Ohakune Old Coach Road is a walk that takes you back in time to the days of the railway. See massive steel viaducts, an old curved tunnel, railway bridge remains, cobbled paths and old campsites makes for a unique trek up and down the hillside through native New Zealand forest.
Located in the Central North Island under the shadow of Mt Ruapehu this track is a must walk if you love history.
Fresh air and muddy boots make everything better
Difficulty Depending on which way you go one is more difficult than the other. There are still some steep inclines and downhills each way
Time 4 ish hours on foot and 2 and a half on mountain bike
Fitness You need to be relatively fit to tackle this walk because of the inclines but you don't need to be super fit
Access As this is a one-way track (unless you want to turn around and go back again) you need to leave a car at each end, there are public carparks. Alternatively, you can take a shuttle bus to and from the track from TCB or Mountain Bike Station if you are also hiring bikes.
History of Ohakune Old Coach Road
Ohakune Old Coach Road is a wonderful piece of New Zealand history. In the early 1900's, as New Zealand's population started to increase and more people needed to travel up country, a new transport option was needed. A railway line running through the country was designed as traveling via boat was dangerous and by foot or horse and cart, too long and difficult. In order to get the railway line ready a road was needed to carry supplies into the forest.
In 1906 the Ohakune Old Coach Road was ready for heavy traffic as construction for the railway track started getting underway. A heavy duty track was needed to accommodate the drays and carts that carried the supplies for construction.
By November 1908 the railway tracks were connected rendering the road unnecessary so it lay quiet as nature reclaimed it. Man pushed it to the backs of their mind and the road was soon forgotten.
In 2002, nearly 100 years later a local deer hunter who knew where some of the road was hidden started uncovering it. The Department of Conservation historians looked into the road and why it was there and further research was undertaken. It is now officially recognized as being an important part of New Zealand's development. It is now protected and not allowed to fall into deterioration.
The viaducts were definitely my highlight of the Ohakune Old Coach Road. Rusting but still trying to stand with some semblance of dignity. They truly take your breath away. Especially the first one as you walk from Horopito, Taonui Viaduct. You round a corner. Bam! There it is. It takes you by surprise and leaves you in wonder.
You can't walk over the Taonui Viaduct but you can the old Hapuawhenua Viaduct. Which you should definitely do, even if you have to climb the steep incline once you get to the bottom of it. Or you could be smart and just walk back across it again back to the trail. We decided to walk underneath it, which meant we had to climb up the hill to get back to the trail. Not smart. In saying that, looking up at the Viaduct from underneath it gives you a sense of awe at how high it is and how fearless the men working on the construction were.
The way the viaducts were constructed is fascinating. They definitely wouldn't be able to construct viaduct's that way nowadays. OSH (occupational health and safety) would have a heart attack. Really tall precariously balanced ladders reaching up 45 meters to the deck level. And they would have been rickety wooden ladders at that. Amazingly no serious injuries occurred during the construction.
Fun Fact A J Hackett ran New Zealand's first bungee jump off the old Hapuawhenua Viaduct in 1987. Thus, the beginning of commercial bungee jumps.
Walking the Ohakune Old Coach Road
The road can be either walked or biked. We chose to walk the track. A, because I didn't want to make an ass of myself by falling off and B, I would have fallen off. Be mindful that you are sharing the track with bikers if you are walking and with walkers if you are biking.
As you walk down the trail there are information signs dotted along. If you like learning things or an excuse to stop, these are perfect. The signs give information about the construction of the rail line in the 1900's, the life the laborers lead, the tools used, campsites and other interesting bits and bobs. I like interesting bits and bobs so stopped to read quite a few of them.
There are also some spectacular views stretching as far as the eye can see in multiple parts of the track. From looking up at the viaducts to looking across the Valleys and sheer cliff faces to looking down at the various streams. There's something for err'body.
The Curved Tunnel
Another highlight was the curved tunnel after the Hapuawhenua Viaduct (if coming from Horopito). This was a surprise discovery so of course, we had to walk it. There were little inlets at regular interviews which I didn't like. I kept imagining someone lying in wait to jump out at unsuspecting hikers (I totally would do something like that if I knew my friends were hiking and would be in the tunnel and I happened to be in the same area. A lot of variables. But still). At the end of the tunnel, you come to a gate (so you can't walk on the railway line that is in use). Through the gate, you look across both the new and old Hapuawhenua Viaducts.
The tunnel seems longer than it is because it is curved. It gives a warped sense of distance in the dark. But still a fun feature.
Stepping Back In Time
After the tunnel the scenery turned from native bush to farmland fairly quickly. After the uneven cobbles that probably to onlookers, made me look drunk stumbling over some of them, the lush grass was a welcome change to pound the feet over. As fun and novel as the cobblestones were.
As you trip over the cobblestones you get a sense of how people used to travel into the forest all those years ago. Some parts were quite wide and well defined, other parts were starting to be taken over by nature once more. She really is quick to claim back whats hers.
After you cross a wee rickety bridge, voila, you are at the carpark. Where you can take off your shoes, throw them in the boot and get some fresh air on those worn tootsies. You can't go to the pub just yet though. That car at the other end still needs picking up, remember?
Tips for walking the Ohakune Old Coach Road
- Listen out for the ding of a bell or the wheels on the stones if you are walking and move over as soon as you hear them. The move quite fast, especially on the downhills
- If you are biking, a bell is a good idea so you can warn walkers of your apperance. Sometimes the bikes are hard to hear
- Try to stay close to the side of the track, so if you do hear someone approaching you can quickly dive into the bushes. Ok, that may be a bit dramatic but you do need to move rather quickly lest you get run over
- Be patient, this is a popular track. Sometimes you might get stuck behind someone a bit slower. Us as walkers got stuck behind bikers attempting to get up the hill. That was good for the ole ego.
- The walk from Horopito to Ohakune is easier than walking the other way. Horopito is about 500 feet higher than Ohakune
- Leave a car at each end unless you feel like walking 15km back again. Don't do what I almost done and accidently leave the keys to the car at the opposite end in the other car. I would have gotten a few choice words if I hadn't suddenly remembered my keys in the car.
- If you time your walk well you can see the Kiwi Rail Overlander crossing the Hapuawhenua Viaduct at about 130pm. We heard it in the background as we sat on the side of trail eating our sweets and enjoying the sun. We popped our heads over the crest to see the train but missed it.
- You have to cross the railway line that is in use nowadays. Make sure you cross at the designated crossing and look both ways. You know, common sense
So there you have it, go and hike a part of New Zealand's history and walk or bike Ohakune Old Coach Road. You won't regret it. Promise
PS while I would love to take credit for the photos in this post, I can't. My friend Mark took them coz my camera (phone) died and where we stayed had no power. I felt a little lost without a camera in hand but it made me appreciate the walk through my eyes not my lens. So not a bad thing really.
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