Our Trails

Mountains To Sea

grade - easy grade - intermediate
Grade 2 - 3 Easy - Int
5days
233km

Ride from the volcanic slopes of Mt Ruapehu to the Tasman Sea at Whanganui.

This amazing and diverse cycle trail will take through two national parks, into one of the most remote parts of the North Island and down the historic Whanganui River.

Shuttle Options

Trail grades are based on technical difficulty only.

grade - easy
Grade 2 Easy
197 km
grade - intermediate
Grade 3 Intermediate
36 km

Please note this video is produced by Tourism New Zealand and not all of the features in this video are included in our base package. For example the accommodation at Mellonsfolly Ranch is an optional upgrade for groups of 10+ only. See our Mountains To Sea TOUR page for details.

About the Trail

Just as the name suggests, the Mountains To Sea trail stretches 233km from the slopes of Mt Ruapehu in the volcanic central plateau to the Tasman Sea at Wanganui.

This 3-5 day journey will take you through two National Parks, the Tongariro and the Whanganui. After descending from the treeless volcanic mountain slopes of Mt Ruapehu the trail then traverses the base of the mountain in lush native bush and cyclists will discover intriguing railway history on the Ohakune Old Coach Road. Next the trail follows roads and old pioneering tracks all the way out to the Bridge To Nowhere. This an architectural relic that has become symbol of a failed settlement known as Mangapurua. From the middle of nowhere journey takes cyclists on and ride beside an Maori river highway all the way to the black sand beaches where the Whanganui River meets the Tasman Sea.

See the “Riding The Trail” section for more info about the trail itself.

The Mountains To Sea is the most diverse trail in the NZ Cycle Trail network and ranges in grade from 2-3. It combines purpose built cycle trail, both gravel and paved rural backroads, a historic coach road, and access tracks of pioneering settlers. Last but not least, it also a includes two unique boating experiences on the river that are symbolic to the trail and our story as a nation. The boat ride from the Bridge To Nowhere to Pipiriki is essential to the logistics, while the other boating experience farther down the trail is optional.

The most common starting point to the Mountains To Sea trail is Ohakune, but there is an alternate starting point at National Park Village. When you ride the trail you start from one location or the other, it’s best not to try and include both ‘arms’ of the trail in one trip because logistics will get time consuming, expensive, and interrupt the flow of your experience. The “Northern arm” also includes a Grade 4 section that is technical in the best of conditions. During rain it becomes very muddy, and the water filled potholes can be a hazard. There are also sections that are narrow and exposed to cliffs. If you are an experienced mountain biker with good bike handling skills you might love it.

Including this Northern Arm the full sum of all parts of the Mountains To Sea trail is about 302km.

The two end of the Mountains To Sea Trail are quite a long way from each other, about 1.5hrs drive.

The start of the trail (Ohakune and/or Turoa Ski Feild) is located on on the South western side of the Tongariro National Park in the Central North Island.

The end of the trail is at the city of Whanganui which on the south west coast of the North Island.

Driving time from major centres:

Start of the trail:                       End of the trail:

Taupo to Ohakune…………2hrs           Whanganui to Taupo……………3.5 hrs

Auckland to Ohakune……..5hrs           Whanganui to Auckland……..6.5hrs

Wellington to Ohakune……4hrs           Whanganui to Wellington……3hrs

Nearest airports:

Whanganui and Taupo have a small airports. Otherwise the next nearest airports are Rotorua, and of course the international airports in Wellington and Auckland.

Nearby accommodation:

It’s best to spend the night before your ride at or near the trail so you don’t have a long drive the morning of your ride. It will be a big day as it is without adding a long drive. A great place to spend the night before your ride is Taupo which is the nearest major town to the start of the trail. Taupo is a spectacular place and there are lots of accommodation and options, restaurants, and cafes. Taupo is 1hr from the start of the Trail and 2hrs from the end. We provide round trip transport from any Taupo accommodation, or you can meet us at the start of the trail.

See the accommodation section for more info.

If you are taking our transport from Taupo, then the best plan is to arrange with your Taupo accommodation provider to leave you car there while you are on the trail. Contact us for other options.

If you are meeting us in Ohakune, we will arrange for you to park your car at one of our preferred accommodation providers.

If you are meeting us in Ohakune for a day trip, you can park in one of a few all day public car parks in Ohakune. Ask us for details.

The Mountains To Sea Trail stretches 233km from the slopes of Mt Ruapehu in the volcanic central plateau to the Tasman Sea at Wanganui. This is one of the longest, and the most diverse trail in the NZ Cycle Trail network.

The Mountains To Sea Trail has 6 distinct sections*, plus an alternate start:

1) The Ohakune Mountain Road  16km • Grade 3 • Sealed road

2) The Ohakune Old Coach Road 17km • Grade 2+ • Trail

3) Ruatiti Road 44km • Grade 2 • Gravel road and sealed road

4) Mangapurua Track 36km • Grade 2-3 • Trail

5) Whanganui River 33km • River travel by jet boat

6) Wanganui River Road 87km • Grade 2 • Sealed Road

  • These 6 sections do not match the exact breakdown of individual riding days in our itinerary. The trail can be divided into 3 to 5 days of riding.

Check out our 5 Day Tour

The alternate “northern arm” of the Mountains To Sea Trail starts in National Park village. This section also has 3 distinct sections of it’s own: 

1) Fishers Track 17km • Grade 2-3 • Trail and gravel road

2) Upper Retaruke and Oio Roads 35km • Grade 2 • Gravel road

3) Kaiwhakauka Track 15km • Grade 2-4 • Trail

Ask us how this northern arm fits in to the rest of the trail in terms itinerary / daily distances.

About 50% of the Mountains To Sea trail is on quiet sealed roads. About 22% is on mountain bike trails, and the balance is on quiet gravel roads and on the Whanganui river itself.

There is NO mobile reception for 90% of the trail. The Mangapurua Track is very remote and only has road access to the start point, it ends in the middle of nowhere on the Whanganui River and you must take a jet boat downstream to Pipiriki. We advise cyclists use our guiding service for safety purposes, or at minimum carry a Personal Locator Beacon.

The logistics required to ride the complete Mountains To Sea Cycle Trail are complex and it is hard to find  accommodation along the route.

There is a mandatory jet boat ride at the end of of the Mangapurua Track, which must be booked in advance. There is no phone reception and the trail ends on a remote bank on the Whanganui River. The only way out is by boat.

To piece together the shuttles, baggage transfers, boat rides, accommodation and time frames to ride the full trail is a task that requires an intricate knowledge of the trail, the access points, and the limited surrounding services.

There are 2 sections of the Mountains to Sea Trail that make great day trips if you do not want to ride the full trail. These are the Ohakune Old Coach Road and the Mangapurua Track (Aka: Bridge To Nowhere Track).

 

For shuttles we suggest you contact Mountain Bike Station. They are a shuttle, bike hire, and tour company based on Ohakune.

For bike hire we suggest you contact Mountain Bike Station. They are a shuttle, bike hire, and tour company based on Ohakune.

If you are doing the full Mountains To Sea Cycle Trail, your accommodation for the 4 nights in between riding days will be included in your Tour Package.

In our Tour packages, your first night is be the beautiful mountain village of Ohakune on the south western side of Mt Ruapehu. On the following 3 nights you will enjoy a variety quaint rural cottages that are right on the trail, so you can ride door to door. Each on has it’s own character and story that is tied to the location. They are owned and managed by locals people who provide great hearty food to fuel your cycling adventure.

For the nights before and after a tour you should consider staying in Ohakune or Taupo.

If you stay in Taupo you can take advantage of our Taupo based shuttle service to and from the trail. Taupo is a spectacular place and there are lots of accommodation and options, restaurants, and cafes. Taupo is 1hr from the start of the Trail and 2hrs from the end. We provide round trip transport from any Taupo accommodation in our package tours, we can also include the extra accommodation in the package so it really easy for you to book your holiday.

If you are travelling from the South, it will be best for you to stay in Ohakune the night before your Mountains To Sea Trail Tour starts. We can include extra nights of accommodation in Ohakune before and/or after your ride on request.

The Mountains To Sea trail stretches 233km from the slopes of Mt Ruapehu in the volcanic central plateau to the Tasman Sea at Wanganui.

This 3-5 day journey will take you through two National Parks, the Tongariro and the Whanganui. After descending from the treeless volcanic mountain slopes of Mt Ruapehu the trail then traverses the base of the mountain in lush native bush and cyclists will discover intriguing railway history on the Ohakune Old Coach Road. Next the trail follows roads and old pioneering tracks all the way out to the Bridge To Nowhere. This an architectural relic that has become symbol of a failed settlement known as Mangapurua. From the middle of nowhere journey takes cyclists on and ride beside an Maori river highway all the way to the black sand beaches where the Whanganui River meets the Tasman Sea.

Ohakune Mountain Road

The first section of the Mountains To Sea Trail is a fast descent down a sealed Ohakune Mountain Road from the Turoa Ski Field. The surroundings at the top are barren and rocky, it’s a treeless volcanic landscape that makes you feel the power of the mountain. On a clear day there are spectacular views across the region you will soon be riding through. As cyclists descend they will enter magnificent beech forest as the road gradient become gentler.

Ohakune Old Coach Road

The second section of the Mountains To Sea trail is the Ohakune Old Coach Road. This is a 17km Grade 2 mountain bike ride from Ohakune to Horopito. This fantastic ride makes a great introduction to mountain biking as it includes some varied terrain and trail types. The ride crosses part of the Tongariro National Park and is packed with interesting history as you follow the route of historic coach road that once linked the the two ends of the main trunk railway during the early 1900s.

The Ruatiti Road

From Horopito the third section of the Mountains to Sea trail follows some quiet rural roads. It is a mixture of gravel and sealed roads that take cyclists through picturesque farmland, through the Manganui River. From here the trail begins a gradual climb up into more rugged and remote farmland in the Ruatiti Valley before reaching the start of the Mangapurua Track.

The Mangapura Track / Bridge To Nowhere Track:

The Mangapura track, or “Bridge To Nowhere track” is most often accessed from Ruatiti road end, coming from the south west. The track goes through old lanes on private farmland traveling through scrub land and pockets of native bush as it enters the remote hill country. On a clear day there are stunning views of the Tongariro National Park so be sure to stop for a break and look back at this World Heritage Site. At the junction of the Mangapura and Kaiwhakauka tracks there is a Maori Pou (carved pole). The Pou symbolizes the Ngahere (forest) and was set up to provide cultural and spiritual safety for visitors.

From the junction cyclists climb up to the Mangapura trig where there is a good stopping point for and a  monument to tribute those who once tried to settle the land. This is the hight point of the Bridge To Nowhere track. There is a nice clearing a view of the valleys beyond. There is a  side track to a clearing that provides panoramic views of the Tongariro National Park and Taranaki to the east.  From the trig the Bridge To Nowhere track (Mangapurura track) heads steadily down hill trough on the only section of uncut native forest in the valley and towards the first swing bridge (on the Mangapura track), the track then reaches Johnsons Campsite. Common sights through the valley are rows of exotic trees that mark the laneways to house sites of the early farmers. Farther down the Bridge To Nowhere track we find the house site of Edward Johnson who use to collect mail from Mangapura landing and distribute it twice a week throughout the valley to the settlers. Later on cyclists come across the Tester house which was the site of the first school in valley started in 1926 with only seven children at the time.

Bettjemans homestead is marked by a row of poplars along the track and was once thriving location. Bettjeman was the first to arrive and the last to leave the Mangapurura valley in 1942. In its time there was a family house, and bunk room and tennis court, but all that remains today is the brick chimney and exotic tree and plants that surrounded the property. About 1.5km from Bettjemans is Bartrums swingbridge; access for quad bikes stops here. From here on the Bridge To Nowhere track (Mangapura track) narrows and travereses steep clay bluffs, extreme caution should be taken as it can be up to 70m down to the Mangapura stream. One in particular is “currant bun bluff” named because of the rounded exposed boulders that protrude from the curved surface of the bluff. A short distance farther along the Bridge To Nowhere track is Waterfall Creek which was once the location of choice for community picnics for the settlers.

Eventually the Bridge To Nowhere track (Mangapurura Track) arrives at “battleship bluff”, named as it can resemble the bow of an old battleship. This bluff was great challenge to the original road builders, it took them two years to carve out the bluff making terraces for people and horses to pass. The Bridge To Nowhere track then continues to undulate and cross small streams and bridges down the valley. Suddenly, round a corner, cyclists come across the famous “Bridge to Nowhere”. This massive concrete structure in the middle of the bush stands like it was built yesterday and seemingly comes from nowhere and goes nowhere. Built in 1936 it was of great importance to the settlers as it linked the valley to the Mangapura landing and allowed vehicles to cross the gorge. This was all important to the developing settlement. However, the bridge was finished after the settlers had already started abandoning the area. Previous to the concrete bridge was the wire cages that were used from the transport of all supplies.

The connecting track between the Bridge to Nowhere and Mangapura landing is nearly 3km and is built to walking track standards as it is commonly used by tourists accessing the area by jet boat or canoe. Cyclists should use extra caution as there will likely be walkers going either way on this section of track. The Mangapura Landing, where the track meets the Wanganui river was the place where the paddle steamer boat dropped off supplies and equipment. Everything that came into the valley from the south came off the river boat service here.  From the landing cyclist take the jet boat down river to Pipiriki where there is a small village, a campsite and accommodation.

The Whanganui River Road

From Pipiriki the fifth section of the Mountains To Sea Trail follows the Whangnaui River Road. This is a remote, quiet, sealed road than follows the banks of the river from Pipiriki to SH4 about 14km north of Whanganui CBD.  This historic road is packed full of features, including a historic church, a flour mill, and old settlement sites that embody a mix of Maori and European history. There are sweeping views of the Whanganui River as the road follows the steep bush clad river banks and iconic kiwi farmland.

The trail then takes to the side of SH4 for about 11km into Whanganui. Not long after entering the urban area it joins some urban bikes paths and roads that go out the beach at North Mole where the Whannui River meets the Tasman sea.

The Alternate Northern start and the Kaiwhakauka Track:

This alternate start to the bridge to nowhere track begins the unique location where the Oio Road end meets a meander of the Wanganui River. At this cool place you will find The Retaruke Station, Blue Duck Lodge, and DOC campsite. The beginning of the Kaiwhakauka Track is uphill along private farm track through the Retaruke Station which is a huge working sheep and beef farm that spreads through the valleys. After crossing a bridge cyclists see a small building which was originally built to store supplies that came off the river boat service and were destined for the valley settlers. The track winds through pasture lands, regenerating bush and hugs the hillside around many steep banks above the river. The track narrows for a few km before arriving at the Wanganui National Park boundary.

The track changes significantly as it goes into the Whanganui National Park. The Kaiwhakauka track is a tramping track that has only been slightly upgraded and qualifies as Grade 4. It is much narrower than the farm 4WD track and has many bridges of variying sizes, some cross gorges with streams that pour off the valley walls down to the Kaiwhakauka stream below. There is major exposure to cliffs and steep banks along the Grade 4 section of trail. The heigh above the stream provides superb views of the fern lined valley in all its green splendour. Much of the trail surface is packed soil but there is often debri on the trail, and there some rocky sections and tight corners onto some of the bridges. Along the way riders will notice many signs with the surnames of the people who once settled the land. The Kaiwhakauka track was once the access way to all these homesteads and was traveled on foot and with pack horses and heavy loads. Eventually the Kaiwhakauka comes out of the bush onto a laneway that opens up into what was the Tobin homestead, a freestanding chimney marks the spot. From here there is a climb up a wide 4WD through mixed podocarp forest for another 3km the junction of the Kaiwhakauka Track and Mangapura Track, which has since become known as the “Bridge To Nowhere Track. From this point the main route the Bridge To Nowhere as described above.