Ohakune Old Coach Road

Image: Katie Millen | ©

Introduction

Take a trip back into New Zealand's rail heritage while you walk or cycle an old coach road. The road was used to carry passengers and goods between two railheads on the North Island main trunk link before they were linked in 1908.

Highlights

The Ohakune Old Coach Road formed an integral link between the two rail heads between 1906 and 1908, allowing through journeys by horse and coach before the rail was completed. The Hapuawhenua Viaduct was one of the final components of the North Island main trunk railway.

Heritage features on the trail include a unique cobbled road, massive steel viaducts, a curved tunnel, railway bridge remains, and old campsites.

The journey also takes visitors through some beautiful stands of native forest with sweeping views across the district.

Track overview

15 km one way

Walking and tramping

4 hr 30 min walk Easy: Walking track

Mountain biking

2 hr 20 min Easy: Grade 2

Dog access

No dogs

About this track

Description

Ohakune Railway Station to Marshalls Road carpark

From the station follow the footpath to the Mangawhero River Bridge and cross over onto Old Station Road. Continue about 1.5 kilometres and turn right onto Marshalls Road. Rongokaupo Wetland and picnic area, a community project under development, is situated about 350 metres before Marshalls Road carpark. The track continues from the car park.

Marshalls Road carpark to Hapuawhenua Viaduct

From the car park the track follows the Ohakune Old Coach Road, weaving its way through rolling farmland with views over the spectacular Ohakune Basin.

It then heads into native bush toward the Hapuawhenua Viaducts. Cobblestones (setts) are still evident along the track. Explore the Hapuawhenua Tunnel and marvel at the workmanship of yesteryear. The track climbs up to a ridge before dropping into the Hapuawhenua Valley. There are good stands of kahikatea, rimu, mataī and ponga along the way. From this point the two viaducts come into view.

Walk the historic Hapuawhenua Viaduct (cyclists dismount on the viaduct) and enjoy both old and new viaducts and native forest surrounds. The limestone cliff that is visible high up on top of Raetihi Hill is a reminder that this area was once under the sea. From here you can return to Ohakune or carry on to Horopito.

Hapuawhenua Viaduct to Horopito

From the western end of Hapuawhenua Viaduct access the cycle trail to Horopito. The trail passes through a beautiful section of native bush before coming out on the original Old Coach Road again. This is known as the Skyline section; some kilometres of it can be very
muddy and difficult for less experienced riders. On the way to the highest point the trail passes the old quarry which supplied much of the rock for the cobbles as the old dray road was upgraded to a coaching road in 1905.

At the top of the ridge you again pass by some magnificent rimu and rātā trees and there are beautiful views over farmland and hills. Throughout this part of the trail there are old campsites established when the dray road was upgraded. While not much can be seen of them, they are a reminder of the hardships the road
workers and their families faced while living in canvas covered houses in the midst of a cold, wet rainforest.

Shortly after crossing the bridge over a beautiful spring-fed stream, there is a grassed picnic area surrounded by rimu and tawa trees. This is an ideal place to stop for a rest before continuing through the forest, down the hill to Taonui Stream and under the new Taonui Rail Bridge. The trail follows the stream down to the historic Taonui Viaduct. From the top of the viaduct you follow part of the old railway alignment through to the present day railway line. The railway line must be crossed at the designated crossing point. Use caution when looking for trains which regularly use the line.

From the railway line the next points of interest are the old viaduct abutments across Haeremaere Stream. From here the trail crosses the stream and follows the Old Coach Road through to Horopito.

Mountain biking

This is a shared-use track. Follow the mountain bikers code: respect others, respect the rules, respect the track.

Know before you go

As the track passes under the main trunk line, be conscious of rail traffic and flying objects from passing trains. For your safety do not enter the railway corridor.

Historic Ohakune Old Coach Road

The Ohakune Old Coach Road provided an all-weather road link for coaches carrying passengers and goods between the two railheads of the North Island main trunk line. With progress on completing the North Island main trunk rail slow, the road provided a way to allow through traffic, until the railheads were finally linked in 1908.

It mostly followed the route (with the exception of the section to Taonui Viaduct) of a bridle track completed in 1886 that had been upgraded to a dray road in 1895. Between 1904 and 1906 it was upgraded, being mostly paved with setts (rock pavers), giving it a durable, all-weather surface for heavy horse-drawn traffic. It was completed in November 1906, at a point when the distance between the railheads was 39 kilometres. 

The road was used until early 1909 and after the opening of State Highway 49 fell into disuse. It remained mostly untouched since, though some sections have been lost through deviation of the railway in 1987.

The road can be considered a most significant example of roading engineering heritage and the finest rural road constructed in New Zealand up to that time. It has great historic significance for the period it was used as the link between the two ends railheads.  The end of the road’s useful life froze it in time and, other than the natural deterioration it has undergone since its use stopped, it is in remarkably good condition. It has a Category I Historic Places status from Historic Places Trust.

The department, in conjunction with Ohakune 2000 has re-opened the Ohakune Old Coach Road as a cycle trail, which forms part of the Ruapehu-Whanganui Trail. When completed, this trail will take cyclists through the Tongariro and Whanganui National Parks, past the famous Bridge to Nowhere, the Hapuawhenua Viaduct and many marae along the Whanganui River Road.

Hapuawhenua Viaduct

The Hapuawhenua Viaduct was built in 1907-1908 as part of the final works to finish the North Island main trunk railway.

It was designed by Peter Seton Hay, Superintending Engineer of the Public Works Department, recognised as one of the most influential engineers of the period. The viaduct has a Category I Historic Places status from Historic Places Trust.

The viaduct consists of 13 concrete piers and four 4-legged steel towers resting on concrete foundation blocks. There are four steel plate girder tower spans of 11 metres, five 20 metre lattice truss spans and thirteen 11 metre plate girders. In total the viaduct is 284 metres long and at its maximum it stands 45 metres high. It is unique in that it is built on a 10-chain radius curve, reflecting the difficult landscape through which it passes.

Workers lived on site during the two years it took to construct the viaduct, enduring harsh winters, primitive conditions and isolation to complete construction in time for the opening of the railway.

Flyover the Hapuawhenua Viaduct

The Hapuawhenua Viaduct was in use until 1987 when the line was realigned and a new viaduct was built. It is mostly in original condition, and is currently being restored by DOC and Tongariro Natural History Society to allow visitors to again enjoy this spectacular piece of railway engineering heritage.

Hapuawhenua viaduct opening

Taonui Viaduct

The Taonui Viaduct shares many of the features of the nearby Hapuawhenua Viaduct: it was also designed by Peter Seton Hay, shares the same construction methods, and unique curved style. It practically differs only in its smaller size (140m long and 35m high), aspect, and fact that it is built on a 1 in 60 gradient.

The viaduct has a Category I Historic Places status from Historic Places Trust.

At this time, the Taonui Viaduct will not be restored for visitor use. Access to view the viaduct is being restored as a side track of the Old Coach Road.


Related links

Getting there

Access the Ohakune Old Coach Road from Ohakune or Horopito. It's a one way walk or ride so you'll need to return the same way or arrange transport back.

From Ohakune:
Start at the the historic Ohakune railway station, ride down Old Coach Road and turn right into Marshalls Road to join the track. Or, drive to the Marshalls Road car park (5 minutes drive from Ohakune) and begin the ride there.

From Horopito (north of Ohakune on SH 4):
Turn onto Matapuna Road from SH4. There is a parking area just across the railway line.

Map of the Ohakune Old Coach Road (JPG, 60K)

Contacts

Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre
Phone:   +64 7 892 3729
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Email:   tongarirovc@doc.govt.nz
Address:   Whakapapa Village
State Highway 48
Mount Ruapehu
Postal Address:   PO Box 71029
Whakapapa Village
Mount Ruapehu 3951
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