42 Traverse – A MTB into NZ history

As the trusty Hilux Bounced along a pot hole ridden Kapoors road, I finally felt a sense of relief. After delaying this trip twice due to record rainfalls, my friend Patrick and I were about to mountain bike the 42 Traverse.

Dominion road carpark - 42 Traverse.
Dominion road carpark – 42 Traverse.

Located in the heart of the Tongariro Forest Park the 42 Traverse was originally used as a logging route until the late 1970s. During the 1980s proposals to convert the Tongariro Forest to farmland were thwarted by local community groups wanting the area preserved for conservation and recreation. Thankfully in 1987 the Forest was transferred to the Department Of Conservation.

Waterfall stop, Dominion Rd Bridge
Waterfall stop, Dominion Rd Bridge
Mandatory photo stop, two minutes into the ride - MT Ngaruhoe
Mandatory photo stop, two minutes into the ride – MT Ngaruhoe

Nowadays the forest is utilised by trampers, mountain bikers, hunters and 4wd enthusiasts. Although a 4wd drive route, this grade 3-4 ride is not suitable for beginners. In fact, your suburban soccer mum SUV wouldn’t stand a chance of making it through here! It is advisable to carry at minimum spare tubes, repair kit, chain breaker, first aid kit, all-weather clothing, plenty of water and food.

Patrick taking in the breathtaking scenery
Patrick taking in the breathtaking scenery

Only minutes after setting off from Pumice Pit car park we ground to a halt. Magnificent views over the Central Plateau and iconic Mt Ngarahoue called for a mandatory photo stop. Our eyes returned to the track as we entered the first descent. The recent rainfalls had washed out sections of the track revealing drops of several hundred feet! After an adrenaline-fuelled downhill came an epic 3km climb. The forest canopy helped keep us cool and the chorus of native birds disguised our heavy breathing. As the rainforest encroached on the trail it narrowed to resemble more of a single track. This combined with rougher conditions made for an entertaining second descent to Waipungapunga stream (more like a river) crossing. Originally from South Africa, Patrick got a shock when he felt the temperature of the stream. I decided to ride through but instantly regretted the decision as I felt the icy water seeping through my bike shoes!

Patrick negotiating one of the smaller stream crossings
Patrick negotiating one of the smaller stream crossings

We were now in the heart of the forest and this coincided with dense foliage and seriously muddy conditions. The mud filled potholes were risky business as their depth was a mystery. Most were fine but the odd knee deep one did catch us out! Patrick was doing ok on his flat pedals but my cleats were struggling to cope with the excessive mud.

Shortly after Mako stream we stopped to dry out and grab a bite to eat. This gave us a chance to take in the surrounding forest that is home to a variety of threatened wildlife species including the North Island brown kiwi.

Picturesque native ferns (ponga)
Picturesque native ferns (ponga)

From here on the Trail was easy-going and relatively mud free!  A fern fringed waterfall before Dominion Road car park was a welcome surprise and a worthy photo opportunity. The 4km descent to the Whakapapa River Bridge was on a wider car friendly road. This signalled the final 2 km of the 42 Traverse. With the sun now below the horizon and the temperature dropping the quaint township of Owhango was a welcome site.

I can honestly say this beautiful, historic and challenging 45km ride was worth the wait.  The trail and Tongariro Forest stands as a testament to the individuals who had the foresight to protect this precious resource. I only wish places like this were the norm and not an anomaly.

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