Ohakune’s Old Coach Road is a deservedly popular half-day adventure offering an enticing mix of pioneer stories, spectacular forest, volcanic scenery and some fast, flowing riding. It follows a re-discovered cobblestone road that once bridged a gap in the railway line before the ends were connected in 1909, and skirts World Heritage-listed Tongariro National Park for much of the way,
Mostly smooth terrain and just a few moderate hill climbs make this trail suitable for most abilities. More ambitious riders can carry on to complete more challenging sections of the multi-day Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail, of which the Old Coach Road is a part.
While fit bikers can ride it both ways from Ohakune township, a popular option is to be shuttled to Horopito from where it’s a predominantly downhill ride back to town. Before pedaling off, however, riders can enjoy a game of ‘name that make and model’ in the legendary car wreckers known as ‘Smash Palace’ for its role in a 1981 cult movie of the same name.
At Horopito, the trail begins on the fringe of the national park. Passing the rusting remains of the Taonui viaduct, it winds through native forest thick with flora such as mighty totara and rimu, spiky cabbage trees, and ferns galore.
The ride’s grandest spectacle, however, is the Old Hapuawhenua Viaduct. Spanning 294m and fully restored in 2009 – simply for the love of it – the lofty and elegantly curved engineering marvel offers up one of the best photo-ops of any cycle trail in New Zealand.
Other highlights include a spooky tunnel and a fun downhill blast towards the end of the ride during which there are also panoramic views across the rolling Waimarino Plains.
The ride is considerably enriched by a series of information panels that tell the tales of building the coach road and railway, back when workers lived in bush camps, fueled by cabbage soup and home-brewed grog. Little did they know how much joy their toil would bring down the line.