upgraded to a coaching road in 1905. This section of the track ends with narrow corners and a final steep drop into what is known as T Junction. From here you can turn left and head towards the Hapuwhenua Viaduct, return to Horopito or carry on to Ohakune.
Hapuwhenua Viaduct to Marshalls Road Carpark
You can walk the historic Hapuawhenua Viaduct (cyclists dismount on the viaduct) and enjoy both old and new viaducts and the native forest surrounds. The limestone cliff that is visible high up on top of Raetihi Hill is a reminder that this area was once under the sea. From here there are good stands of kahikatea, rimu, mataī and ponga along the way down to the Hapuwhuenua tunnel, where you can explore and marvel at the workmanship of yesteryear before heading back on the trail. You will ride over the cobblestones and into the native bush once again before reaching the top of the Ohakune Old Coach Road, weaving your way through rolling farmland with views over the spectacular Ohakune Basin.
Marshalls Road Carpark to The Ohakune Train Station
You will then ride downhill towards the Marshalls Road car park and head on to a gravel road where you will pass Rongokaupo Wetland and picnic area, a community project under development that is situated just 350m down the road. Carry on this gravel road before turning left onto Old Station Road and down to the Ohakune Junction where you will cross the Mangawhero River bridge before heading down to your final stop, the Ohakune Train Station.
For more information and maps head to the official Mountains to Sea website.
This is a shared-use track. Follow the mountain bikers code: respect others, respect the rules, respect the track. Bikes and transport can be organised from Ohakune.
Know before you go
As the track passes under the main trunk line, be conscious of rail traffic and flying objects from passing trains. For your safety do not enter the railway corridor.
Be sure to check out the Mountains to Sea – Ngā Ara Tūhono website for trail updates, details and trail maps.
The Ohakune Old Coach Road is another exhilarating connected pathway of Mountains to Sea – Ngā Ara Tūhono