The Dominion Post and the Manawatu Standard both carried the story of a proposal to build a cycle track through the northern Tararua Range, between Shannon, into the Mangahao Dams and out to Ehetahuna. It turns out that this idea has been around for at least a couple of years (and here’s an earlier article on Stuff), although it’s the first time I’ve noticed it myself.
The map, taken from a 14MB PDF hosted on Stuff, doesn’t give much detail and I’m having some trouble matching the squiggles to realistic geographic terrain on the topo map of the area. I think the proposed route from west to east appears to enter the range from Kakariki West Road or nearby, climbs up Pohehe and Ratapu, up to Ngamaia and Conical Knob, then around Massey Knob and Ngapuketurua. From here, I’m guessing the idea is to head down a spur via spot-heights 959 and 851, 675 and 670 to get to Harris Creek, and follow the Mangahao River back to the dams and out to Shannon. Apparently the plan would involve building a hut around Ngapuketurua.
I haven’t been there recently but four or five years ago, much of that area (especially around Ngapuketurua) was a leatherwood jungle. Tough going, but very rewarding in the end, and perhaps resulting in one of my favourite ever visits to the Tararuas thanks to all of the above. On the one hand I think it could be a shame to have the route completely opened up the the standard of letting through bicycles.
It’d be hypocritical to say for certain that the area should remain hard to access merely because that’s been the case recently. There have been tracks cut through the region in the past, and over time they become overgrown if not tended to. Even if this proposal went ahead it’s possible that the same thing might occur again given time, depending on support over time.
There are potential good points, too, and access to some of the northern areas may be one of these. The Schormann-Kaitoke (SK) route that traverses the Tararua tops from North to South, for instance, which fit people sometimes try to walk in fewer than 24 hours, has unofficially begun at Putara Road for some time. When Putara Hut mysteriously burned down in 1977 (allegedly by a disgruntled farmer), access was cut to the slightly more northern entrance point of Schormann’s Track that had climbed straight up to Kareti and Hines. If a more accessible route were opened through the leatherwood, SK-racers could begin their challenge even further north! 🙂 Perhaps it could also provide an interesting new way for trampers to get into parts of the range and visit that area, by cycling part of the way to wherever they’re going. They’re just thoughts that come to mind.
So far this seems to just be an idea, and judging from everything I’ve seen (which isn’t everything), it appears the main considerations are in terms of economic benefit to the surrounding regions from attracting cyclists. With limited information I couldn’t say how reasonable an idea this is, but I’m strongly hoping that nothing happens without extremely careful consideration of the potential impact of bicycles, possibly a lot of them, in the relatively fragile environment of the Tararua tops. They’re already accessible to people on foot.