The 42 Traverse
By Stu Waddel
The Central Plateau, with Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe, is a playground mecca in both winter and summer. I grew up skiing at Whakapapa and Turoa, and with other families often stayed at a private ski club in Raurimu township.
Raurimu began as a railway construction camp in the early 1900s. The Raurimu Spiral on the main line between Wellington and Auckland was built between 1905 and 1908 so trains could climb through the area’s steep gradients. A camp started with approximately 2,000 people, and later moved to the existing town site. Unfortunately, a fire swept through the township in December 1925, and by the mid-1950s people began moving elsewhere. The last timber mill closed in the mid-1960s. Later Raurimu became a popular winter holiday home destination. When we couldn’t ski for bad weather we climbed the Spiral or played in a massive sawdust pit out the back of the township.
Fast forward a few years to 1992 and, while working in Auckland and freshly out of university, I learnt of the riding in the area when listening to a news report on a Monday morning. A group of cyclists were rescued from riding a trail at Mount Ruapehu, 42 Traverse, with a helicopter picking up a team of riders, one with a broken bike and another with a broken leg. One of the riders was interviewed about the ordeal, and commented how good the downhill ride was and how thankful everyone was for the help they got.
At the time I was riding a Scott Racing Comp, with no suspension, through Auckland’s streets commuting to work. I was amazed by the city’s cycle couriers and their ease of getting about. The Racing Comp served me well, darting around traffic and on and off the curb in an effort to stay in one piece. I was up for some more riding and an adventure to the Central Plateau quickly became reality.
The 42 Traverse runs off SH47 for 46km, through Tongariro Forest Conservation Area and some of the most pristine volcanic country in New Zealand. It was built in the 1950s to service logging in the area and is now dual use trail with 4WD. The trail ends at Whakapapa River Bridge with a small ride up to Owhango township. There is a great pub on the roadside for a pie and a well deserved beer. Kiwi Mountain Bikes provide a shuttle service and can get you to the start of the trail and back to your base, meeting up at the end of the track.
The 42 Traverse is well maintained with good signage. In the summer months and over the weekends there are generally a number of groups on the trail. The Central Plateau’s weather can turn nasty, with cold southerly conditions and snow at any time.
My first ride of the 42 Traverse was over Queen’s Birthday weekend and a few months after hearing of ride on the radio. I’d driven down with some friends and we’d met up with a crew from Wellington. From memory, Andrew Wallace, Phil Judge, Royce McKean, Brad Gatehouse, Alan Hucks and I were on the ride. We were staying at Apex Ski Club Lodge at Raurimu. The forecast was okay, and research had been done, including maps, and one of the crew had ridden it before. We had food, a few bike spares, a Motorola flip-top mobile phone (the latest phone in ’92) and some warm clothes. All was sounding very good. There was great excitement in the air.
As the day progressed, the riding got better and better, and the downhill riding was more than we’d imagined. This was a first-time riding experience for me — the track kept on going and going, downhill. Amongst the excitement and in the back country with no trail markings we missed a turn! In hindsight, it was so easily done. I remember the group thinking that we were on the right track, and things were going well. However, we suddenly came to a realisation that things weren’t going well. We were on a different track. We decided that rather than turn around we could get ourselves out by staying on the track we were on.
With luck we eventually found a well maintained forest road and continued on it until we came to an intersection. It was marked with road names and felt like a good place to stop. Time was against us, it was getting dark and cold and people were pretty tired. We didn’t have enough food, and we didn’t have enough warm clothes. However, we did have a phone. Andrew Wallace, working as a foreign exchange trader, had a work phone. It was very novel; no else owned one. Trouble was, it was running low on battery, and we didn’t have any cell range. We agreed to ride on, and with a stroke of luck we finally found cell coverage.
We rang 111. Auckland Emergency Services picked up. Cautious of a low battery and poor coverage, we relayed our lost message. The person on the other end of the phone didn’t believe us. ‘How can you be lost when you are talking to me on the phone?’ After some convincing, we communicated the forest roads and intersection where we could be found. Happy, we returned to the intersection and waited, and waited.
As we waited, the temperature was dropping, the food was long gone, and it was obvious everyone was getting very cold. We cuddled together, with one person standing in the middle taking turns to warm as the rest embraced him. Our spirits were pretty good. However, as midnight loomed, after three or four hours’ wait we decided to split and some walked the long journey to find phone coverage. Fortunately we got through to Emergency Services again. The rescue team was looking for us along one of the rivers, mistaking the forest road name for a river name.
Returning to the waiting spot, an hour later the rescue team arrived. At this stage there were a couple suffering from mild hypothermia. We warmed up back at DOC’s centre in Whakapapa Village, and retreated to Raurimu for rest.
Fortunately, no one was hurt and we had a good debrief with DOC. While our bikes performed, by poor navigation on our part and no signage it was easy to see how we got lost.
The 42 Traverse is a different track today. It’s well marked, generally in good condition, and used regularly by mountain bikers. Over recent years Total Sport has run the Marmot T42, a combination of runners, walkers and bikers racing through the 42 Traverse.
Total Sport is well known for running great adventure events in idyllic and remote locations, including The Dual on Motutapu and Rangitoto Island, and The Taiwai on the Waikato River Trail. Dave Franks, General Manger at Total Sport is passionate about the Marmot T42 and opening the riding up to people in a safe and exciting way.
“The 42 Traverse track cuts through some pretty remote and rugged New Zealand terrain, and I think this appeals to people. There is stunning native bush for miles in each direction and there are amazing views of large valleys and rivers throughout the day. “
“The track itself is perfect for the Marmot T42 mountain bike event. It appeals to all levels of rider, being fast and interesting enough for the guns while not overly technical and still very achievable for people new to mountain biking with a reasonable level of fitness.”
I returned to ride the Traverse 42 in 2007 with a brand new full-suspension bike and a crew of riders. I felt younger on that ride than when we adventured out in ‘92, thanks to bike technology. The riding was far superior and I’m sure the terrain hadn’t changed!
The Marmot T42 has made the 42 Traverse a lot more accessible and more enjoyable too. There is good support throughout the trail, with marshals and 4WDs on hand.
“People love being out there doing it together. The smiles and stories people are sharing with each other at the finish is just awesome! One thing that people really like about the T42 is that the event starts at around 770m and finishes at around 440m; there is more down than up!” says Dave.
Riding in the Central Plateau doesn’t stop at the 42 Traverse. We had three days of riding on my second trip, but that’s a story for another day.
The 42 Traverse starts at Kapoors Road, 16km north of National Park on SH47. There is a carpark 6km down Kapoors Road. Grade 3 with river crossings and uphills! Track is closed to 4WD from 1 May to 30 Nov.