Ohakune Old Coach Road
The Ohakune Old Coach road forms part of The Mountains to Sea cycle trail, which makes up part of The New Zealand cycle trail network.
The Ohakune Old Coach Road is rapidly becoming known as one of New Zealand’s best walks to do in half a day. Popular as both a walking and biking route, it takes you through a spectacular part of Tongariro National Park, the world’s fourth heritage cultural area.
It is the official start of the Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail “Nga Ara Tuhono”. When it was opened by Prime Minister John Keys (with Ruapehu and Whanganui iwi, headed by Ngati Rangi) on 2nd July 2010, it became the first of the national network of cycle trails planned by that government to be opened.
The Dept of Conservation in partnership with Ohakune 2000 and Project Tongariro re-developed the cobblestoned Ohakune Old Coach Road and Hapuawhenua Viaduct. These projects took local community volunteers nearly a decade from 1999 to 2008 to finish.
This coach road was built in 1907 to carry passengers in horse-drawn coaches over the 39 km gap between the railheads. The train from Wellington would arrive at Ohakune, where its passengers would board the horse-drawn coaches for their trip up The Ohakune Old Coach Road. The road was continuously paved with a layer of hand-carved, tightly fitted cobblestones (setts) which were laid approximately 30cm deep. The cobbled road was of fixed gradient as the horses climbed uphill out of Ohakune, and strong enough to withstand concentrated heavy use: often a trainload of passengers would need ten coaches.
The Hapuawhenua Viaduct was one of the final components in completing the North Island main trunk rail and is now linked into this walk/cycle through a new loop section of track.
Winding 15km along the lower slopes of Mount Ruapehu, the Ohakune Old Coach Road is popular with cyclists and walkers alike and is one of the best family days out in the area. But this hasn’t always been the case. Until recently the abandoned trail had been lost to the forest until it was rediscovered and restored to the attraction it is today.
The story of the Old Coach Road began in the early 1900s with the arrival of the railway in Ohakune. The North Island Main Trunk Line had made its way north from Wellington and south from Auckland until just 35km separated the two railheads. Until the tracks were completed a small bridleway through the dense Tongariro Forest became a vitally important connection between the two major cities on the North Island.
From the first passenger coach in February 1907, the partially cobbled route carried travellers between the stations at Ohakune and Raurimu as well as supplying the engineers and labourers working to finish the railway and the phenomenal undertaking that was the Hapuawhenua Viaduct. In use for a mere 21 months, the trail was abandoned upon the completion of the Main Trunk Line on November 8th 1908.
The overgrown trail was rediscovered in 2002 by the local community. By 2005 research had been carried out into the history of the road and its original purpose had been uncovered. A committee of local volunteers and representatives from conservation organisations worked to redevelop the trail for recreational use and to preserve it as an important part of New Zealand’s history.
Passing the remains of the Taonui Viaduct, the stunning engineering of both the original and replacement Hapuawhenua Viaducts and the Hapuawhenua Tunnel, the reconstructed trail is a journey through the history of the coach road, the railway and most importantly the people who lived and worked along the tracks. The conditions they endured to construct what was, and arguably still is, the North Island’s most important intercity transport link were harsh and unforgiving, and the interactive information boards along the route provide a glimpse into the daily lives of these brave pioneers.
Today the conditions are much more favourable so why not take the journey for yourself and see why the Old Coach Road is Ohakune’s number one attraction.