Half day

Ohakune Old Coach Road
Distance: 11km
Time: 5 hours one way
Start Point: Horopito Junction, 14.5km from Ohakune. Transfers available.
Difficulty: Moderate

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.

 

Lake Surprise Track
Distance: 9km
Time: 5 hours return
Start Point: 15km from Ohakune on the Ohakune Mountain Road
Difficulty: Moderate

The walk to Lake Surprise is a mountain walk which we feel is on a par with the Tongariro Crossing, but without the crowds. This is a walk which has been ground out of the land by massive glacial and volcanic activity. Although at times it felt like we were in the South Island, this is in the heart of the North Island - the Lake Surprise walk on Mt Ruapehu.


It begins by stepping off the side of Mountain Road and sidling across some rather steep scree slopes. Once past those, the terrain rises up over classic high country alpine meadows. From the highest point we could look down on the lake, and the classic U-shaped glacial valley which we would cross, as well as the rocky wall of the U to get up out of the valley, which from here looked rather forbidding.

However first we had to get down there. The descent begins over sheets of jumbled rock which are benign in the late autumn sun but would be pretty treacherous if icy. Two crystal clear streams must be crossed; eventually they and we all arrived at the top of the lava flow and plunged down it. Here the streams become waterfalls, one on each side of the lava flow, leaving a milky white deposit of silica.


Once at the base of the lava flow, we walked away a few hundred metres. From this distance it was easier to see that the rocky cliff we had just come down was once a liquid lava flow pouring downhill.
Boardwalks cross some of the glacial valley which still feels scraped down to bare rock after how many thousands of years ?- that glacier did a pretty thorough job!
We reach the Mangaturuturu Hut, which positively echoes of many happy nights around the fire. The hut is set in more beech forest providing a pleasant shady stroll. However this is rudely interrupted when the forest abruptly gives way to a boulder strewn lahar course which looks as mauled as any west coast beach. Another reminder of the power of the mountain - as if we needed it by now.
We got a bit lost trying to find our way up off the valley floor but yes, that boulder strewn dry water course full of tree trunks really is the right way, so we scrambled up it...and up....and up. Just as we were starting to doubt ourselves again, we rounded a corner to discover the aptly named Lake Surprise.
Sinking into the tussock beside the lake, we could look across it into fluffy cloud tops at the same level as us.
I was a bit disappointed with the lake (or alpine tarn) until I went around the far side of it: the changing composition of Mt Ruapehu, water and sky are very beautiful and worth planning for a still day to get the reflection.

The mountain always looks better with snow on it too. As I write this in November, snow is still falling on Mt Ruapehu, so will probably last well into Feb this summer. However by Mar/April it will look like a big brown rock - not such an impressive backdrop for your photos!

This walk is part of the Round the Mountain circuit so can be done point to point, probably about 10 hours from Whakapapa to Mountain Rd, or in and out from Mountain Rd, as we did. Whichever you do, respect the mountain’s fast changing climate, check the mountain forecast before leaving and be ready for anything.

While Mt Ruapehu reflected in the lake is a beautiful sight I wouldn’t describe this Lake Surprise walk as pretty. Like the Tongariro Crossing, it is a dramatic demonstration of the power of the mountain to alter landform. For me, this walk offers more in its journey than in its destination: raw, dramatic and primal .
Similar or better fitness required as for The Tongariro Crossing, with a lot of clambering over rocks; however it’s shorter, took us 5-6 hrs ( ages 53 and 59)

Parking: there is room for only 3 or 4 cars at the beginning of the walk: otherwise there is the #3 carpark for the Turoa ski field just a short way up the road. A bonus here for Middle Earth fans is that last year some of The Hobbit was shot off this car park, using scaffolding to get all the actors down to the waterfall below the road.

The beauty of the Lake Surprise walk is its accessibility for North Islanders. Although it feels like a world away, you can get big mountain drama only 3 or 4 hours drive from most places in the North Island, making it a good weekend trip or a short break. Staying in Ohakune, it’s only 20 minutes drive up Mountain Road, with a heap of other walks to explore while you’re there.
 

 

Old Blyth Track
Distance: 11km
Time: 5 hours return
Start Point: 7km from Ohakune on the Ohakune Mountain Road
Difficulty: Moderate

Constructed in the early 1900s, this track is named after Joe Blyth, the former Ohakune School Headmaster whose passion for the mountain lead him to devote hundreds of hours of his time to volunteering on its slopes.

This historic route, pioneered by Blyth, climbs the mid-slopes passing through red beech forest and crossing alpine bogs along the way. The remains of the original ‘Corduroy’ (horizontal logs placed across the tracks to improve the route) can still be seen. The trail eventually connects with the Waitonga Falls Track and on to the Round the Mountain Track but can be undertaken as a track in itself with great views of the mountain en route.

 

Taranaki Falls Track
Distance: 5.3km
Time: 2hrs round trip
Start Point: 100m below Whakapapa Visitor Centre, Whakapapa Village
Difficulty: Easy

This is a popular track to the beautiful Taranaki Falls, a 20m high cascade over a 15,000 year old lava formation. The trail crosses four gullies via suspension bridges en route and from the falls you can see into the gorges of the Wairere stream.
The walk takes you through red tussock, beech forest, broadleaf, toatoa and five fingers. On a clear day there are fantastic views of Mount Ruapehu and the valleys below.