Summer 2015 is meant to be about writing my third novel – and it is progressing. In fact, if it were entirely up to me, I would probably be inside writing a lot more than I am – with no fresh air, sunshine and experiences to feed a creative mind.

Fortunately, it is not entirely up to me. My wife and I have been continuing our mountain biking adventures. Readers of my blog may remember my post from last May, “Mountain Biking the Timber Trail” detailing our first bike ride since we were teenagers. This post was one of my most popular in 2014. Since May, we have purchased bikes, using them in our daily lives (even replacing a car with one as my main vehicle for work) and seeking out new trails like the tracks in Rotorua and the circuit around the Tongariro River in Turangi.

Of course, not all of this warrants a blog post, but our most recent venture along the Old Coach Road in Tongariro National Park does. Our daughter accompanied us this time. She and my wife are credited with all the photos posted here.

Antony Millen mountain biking the Old Coach Road
Antony Millen mountain biking the Old Coach Road

Our day started with a drive from Taumarunui to Ohakune where we met our shuttle. Mountain Bike Station were a treat to deal with and will meet you at whatever time you arrange. We wanted an early morning start to avoid some of our UV-laden New Zealand afternoon sun. During our short trip to Horopito, our driver provided us with some history behind the road and its development in recent years as part of the Mountain to Sea Cycleway. The trail is one of many intiatives to keep businesses alive and humming during summer in the popular winter destination of Ohakune. He explained that the trail was still progressing as they sort out existing roots over the cobblestone road. That’s right – a cobblestone road. More on that later.

After a brief look at Horopito Motors, an auto-wrecker business that has been run by the same family for over 60 years and setting for the film Smash Palace, we started the trail on a metal road along some farmland before entering Tongariro National Park. Ironically, our son, who lives away now, was also in the park traversing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. He had stayed the night in Ohakune, but had left before we arrived. Still, it was cool to consider that our whole family was adventuring in the park this day.

Taonui Viaduct
Taonui Viaduct

We were soon on the native bush track which led us along some mild gradients to the disused Taonui Railway Viaduct. Descending below this, we crossed the Haeremaere Stream and cycled a significant climb over several kilometres to the highest point of the trail. It was about here that we started along the cobblestone road our driver had told us about.

He had explained that the road was built in 1906 at the behest of an impatient prime minister of New Zealand. The main trunk line was still under construction, but the PM wanted to travel to Auckland to see the US navy who were touring the world. Over 8km of locally quarried cobblestones were hand-laid and enabled horse and carriage passage along, what was then known as, the “best road in New Zealand.” After the completion of the main trunk railway, the road lost its usefulness and was re-patriated by the bush until it was again cleared for a cycleway in this century with, what sounds like, excellent cooperation between DOC, the New Zealand government, the Ohakune community and local iwi Maori.

So it was this bumpy, root-infested track we covered for the next several kilometres. And it was great. Our bikes and body parts handled it all well and there were plenty of amazing views and signs of historical interest along the way. The road basically follows the path of the main trunk line which makes Taumarunui all the more famous. The road’s caretakers have also smoothed some sections with asphalt and, while I appreciated the smoother and safer ride along these, I did feel the presence of asphalt took away from the natural feel which is as incredible as on the Timber Trail – a slight intrusion of civilisation. But I suppose all the viaducts, railway lines and bridges do that as well . . .

Hapuawhenua Viaduct
Hapuawhenua Viaduct

We didn’t meet many other bikers along our journey (unlike the Turangi circuit) until we reached the Hapuawhenua Viaduct (also disused). Now this was impressive: an extended, curved bridge at a wonderfully dizzying height and a rest stop with toilets at the end. This is a dead-end as far as the trail goes and cyclists must go back to the start of the viaduct in order to rejoin the trail. We were tempted to divert down an alternate route, but it was a very steep road, so thank goodness we didn’t. While we were there, we watched a train pass overhead on the new viaduct:

Hapuawhenua Tunnel

Nearby there is a fun tunnel to explore, another dead-end, but well worth biking in and out of. From there, we headed back on cobblestoned road, much of it covered in grass for a long downhill along farm-land again making it feel like the end was nigh. And it was, as we reached the car park at the other end of the trail. From there, we biked back into Ohakune and our own vehicle.

Bikers can access either end of the trail or do an out-and-back, but the way we took was predominantly downhill. We’ve talked about trying this route again some day, even starting in Ohakune and cycling to Horopito and returning. However, the climb to Horopito is probably above our fitness level at the moment.

We are also planning our next trail on Mount Pirongia. When I’m not writing.

Antony Millen is a Canadian living and writing in New Zealand and the author of Redeeming Brother Murrihy, Te Kauhanga and The Chain.

Smashwords Cover Te_Kauhanga_Cover_for_Kindle (2)The_Chain_Cover_for_Kindle

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