New Zealand: Central Plateau – Te Kuiti to Ohakune



“After clambering up the shifty volcanic ash and working up a sweat,

it was easy to dive off into the snow to cool down by swishing out a snow angel”

New Zealand is simply stunning in the summer, every year it peaks the list of popular tourist destinations, and rightly so.  We still marvel at the scenery as we ride on a daily basis, and welcome any opportunity to share it.  As warm days approach, our Canadian relatives flock south to the warm climate, eager to escape the bitter cold and take full advantage of the free accommodation.

Fledging docents, we accompanied them around the country to areas we’ve enjoyed as well as some new locations.  While we were limited on a schedule, we budgeted to circle the central plateau of the North Island of New Zealand, with a brief excursion into the Bay of Plenty.  This in our opinion is the best of what the North Island could offer a generous cross section of secluded beaches in the north, caves to the west, wine to the east and stunning mountain vistas in the central plateau.

Our trip began in earnest in Te Kuiti, where we met up with the relatives a day later, as we had already experienced the Waitomo area recently.  We tidied up our commitments in Auckland, and made our way south as quickly as possible, forgoing our usual need to stop at every vista or cafe.  However, being creatures of habit and did indeed stop for a coffee once in the town of Pironghia.  As we slipped off our sticky helmets and sipped our drinks, we were kindly approached by a curious English woman attending to the cafe’s manicured grounds.  After she ogled at the new helmet cam we had picked up in Auckland, we fell into a discussion about travel.  It was interesting to find out we had both been to the small pacific island of Kiribati, however 30 years apart.  She fondly reminisced about her trail bike she had owned while she had been a teacher on Kiribati (Christmas Island).  This was a treat for us, as it is pretty rare to find someone else that has been there.  With the gabbing session complete, we continue the remainder of the run into Te Kuiti with relative ease; meet up with our guests for a barbeque before retiring for the night.

After a quick breakfast we headed off to our destination; Ohakune, nestled at the base of the active Mount Ruapehu.  We opted for a less direct route of Hwy 30 to Tihoi Road rotating west along SH 41 to SH4 encircling the base of the mountain.

Our first rest stop, not long after breakfast was to venture on a 20 minute hike, to see New Zealand’s largest Totara tree.  The relaxing walk allowed us to work off some of our breakfast, plunging us deeper into the native ferns, moisture still clung in the air from recent rain.  The tree stood tall among its fellow grove dwellers, with a sign post of its discerning dimensions.  Totara trees have been an integral part of the Maori people enabling them to carve out war canoes, houses, communal halls, and numerous other functions.

On the road again, we venture down SH 30, past the town of Mangakino, turning on to Tihoi Road, which heads on a southerly route bordering Lake Taupo.  Taupo is New Zealand’s largest lake, and was formed by a massive volcanic eruption.  Tihoi Road was a strewn mixture of long straights, mountain passes, and gentle sweepers.  A great road to ride on, which was reflected by the abundant motorcycle traffic going either way.

Closing in on the town of Turangi, south of the great lake Taupo, we take a turn right on to Rotoaira Road.  Winding itself up a mountain pass, we arrive at a perfect vista to photograph Lake Taupo from the top.  Moving on, we pass by Lake Rotoaira to a series of straightaways showing off the voluminous volcanic landscape of the central plateau.  Over a half an hour of riding these roads past Tongariro, the first national park of New Zealand, Whakapapa and National Park Village, we never tired of the view.  Our only hurdle before reaching our destination of Ohakune was being held up by a herd of cows crossing the highway.  We rock into town ready for food and thankful we had a perfect day for the scenery offered on the chosen route.

Whakapapa Chairlift and Walk

The plan for the day was to ride back to Whakapapa Village, and take the chairlift up the mountain as far as we can, then walk the rest.  Easier said than done.

We ascended the Chairlift at the Whakapapa village and had a quick bite to eat at the “Highest Cafe in New Zealand” (think cafeteria food) before headed up as far as we dare along the volcanic boulders and slushy ash.  This walk was amazing.  After clambering up the shifty volcanic ash and working up a sweat, it was easy to dive off into the snow to cool down by swishing out a snow angel!  We made it up to the third tow-bar; however I’m sure if we had crampons and a few more hours to spare we could have made it to the top.  After we mastered the boulders up, we took the express way down, wrapping our jackets over our bottoms and zipping down the slopes!  This walk can be as long or as short as you desire, varying in difficulty as you can walk across or up the mountain.  Hiking up Mount Ruapehu chewed through our day like a ravenous Pitbull attacks a steak, and like that it was over.  Needless to say we didn’t need much coaxing to drift off to sleep.

We awoke with sunlight beaming into our room, and lucky for us it was going to be another perfect day.  No wind, no clouds, and the sky already an indigo blue.  Our objective was to ride up Ohakune Mountain Road, to the Turoa vista, and then to walk to Waitonga Falls.

Ohakune Mountain Road starts at 600M above sea level and in its 17km span winds itself to a height