Catching a ride from Ohakune up to Tūroa Skifield is by far the best (and least energetic way) to tackle Ohakune Mountain Road. Luckily, local shuttles are happy to oblige and can point out the highlights and lookout points along the way.
However, masochistic Tour de France wannabes can cycle up the road. The record is a smidge over 44 minutes (on a road bike of course), but even a fit mountain biker should allow three hours for the 17 km uphill. This is, however, New Zealand’s only ‘hors category’ climb, so bragging rights are in order for those that make it to the top under their own steam! The downhill start is 1700 m above sea level, from where there are mind-blowing views across the flanks of Mt Ruapehu and across the volcanic plateau. On a fine day, riders will see the near-perfect volcanic cone of Mt Taranaki way out west.
Speedy riders can make it back down to Ohakune in a little over 30 minutes, but why the rush? A series of walking tracks off the Mountain Road allow riders to savour this UNESCO World Heritage-listed landscape. If you want to see the highest waterfall in the national park, factor the Waitonga Falls Track (1.5 hours return; 6km from the top) into your ride. Other worthy stops include the Mangawhero Falls (5–10 mins return; 4km from Tūroa), and the Mangawhero Forest Walk (1 hr return) and Rimu Walk (15 mins return) that start near the bottom of the Mountain Road.
The scenery changes dramatically as the road winds down the side of Mt Ruapehu. The trail starts above the treeline, amidst an otherworldly volcanic landscape of old lava flows and alpine gardens featuring peculiar shrubs and red tussock. Further down, thicker vegetation takes hold in the less extreme conditions with stunted beech trees eventually giving way to lowland forest dominated by beech and lofty rimu.
Around 1km shy of Ohakune is DOC’s Mangawhero Campground. With plenty of pretty picnic spots, it’s a good place to rest and relax after your exciting downhill.