This historic trail was used by horse drawn coaches in the early 1900s to transport passengers between the two rail heads 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.
Recently restored, the route ambles along the lower slopes of Mount Ruapehu passing sites of historical interest including the camps of railway workers, the ruins of the Taonui viaduct and both the original and replacement Hapuawhenua Viaducts with their impressive engineering.
The original viaduct took two years to construct and has Category 1 Historic Places status. It was also the location of New Zealand’s first commercial bungy jump, operated by the famous A J Hackett.
The terrain along this route varies greatly from the cobbled tracks under the cool canopy of some of the last remaining virgin forest in the North Island to recently constructed pathways through relatively open bush.
The track is quite steep in places and often becomes very muddy in rainy weather so it is advised that you wear sturdy footwear when walking this trail. Also be aware that this track is popular with mountain bikers and, as the tracks are quite narrow in places, you may need to leave the path to allow them to pass.
About the Track
Ōhakune Railway Station to Marshalls Road carpark
From the station follow the footpath to the Mangawhero River Bridge and cross over onto Old Station Road. Continue about 1.5 kilometres and turn right onto Marshalls Road. Rongokaupo Wetland and picnic area, a community project under development, is situated about 350 metres before Marshalls Road carpark. The track continues from the car park.
Marshalls Road carpark to Hapuawhenua Viaduct
From the car park the track follows the Ōhakune Old Coach Road, weaving its way through rolling farmland with views over the spectacular Ōhakune Basin.
It then heads into native bush toward the Hapuawhenua Viaducts. Cobblestones (setts) are still evident along the track. Explore the Hapuawhenua Tunnel and marvel at the workmanship of yesteryear. The track climbs up to a ridge before dropping into the Hapuawhenua Valley. There are good stands of kahikatea, rimu, mataī and ponga along the way. From this point the two viaducts come into view.
Walk the historic Hapuawhenua Viaduct (cyclists dismount on the viaduct) and enjoy both old and new viaducts and 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 you can return to Ōhakune or carry on to Horopito.
Hapuawhenua Viaduct to Horopito
From the western end of Hapuawhenua Viaduct access the cycle trail to Horopito. The trail passes through a beautiful section of native bush before coming out on the original Old Coach Road again. This is known as the Skyline section; some kilometres of it can be very
muddy and difficult for less experienced riders. 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.
At the top of the ridge you again pass by some magnificent rimu and rātā trees and 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.
Shortly after crossing the bridge over a beautiful spring-fed stream, there is a grassed picnic area surrounded by rimu and tawa trees. This is an ideal place to stop for a rest before continuing through the forest, down the hill to Taonui Stream and under the new Taonui Rail Bridge. The trail follows the stream down to the historic Taonui Viaduct. From the top of the viaduct you follow 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 which regularly use the line.
From the railway line the next points of interest are the old viaduct abutments across Haeremaere Stream. From here the trail crosses the stream and follows the Old Coach Road through to Horopito.