Turoa to Ohakune cycle link: will it happen?

Turoa to Ohakune cycle link: will it happen?

Imagine walking out of a café in Ohakune, across the road and into the Jubilee Park native bush, along the trial to Burns Street, up the Mangawhero River Walkway, then the Mangawhero Walk and on up through podocarp forest, then alpine fauna to the Turoa ski area.

That is one of the visions for the proposed 20km cycle/pedestrian trail between Turoa and Ohakune that is still being investigated.

Because most of the trail will be within the Tongariro National Park, a change to the park management plan will be required to allow for the development.

Department of Conservation rangers Paul Carr and Julian Toby said last week that work is progressing well on a series of reports required before a plan change can be considered.

The reports cover environmental impact, recreational use, demand, cultural, historical and feasibility, as well as peer review by experts such as well-known mountain biker Jonathan Kennett.

The rangers are cautiously optimistic about the project, with a proposal likely to go out for public consultation around June this year.

“There shouldn’t be a whole lot of reasons why it shouldn’t happen,” says Paul Carr, who is enthusiastic about the idea of linking the national park to the town of Ohakune.

“It would be unique to New Zealand – to be able to walk from the centre of town, through native forest all the way up a mountain.”

The trail would be a unique 1000-metre descent – one of the longest in New Zealand.

The idea of the trail came about when New Zealand Transport Authority was considering modifications to the Ohakune Mountain Road to make it safer for cyclists. The Government agency has offered support for the separate cycle/walking trail as a better, safer option.

But the rangers stress that it’s to be a walking trail as well as a cycle track, which will help “future proof” the asset, if cycling popularly wanes.

They say that there are plenty of good examples of mixed-use tracks around New Zealand, including the Ohakune Old Coach Road.

“We’ve got a pretty solid methodology for cycle/walking tracks construction,” said Mr Toby.

The track would use a number of existing trails including the Old Blyth Track and also old timber milling tram tracks that were part of the Bennett and Punch tramline.

“We’ll be able to tell a lot of local stories,” said Paul Carr of the Bennett and Punch tracks, adding that there was a lot of historical items still in the area, including old forestry and farm machinery.

Part of the overall project, could later include the reforestation of the Ohakune water catchment area.

What’s in a name

Julian Toby said an important part of the process will be deciding on a name for the trail.

He said it is likely to include “Mangawhero”, because it largely follows the Mangawhero River and is also important to local iwi.

Mr Toby said the Tongariro Taupo Conservation Board supports a review of the park management plan that is necessary to allow the trail development.

After public submissions are received and reviewed, hearings on the plan change could take place if required.

The plan change would then go to the Conservation Authority for approval, then on to the Minister, then back to the Authority.

Project support

Numerous interested parties would be consulted throughout the process.

One of those organisations has already made its views known – the Ruapehu Mountain Bike Club Incorporated, who have expressed “full support”.

The Club believes the Ohakune Mountain Road is a very hazardous section of the Mountains to the Sea trail to ride, with steep and narrow sections and residue grit from winter roading operations.

“We feel that the (trail) would greatly enhance the existing journey in terms of its safety, overall diversity and the total riding experience. A trail formed over existing tracks and pathways as much as possible would help minimize the physical impact of the trail formation within the National Park environment,” submitted the Club.

“Although our members are keen to see trails that cater for a broad range of cyclists with varying skills and experience, we would not recommend or support the development of a “race line” i.e. trail grades 4/5, catering for downhill racing enthusiasts.

“Such high grade trails need to be dedicated to mountain bikes only and would not be suitable in this environment.

“The proposal presents an opportunity for Ohakune to become a notable mountain biking destination, opening up multiple riding opportunities accessible right from town.

“The lower section of the trail along the tramway to the lower Mangawhero River crossing and back past the campground, together with the Horopito loop linking to the Ohakune Old Coach Road in particular, would help set up Ohakune as a riding hub.”

“Our members are greatly excited by this proposal and would be pleased to assist where required, be it with their labour or by providing information relating to trail construction or trail conflict mitigation.”