42 Traverse Biker Testimonial

Traversing Tongariro Forest Park 42

Personal account by Eddie vanden Broek of the Auckland Mountain Biking Club

6am, and we're all awoken by the aroma of toast and baked beans cooking in the kitchen down the hall from the dorms in which we had crashed from the long drive down to National Park from Auckland the night before.

Traversing Tongariro Forest ParkThe morning had arrived. Weather outside Forest Lodge was mild, but wet and very unseasonable for February. Since the corridors were buzzing with the sound of people heading for the kitchen, I too thought it was time to get my weary body up, have a substantial breakfast, and start preparing for our challenging ride ahead, the 42nd Traverse.

The Traverse lies deep within the heart of the Tongariro Forest Park. The park was the first to be established in New Zealand and lies at the southern end of the Taupo Volcanic Zone. The park spreads out from the edge of Lake Taupo to Ohakune covering approximately 78,600 hectares.

One of the most popular rides in the North Island; the Traverse is also one of the more remote - taking riders on an undulating 44km journey through State Forest 42.

Weather-wise, the area is highly susceptible to change without warning. Being so close to Mt. Ruapehu, the weather can also get very chilly, with cold winds blowing off the mountain. Cell phone coverage is minimal throughout the park. A faint signal can be obtained in certain areas, but shouldn't be relied too heavily upon. With this in mind, it's recommended before you set off to let somebody know where you're going. Taking a map, first aid kit, some food and a warm change of clothes with you may also be beneficial.

Start of the 42nd TraverseThe track starts on Kapoors Road, 18km North-East of National Park and finishes at the small settlement of Owhango. Normally traveled one way only, the track has an overall descent of 570m. With the essentials for the day packed, my bike in good working order, I made my way to our meeting point. Around me, many other enthusiastic riders, some anxious, others expressionless like it was just another day at the office, and I imagine that they would be right.

Most riders generally complete the track somewhere between three, and four hours. Many also treat the occasion as an enjoyable day out packing their lunch, and taking the most part of the day to cover the 44km journey. Being casual riders, this is what we opted to do. Even though conditions outside looked rather dismal, we are bused off quickly to the entry point at Kapoors Road, near the base of Mt. Ruapehu.

42 Traverse Track SceneryThe scenery is spectacular near the base of the mountain, and would be even nicer during the winter months when snow has softly blanketed the mountain - although given the nature of the track; it would be much harder to ride during that time of year.

A sign near the road leading into the forest gives a brief idea on what lies ahead. Some stare ominously at each other. Quietly contemplating what they have signed up for as a map there shows the topography of the track. Warning is also given about appropriate fitness levels needed to ride the traverse.

Consideration needs to be made for other track users including 4WD nuts, and motorcycle/horse riders. As the ride gets underway, the weather clears considerably to become quite a nice day, making us feel more at ease with our decision to ride.

Biking through the Waione RiverThe track starts with a mild descent for several kilometres as we head down Kapoors Road towards Slab Road, and the first of many long uphill climbs. The road then becomes narrower and rougher, turning into more of a 4WD track. After some pretty amazing scenery to either side of the track, we quickly approach a forbidding downhill section to the Waione River, with an equally challenging ascent out of the river on the opposite side.

If there has been a large volume of rain through the region, river levels can rise quite considerably. After a couple of river crossings and a few tricky sections, the track begins to climb, and climb, and climb until you could swear you were on top of the world. With muscles screaming, many of the group succumb to the unforgiving grind of this long uphill stretch and decide to push their bike to the top.

Riders on the 42nd Traverse TrackGenerally, the track is in good condition, however many sections can prove to be quite difficult for riders. Persistent rain and bad weather in the area can easily cause slips in the track making the journey difficult and dangerous. Combine this with sections where the track narrows considerably, where branches / rocks and other obstacles protrude, and it makes for an interesting day out.

The trail is approximately 64% 4WD tracks, 35% gravel road, and 1% is unridable - where getting off your bike is inevitable. A couple of rises on this track would see a 4WD vehicle having trouble climbing, let alone the pedal power of a cyclist.

There are also some steep downhill sections where concentration, balance and determination are all that's stopping you hitting the dirt.

Downhill section of 42nd Traverse TrackThe scenery through the park is simply amazing, offering views of all three southern volcanoes in the region, lush unspoiled bush land through to vast open desert-like plains. All of which on a clear day can easily be seen from many spots during the journey.

Approximately 30km into the track, and just after drenching our shoes and socks in a miscalculated river crossing, we found out exactly what they meant about fitness.

The track begins to climb… and climb with no relief for several kilometres. Make no mistake, there are some muscle wrenching ascents on this ride, but the downhill sections more than make up for this.

After riding downhill for a while the Whakapapa River is at hand and the track becomes a smooth gravel road, and it's evident that there is not much further to go.

Lagoon - Ohinetonga ReserveThe road makes a short climb into the back streets of Owhango, around a few corners; the end is in sight.

Tired and wearisome, a last burst of energy is expelled to propel my bike along the final stretch.

At the end, a couple riders had just finished, and were laughing as they discussed their remarkable ride.

To either side bikes riddled the fence line by those happy to be finally off their saddles. Within minutes, my bike too is rested next to the others.

After digging deep into the dark corners of my day bag for coins, a nice cold beer at the pub in Owhango and a well-earned piping hot shower were immediate priority.