Rich human and natural history make this one of New Zealand's most fascinating cycle rides
Sarah Bennett & Lee Slater
The New Zealand Cycle Trails bring landscapes to life with interpretive displays sharing remarkable stories of yesteryear. Featuring volcanoes, viaducts, and spectacular views, Ohakune's Coach Road is rich in history, and a rewarding half-day or day-long adventure.
The 14km trail skirts the fringe of Tongariro National Park – famous for the Alpine Crossing hike that wends through bald, steaming cone-heads. The forest and elegant engineering along this historic byway are a stark contrast, making this an excellent counterpart adventure or alternative should the mountain weather prevent alpine hiking.
From Ohakune, the 14km trail heads to Horopito in a generally uphill direction, easily rideable most of the way. Returning the same way adds up to a moderately strenuous 28km, 4–5-hour ride for those of reasonable fitness. For a more leisurely option, take a shuttle to Horopito and ride back to Ohakune – a predominantly downhill cruise allowing plenty of time to stop at the many points of interest.
1. Smash Palace Wreckers
A couple of minutes' ride from the Horopito trailhead is Horopito Motors car wreckers, more famously known as 'Smash Palace' due to its role in a cult 1981 movie of the same name. It's great for a game of 'name that make and model' with photo opportunities galore.
2. Hitting the Road
The trailhead information display offers a taste of things to come – a series of excellent information panels retelling the Coach Road story. It begins in the 1880s with the construction of a cobblestone road, well used by horse-drawn traffic until superceded by the adjacent railway in 1908. Overgrown and largely forgotten, the road was 'rediscovered' by locals in 2002.
3. Ancient forest
Beyond the meadow, the trail enters Tongariro National Park. All sorts of interesting trees and plants line the trail here, including giant rimu and totara, spiky mountain cabbage trees, various ferns and feathery toetoe. Sidling above the Haeremaere Stream the trail passes the handsome remains of an old rail bridge. But wait, there's more…
4. Taonui Viaduct
This leggy assemblage is one of only two remaining curved viaducts in the southern hemisphere; the other lies ahead on the trail. Bridging steep gullies on the railway route, the twin viaducts were completed in 1907–8 despite inclement weather and the challenges of working with oversized Meccano using ridiculously dangerous ladders rather than scaffolding. They don't make 'em like this anymore!
5. Bush camp
The relics here conjure up the living conditions of the workers. Spare a thought for their supper of cabbage soup and grog as you tuck into your muesli bar and peddle off on your fancy bicycle. More historic features are highlighted as you head over the trail's highest point, past the quarry, and down towards viaduct number two.
6. Old Hapuawhenua Viaduct
Brace yourself for a big moment when the viaduct comes into view. At 284 metres long Old Happy is twice the length of Taonui, and crossable since a 2009 restoration. From its span is a splendid view of the new-fangled concrete viaduct that usurped the old dear in 1987. Riding across the viaduct is against the rules, but only if no one's looking.
7. Spooky Tunnel
After the viaducts, look out for the signpost to Hapuawhenua Tunnel – 200m of freaky fun left for us to explore after the railway line was re-routed in 1987.
8. Dilemma Lookout
Enjoy the 'cobblestone wobble' as you coast downhill towards Ohakune. Stop at the lookout to admire the Waimarino Plain below. These hillocky fields are richly fertile, and in these parts that means carrots. Don't miss the prize-winning specimen erected on the outskirts of Okahune township, just 15–20 minutes' ride away.
The Coach Road can also be walked, and forms part of the multi-day Mountains to Sea Trail.
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