As the holiday season approached TRM get all sorts of enquiries from trampers and mountain bikers wishing to explore our region, so we try to share the attractions with others who may be thinking the same. Last week the question was from a mountain biker asking how to get to the Pillars of Hercules track in the Kaimanawas, so yesterday we biked the trails to update our previous reports.
From Turangi head south on the Desert Road (SH1) for about 15 km until you reach a long passing lane (the first from Taupo for about fifty km!) and look for Kaimanawa Road leading east across the upper Tongariro River.
Just across the one way bridge is the intersection leading to the bike trails. There are two main routes first leading to connect with Tree Trunk Gorge to the south and second leads back to the Desert Road.
As the enquiry was about the latter track we will save the Tree Trunk Gorge route for next week. The unsealed road in from Kaimanawa Road is suitable for family cars and is an absolute delight. It also leads to the Urchin camping area for “freedom campers” and to the carpark between the Pillars of Hercules and Treetrunk Gorge tracks. It is all a beautiful unspoilt wilderness area.
SWMBO also recommends the beautiful scenic drive around these roads to visit the underground power station entrance at the end of the track and to the other “Umukarikari” campsite – see below:
Past that the road surface deteriorates and a rough track continues to the Poutu Dam. The Umukarikari tramping track leads of this to Mt. Umukarikari 1591 m and another from the Urchins Park end leads up to Mt. Urchin 1393m. These are both popular summer tramping tracks leading to Waipakihi Hut and other overnight huts beyond including Cascade Hut, Boyd Lodge, Oamaru Hut, etc. better known to anglers wanting to fish wilderness locations in the Mohaka River or Ngaruroro Rivers. But I digress… Back to the Pillars of Hercules Track.
There is a suspension bridge over the steep spectacular gorge with the mountain bike or tramping track beyond leading back to the Desert Road. You will see where the “Pillars” name originates from. Views over the upper Tongariro River are available from the bridge but any views from the track beyond are restricted by the high Manuka and native bush along the edges of the track. We met a tramper from Turangi who was looking for access tracks down to fish this upper river but others have advised that for the few trout it holds, it is a waste of time.
From the track there are peep views to the West above the bush of Mt Ngaruhoe (Mt. Doom). We understand this was the original road developed to provide vehicle access to the eastern side of the Tongariro River for the massive Tongariro hydro project. The original bridge was a “Bailey” bridge across the chasm which was originally planned to be dammed as well, until they blew the budget.
The sign at the Pillars of Hercules carpark suggests the track to the Desert Road will take about 40 minutes. The DOC ranger who decided that was either very fit or may have used an electric bike as it is mostly uphill gradients. It took me over an hour to reach the Desert Road.
The ride back, mainly gentle downhill gradients from the Desert Road, took about 40 minutes. This area is crisscrossed with other tracks used by hunters but kept cleared to provide vehicle access to the power pylons.
On the Desert Road bikers can head south, if they are brave enough to survive the heavy transport and limited bike lane (?) to link with the Tree Trunk Gorge Road and return back to the car park. Other TRM bikers suggest better options are an out-and-back track on the Tree Trunk Trail or a loop around the Poutu Dam would be more scenic and just as challenging.
That should be enough excitement for you for one day, so we will report on the other mountain bike and tramping track options next week.