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The Mountains to Sea Trail follows an epic route from the base of Mt Ruapehu through two of New Zealand's iconic national parks - Tongariro and Whanganui - all the way to the coast. The beauty of that is that you will decend around 1,600 vertical metres! This ride can be accessed as individual day trips or a full cross-country experience, taking in the outstanding landscapes and natural beauty of New Zealand.
Highlights of the trail include the crossing of the 294 meter high Hapuawhenua Viaduct and the iconic Bridge to Nowhere. Cyclists will also take a jet boat ride down the Whanganui River to Pipiriki where they will then cycle along the sleepy Whanganui River Road.
The trail is described below in four sections.
Turoa Ski Field to Mangapurua Track (74 km)
If you can get a lift to the top on a clear day, the 16 km Ohakune Mountain Road is a great way to begin your ride. A consistent downhill from Turoa to Ohakune, the road drops around 1,000 metres in altitude, transitioning from volcanic, alpine terrain to lush mountain forest. From Ohakune, the trail follows the Old Coach Road to Horopito, between what used to be the railheads of the main trunk railway line before the line was finally completed in 1909. This Grade 2 section of the trail is excellent for beginners and families and offers spectacular scenery as it skirts the base of Mount Ruapehu. The Hapuawhenua Viaduct is one of the highlights of this section - a rare, curved lattice viaduct with 13 concrete piers and 4 steel towers that was built in 1908 and is listed with the Historic Places Trust.
From Horopito the trail follows a mix of gravel and sealed rural roads for 44 km to the beginning of the Mangapurua Track, passing tharough Ruatiti Domain where picnic and camping facilities are available.
National Park Village to Mangapurua Trig (68 km)
This alternative starting route from National Park offers a more challenging but equally scenic ride down Fishers Track and up the Kaiwhakauka Track to join the main trail at Mangapurua Trig. Fishers Track starts at the National Park Railway Station and descends through native bush and farmland into the Retaruke Valley, then along gravel roads to the War Memorial Monument at the junction of Upper Retaruke and Oio Road. This section of trail is a Grade 2 ride, mostly downhill and offers spectacular views of the mountains.
From here, continue along Oio Road to Whakahoro and the start of the Kaiwhakauka Track. Here you will find Blue Duck Station which offers refreshemnts and entertainment for a growing number of tourists. A more challenging section lies ahead - the Grade 4 Kaiwhakauka Track, which may require some walking, especially after periods of wet weather. The track takes you through farmland and native bush, as it climbs up to connect with the Mangapurua Track (and also the main route from Ohakune).
Mangapurua Track to Pipiriki (38 km / 60 km)
The main trail continues off Ruatiti Road along the Mangapurua Track, beginning with a climb up to Mangapurua Trig. The two starting sections of the Mountains to Sea Trail - from National Park Village and Ohakune - meet and become one at the junction of the Kaiwhakauka and Mangapurua Tracks.
From the trig, an excellent downhill ride follows, dropping down into the Mangapurua Valley. The track follows historic roads that were once built to service two valleys settled (and subsequently abandoned) by soldiers returning from WWI. You will pass the remnants of these old original settlements and ride along sheer bluff faces to the iconic 'Bridge to Nowhere'. This large concrete bridge, built in 1936, is now standing in the bush in the middle of...nowhere.
From the Bridge to Nowhere, it's only 3 kms to the Mangapurua Landing, the end of 38 km of riding at its best. Hop aboard a jet boat which will take you down the mighty Whanganui River to Pipiriki. This jet boat journey is 32 km and must be booked in advance.
Pipiriki to Whanganui (87 km)
After an hour of jet boating though the gorges and rapids of the Whanganui River the biking restarts in Pipiriki, following the Whanganui River Road all the way to Upokongaro.There is plenty of cultural heritage along this route, as it passed through the small riverside settlements. It is Grade 2, on-road riding, but the pace of life here ensures the traffic is generally slow and safe.
For those continuing into Whanganui, there is a short section of riding along the shoulder of State Highway 4, before connecting with a dedicated cycle path that will take you through the city and to the end of the trail at the North Mole in Castlecliff.
The Mountain to Sea Trail travels some of the best parts of the North Island and offers a fantastic array of cycling for beginner to intermediate cyclists.