Experiencing Ohakune Old Coach Road

Department of Conservation —  28/06/2017 — Leave a comment

By Rebecca O’Brien, Technical Advisor (Historic)

I had come to cycle the iconic Ohakune Old Coach Road. I’d heard the community had rescued the road and transformed it into a stunning place to visit.

Ohakune Old Coach Road.

Ohakune Old Coach Road

The road is a reminder people can achieve great things when they put their minds to it. It was a reminder I would need – I had a rough ride ahead of me.

I am not an experienced biker. People warned me the ride would be ‘tough’. Back in 1906, an intrepid reporter claimed the road ‘should contain no terrors’ for the traveller. Yet twenty people died in a snowstorm trying to build the magnificent Hapuawhenua Viaduct. And John Rochfort was held at gunpoint while surveying the route. But surely I would be fine?

Learning about the Old Coach Road.

Learning about the Old Coach Road

One sparkling autumn morning I picked up a red bike from one of the many local bike shops. The staff at the shop were extremely knowledgeable and had been part of the effort to save the road. I took their advice to try the ‘easy’ route – and started downhill from Horopito towards Ohakune. Three experienced cyclists from Germany immediately vanished into the distance. I was left alone. It was sunny and quiet. I decided to enjoy myself.

Red bike near the Haeremaere Bridge,

The red bike

The road was built 101 years ago to cover the large gap in the North Island Main Trunk line. Travellers got out of their trains and travelled the gap in horse-drawn coaches. The road was paved in cobblestones to keep it open all year. The cobblestones (just quietly) are not designed for comfort. One rattled passenger counted 433 bumps 15 minutes into his journey. The stones are as bone-rattling today. But I persevered.

Royal Mail Coach, Ohakune Railhead, 1906. (Alexander Turnbull Library, F195754).

Royal Mail Coach, Ohakune Railhead, 1906. (Alexander Turnbull Library, F195754)

And I was rewarded. The road produced a fabulous ‘must-stop’ moment. This road lives up to its promise as a top heritage attraction. The Haeremaere Bridge is breathtaking. It strides across the toitoi filled valley with symmetry and strength. It was the first of many ‘get-off your bike’ vistas. The road is punctuated by fabulously photogenic bridges, viaducts and tunnels. And a heart-stopping ride across the Hapuawhenua Viaduct. When I crossed the viaduct a school kid ahead of me screamed that she was “completely freaked out” — although she was grinning, and so was I.

The historic Hapuawhenua Viaduct.

The historic Hapuawhenua Viaduct

I was exhilarated as I cycled triumphantly towards the end of the road in Ohakune. I had to hand it to the people that made this road possible. From its engineering wizards to the extraordinary people that brought it back to life, the road is an asset (and a credit) to Ohakune. To me it is also an invigorating, 13 kilometre reminder of the perseverance that shaped New Zealand. And surely that’s a reminder we can all use when faced with the bumpy roads in life.

Riding across the historic Hapuawhenua Viaduct.

Riding across the historic Hapuawhenua Viaduct

Fancy exploring this yourself? Find out how you can ride the Old Coach Road.


Need motivation to get outdoors? Find out about Healthy Nature Healthy People.

Want to be part of doing something great? Volunteer and get involved.

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