Sarah Bennett witnesses a bicycle revolution as Ohakune is transformed from ‘Carrot Town’ into a bicycle mecca
Ohakune’s bid to be a bonefide bike town began with a bunch of locals rediscovering a long-forgotten cobblestone road and turning it into a walking and biking trail. All greet the Ohakune Old Coach Road, now 10 years old and regularly named as one of the best half-day rides in the country.
Since then, Ohakune has remained somewhat of a one-trick pony on the bike front, the only new paths added are the children’s pump track and a short river path that connects the two ends of the city.
Bicycles, however, have been brought across city limits. The official Ruapehu visitor guide claims that there are more than 400 kilometers of “epic tracks … with rides for all capacities, all year round”.
Much of this falls under the umbrella of the Mountains to Sea Ngā Ara Tūhono Great Ride, which includes not only the Old Coach Road but also hinterland MTB classics the 42 Traverse, Fishers and Mangapurua tracks.
The Mountains to Sea network, which extends to the city of Whanganui, has a total of eight tracks, with two more planned. At Ara Mangawhero, Mt Ruapehu will cut off from Tūroa ski field, and the other will connect Old Coach Road with the new Marton Sash and Door track at National Park. That part of the track will include Uenuku iwi’s Pōkākā eco-sanctuary project, which has just received Mahi mō te Taiao / Jobs for Nature funding.
Bergen to Sea trail manager Lynley Twyman is unrepressibly optimistic about future developments. “The reo Māori name of the paths is Ngā Ara Tūhono – connected paths – and that is the goal,” she says. “And Ohakune is the beating heart of that network. It’s the perfect place to give thanks and explore.”
THE LEI OF THE COUNTRY
Synonymous with skiing and its super-sized root, Ohakune sits at the southern foot of Mt Ruapehu, the highest peak of the North Island and the most powerful of the three volcanoes of Tongariro National Park. It is also less than an hour’s drive from Whanganui National Park.
Ohakune has two endings, city and junction, both of which have their own atmosphere. It is a five minute drive from one to the other.
FREE YOUR BEARINGS
Unmissable from most angles, Mt Ruapehu makes it pretty much impossible to get lost anywhere around this end of the volcanic plateau.
Collect the iSITE free city map, which also provides individual maps for the Mountains to Sea trails, for details on the city, including the Old Coach Road trailhead. The official website of the route is also excellent, as are markings for tracks and other signs.
IN TOWN TOUR
More or less flat with wide streets, Ohakune is a pleasure to pootle. Pleasant bike paths include the Jubilee Park trail to Carrot Adventure Park, and Mangawhero River trail that connects the two ends of the town. Look forward to Te Pepe Pump Track and the new frisbee golf course around there.
The Old Coach Road is the must-do. A mix of singletrack and old cobblestone, it connects Ohakune and Horopito. Drive the 15km path up both sides if you are fit, or catch a shuttle to Horopito to drive it up one side in a slightly downhill direction.
Allow two to four hours, or longer for forest baths and a picnic. You will want to stay close to the two amazing historic viaducts, spooky tunnel, excellent storyboards and fantastic vantage points. Finish with beer and chips at the Powderhorn.
The newest track in the Mountains to Sea network is the Marton Sash and Door, a lovely road ride from National Park Village, 25 minutes drive from Ohakune. It takes two hours or so, the 18 km path follows the railway line and then climbs briefly to reach a wooded mountain over which a century or so ago a wooden tram was built. The path is named after the logging company that built it.
The story here is one of winning and regeneration, revealed in restoring native forest interspersed with experimental exotic along with various tramway relics, including sleepers, puddles and a mossy old block dam. A planned series of storyboards will soon share this hidden history, and over time, Uenuku iwi’s Pōkākā eco-sanctuary project will bring even more life back to this special corner of the volcano plateau.
From Ohakune, it is a 20-minute drive on the Mountain Road to the Tūroa Ski Field car park, 1700 meters from sea level. So, that’s your epic sunset sorted.
Off the Mountain Road is the short but rewarding DoC hiking trail to Waitonga Falls, the highest cascade in Tongariro National Park.
The Mountain Road is also the first part of the full 231 km Mountains to Sea ride through to the city of Whanganui. What a way to get started – a steep 18km freewheel down 1000 vertical meters. Hitch a ride up, and stop!
Our new Ohakune fave is Toastie, a trendy toasted sandwich cafe that serves Supreme coffee, Six Barrel Soda, and seven different sammies with pastrami, kimchi and vegan bacon aise. The “Owen from Ohakune” nails local colors to the manure with a layer of grated carrot.
The eye on this competition is The Blind Finch, bakery by day, burger takeaway by night. Served seriously delicious food and staffed by nice people, we visited the Finch four times in five days and that was only because it was close on Monday.
DO NOT MISS
Horopito Motors is located right next to the Old Coach Road trailhead. Known as Smash Palace after the 1970s movie starring Bruno Lawrence, it is a car repair company and a large car cemetery. The Motor Trade Association describes it well as “a tourist destination, movie set, museum, paradise for car restoration enthusiasts, and a place where the past is slowly disappearing”. Anyone for a game of “name making and model”?
HAZARDS & CAUTIONS
The Old Coach Road is not a doddle. Although not particularly long or remote, some wobbly cobblestones, the early poodle and a few short, rotating climbs give it a Class 3 (intermediate) rating, so only set off if you are used to off-road riding.
BIKE TOWN RATING
The O is no longer just about snow. Now the hub of the Mountains to Sea trails – complete with plenty of bike rentals and shuttles – it’s evolved into an adventure city for all seasons in terms of price. I’m plumping for more quiet tracks around town, please, but the game changer will be Te Ara Mangawhero from Tūroa. Bring it up.
Start planning at Visit Ruapehu;
Mountains to Sea Cycle Ngā Ara Tūhono Trail
For more travel inspiration, go to newzealand.com/nz.
Check traffic light settings and advice from the Ministry of Public Health before traveling to covid19.govt.nz