Bike the Volcano Country
A volcanic plateau, lush dense native forests, sub-alpine amazingness… No, these are not the things that are usually advertised as the highlights of Ruapehu’s bike trails. It’s the bridges! Kiwis are very proud of the bridges they have erected in this remote area of the North Island. There’s the high viaduct on the Ohakune Old Coach Road, the super long suspension bridge on the Timber Trail, and most famous of all is the Bridge to Nowhere on the Mountains to Sea trail. All of which seem like bizarre structures amongst the Jurassic-like forests of the Whanganui National Park or Tongariro Forest Park.
Nonetheless, the bridges connect us to some incredible biking terrain in Ruapehu, Tongariro National Park and Whanganui National Park. Just hire a bike from one of the small charming towns of the district and peddle your way through landscapes that are likely to take your breath away!
The Grades of Difficulty for Biking in New Zealand
As you’ll see from the descriptions below, there are varying difficulties for cycling trails in New Zealand. It’s important to assess your own fitness and ability before venturing on a bike trail, so you can find something either challenging enough or not too much of a mission!
- Grade 1 – Easiest track with a smooth, flat surface
- Grade 2 – Easy with some gentle climbs and avoidable obstacles like rocks
- Grade 3 – Intermediate with steep hills and some avoidable obstacles
- Grade 4 – Advanced level track with long steep sections, narrow tracks and obstacles you might have to ride over
- Grade 5 – Expert is technically and physically challenging
- Grade 6 – Extreme level is for people who know their shit. Possible manmade or natural jumps.
Mountains to Sea (Nga Ara Tuhono)
Time: 3-7 days
Distance: 200km (124 miles)
Exactly what it says on the tin, the Mountains to Sea bike trail is a ride from the flanks of New Zealand’s largest volcano, Mt Ruapehu, to the seashores of Whanganui. Spectacular scenery lies in between like the volcanic landscape of the Tongariro National Park and the forests and rivers of the Whanganui National Park.
The mountain part of the journey starts from Turoa on Mt Ruapehu and is a downhill blast on the Ohakune Mountain Road to the Old Coach Road (see below). There are two options to take before heading into the Whanganui National Park: the Fisher Track in the north which goes passed National Park Village, or along Middle Road and Ruatiti Road in the south. Either way, you’ll face a bit of a climb on the Mangapurua or Kaiwhakauka Tracks. A highlight in the Whanganui National Park is the Bridge to Nowhere! The next part is a real thrill as you load the bikes onto the jetboat to speed down the stunning Whanganui River!
Once at Pipiriki it is back on the bikes for the final leg of the journey on the Whanganui River Road to the Tasman Sea in Whanganui.
- Mountains to Sea is best done in spring and autumn
- An average fitness level is needed for the ride with a few off-road biking skills
- Mountain bikes are recommended
- Book the jetboat, shuttles and accommodation in advance
- Day trips and transport on the trail can be arranged from Ohakune, National Park Village and Raetihi.
Time: 1-2 days
Distance: 44km (27 miles)
For those who don’t want to bust a gut to see a pretty forest, the Timber Trail is for you! There are friendly surfaces to ride on, such as tramways and old bulldozer roads. Not to forget the 141m (463ft)-long suspension bridge!
- Shuttles and bike hire for day ride options can be accessed from Taumarunui
- To ride back to Taumarunui, continue on Ongarue Back Road
- To connect with the Forgotten World Highway, follow the Okahakura Saddle Road to Ohura and then the highway.
Forgotten World Highway Cycle Trail
Time: 2-3 days
Distance: 180km (112 miles)
Starting in Taumarunui, follow the Whanganui River through farmland. Climb up and over the Paparata Saddle before dropping down into the native-bush-filled Tangarakau Gorge. There is another moderate climb to the Hobbit Hole tunnel and Tahora Saddle. At the end of day one, cruise downhill to end up in Whangamomona, where you can get your passport stamped at the hotel.
The route leaves the state highway onto Junction Road. This section is your typical New Zealand farmland: cows and sheep everywhere! The final part is another saddle climb over Tarata Saddle, across a suspension bridge and along the coast of New Plymouth in the Taranaki region. Inland is the ending destination at Stratford.
Find out more about the sights to see along the way in 10 Places You Can’t Miss on the Forgotten World Highway.
Time: 3-6 hours
Distance: 46km (29 miles)
Follow an old logging route through some of the most remote parts of the North Island. Not only is this a ride for the awesome volcano views, but the serious downhill fun even experts can have a good time here.
Start the 42 Traverse from Kapoors Road off State Highway 47, which is about 18km (11 miles) north of National Park Village.
Along Kapoors Road there is the DOC sign marking the track. Enjoy the long rutted downhill sections through the Tongariro Forest Park. The ride ends in Owhango.
- Shuttles and bike hire can be accessed from National Park Village, Ohakune, Raetihi and Taupo
- Pick a fair-weather day to do the trail, as the track can get very muddy and involve some river crossings. It is best to do it in summer and autumn.
Marton Sash and Door Tramway
Time: 2-3 hours
Distance: 16km (10 miles)
This is an easy bike riding option from National Park Village no need to book a shuttle bus! The new loop track is a recovered tramway passing pine plantations. It also follows the main railway line of the North Island, with glimpses of Mt Ruapehu, Mt Ngauruhoe and Mt Tongariro.
Ohakune Old Coach Road
Time: 2-3 hours
Distance: 15km (9 miles)
This is one of those “something-for-everyone” kind of rides. You’ll have your dose of impressive mountain views, forest and history. The Old Coach Road was used for horse-drawn coaches, which now connects Horopito and Ohakune.
There are equal uphill and downhill sections in the pretty native forest of the Tongariro National Park.
Two highlights include the 45m (148ft)-high Hapuwhenu Viaduct and the Old Train Tunnel, both looking out-of-place amongst native bush. There are plenty of information panels to read should you need an excuse to rest.
- Get a shuttle and bike hire from Ohakune to start at Horopito. That way, you can end in The Junction part of Ohakune for a pint at the end of the road, then enjoy a 2km (1.2-mile) ride along the river to get back downtown. Book your bike hire and transport with TCB in Ohakune or on Viator or Tripadvisor.
Tree Trunk Gorge
Time: 2-3 hours
Distance: 18km (11 miles)
Following the Tongariro River in the Kaimanawa Forest Park, this is an adventurous ride in the Ruapehu region for the intermediate rider. This mix of single track and old forest road can be done a loop track by following the state highway back to your starting point.
Starting from either the car park at the Pillars of Hercules or from the car park off Tree Trunk Road, the Tree Trunk Gorge ride through old lava flows and native forest. If starting from the Pillars of Hercules end of the trail, there is a challenging climb to get to the rewarding riverside ride, including some river crossings and bridges. Then enjoy a slightly technical descent before one last climb.
- Shuttle and bike hire services are available from Taupo and Turangi
- Do the track in dryer weather conditions for a better river crossing experience
- A mountain bike is recommended.
More to Do in Ruapehu!
Snow, Hike, Lord of the Rings, and Other Things
When you have finished exploring this volcanic district by bike, find more awesome backpacker activities in these articles: