A serendipitous meeting with a HelpX host in Ohakune turned our time in the Central North Island into so much more than a simple stopover. From sunrises on volcanoes to paddling down the largest river in the country, we experienced all the region has to offer in a whirlwind 72 hours thanks to Visit Ruapehu.
The volcanic heart of New Zealand
The Central North Island of New Zealand is the volcanic heart of this beautiful nation. The surrounding Tongariro National Park is New Zealand’s oldest, holding dual heritage status for its cultural significance and volcanic features; Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe are both active volcanoes in the area.
Aside from the increasingly popular Tongariro Crossing, the area has a lot to offer; from hiking to biking, shopping and dining, there’s a lot to do.
The Tongariro Crossing
Possibly the most popular of all The Great Walks, The Tongariro crossing is an 18km one-way day hike. The route starts from Whakapapa village and passes through martian landscapes of the National Park, climbing to the top of Red Crater and down the other side.
We decided to climb to Red Crater for sunrise meaning we set off at 3am from the car park. A clear and crisp night provided perfect conditions for stargazing and walking and we got to Red Crater just in time to see the sky turn orange, illuminating the red volcanic dirt around us. And with nobody else around, we had the perfect morning, albeit sub-zero and blowing hard!
As we descended the same way, hundreds of hopeful hikers started their passage as shuttles began dropping people at the trailhead from 6am. We passed a lot of confused faces on our way back to the car, happy in the knowledge that we had beaten the crowds.
By 10am we were back to at the car drinking coffee and eating breakfast before the next part of our adventure…
The Whanganui River
After breakfast, we quickly drove back towards Ohakune to join the largest river in New Zealand and paddle for four hours downstream. Fortunately, Whanganui River Canoes had organised everything for us and all we needed to do was turn up.
Starting from Ranana (London), we packed everything into barrels and joined the winding river heading South, towards The Flying Fox Lodge where we would spend the night.
As we paddled downstream, families of deer and goat grazed on the riverbank under the yellowing leaves of autumn which reflected in the glassy slack water. Occasionally we approached small rapids which seemed stressful to begin with, and then increasingly fun as the afternoon passed
Shortly before 5pm we arrived on the bank of The Flying Fox Lodge, an off-grid lodge full of quirk and character on the ‘wrong’ side of the river. We settled in to our quaint little cottage and warmed up next to the pot-belly stove before eating and falling asleep at 7pm.
The Bridge To Nowhere
The following morning after a solid 12-hour sleep we packed up and jumped aboard the flying fox which transported us back across the river. We then drove back up the river to Pipiriki where we joined a jet boat to speed up the River to The Bridge To Nowhere.
The bridge was constructed by war veterans in the mid-1930s to provide road access to the lower and middle valley farms known as the Mangapurua Valley Soldiers Settlement. Shortly after, the road build was abandoned and so was the bridge. Today, the bridge is a historical monument and a popular tourist destination well worth visiting.
Ohakune and The Old Coach Road
The small town of Ohakune is perfectly located to explore the Tongariro National Park and has heaps of eating and drinking options, as well as boutique shops. Close to town, there are some beautiful short walks, such as the Waitonga Falls track which we actually did twice- once running and once walking. After a hectic 24 hours doing The Crossing and paddling down the Whanganui it was nice to relax in town and enjoy some good food.
From Ohakune you can join The Old Coach Road which was used to transport passengers between two railheads between 1906 and 1908, allowing through journeys by horse and coach before the rail was completed. The 14km track is now used by bikers and hikers and includes a unique cobbled road, massive steel viaducts, a curved tunnel, and railway bridge remains.
A lot of the tramps/hikes in the area are often overlooked by people visiting to do The Crossing. Tama Lakes is an amazing alternative with a fraction of the traffic on the trail. We decided to hike up to Upper Tama Lakes for sunset after completing the Old Coach Road.
Unlike The Crossing, there was nobody else on the trail all afternoon. Taranaki Falls is a short diversion from the trail or you can carry on to enjoy amazing views of Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and even Mount Taranaki in the distance if you’re lucky.
Walking down in the dark we couldn’t help feel content with our time in the area. Tired? Yes. But so grateful to have had the opportunity to see so much of this part of the country in a short space of time.
If you find yourself in the Central North Island, there’s SO much more to do than just The Tongariro Crossing. We’ll be going back for sure!
This trip was supported and made possible by: