The Ohakune Mountain Road is the result of local efforts, first in the 1900’s when it was the Ohakune Track and then Blyth Track, named after local school principal Joe Blyth who led countless hikes up Mt Ruapehu from Ohakune. In 1952 a group of locals formed the Ohakune Mountain Road Association and got stuck in and built the road, with voluntary fund raising and labour. The scenic road was opened in 1963, reached the top at Turoa in 1966-67 and declared a legal road in 1973.
Rising through one thousand metres, the Ohakune Mountain Road is one of the most picturesque drives in the country, taking in lowland forest, alpine beech forest, then windswept alpine shrublands and magnificent views of the surrounding countryside. Starting at 600 metres above sea level at the Ohakune Junction, the 17-kilometre road passes through podocarp/broadleaf forest dominated by lofty rimu and matai trees.
Huge-leafed mountain cabbage trees (toii) with silvery under-sided leaves dot the roadside.
Higher up, red, silver and black beech take over, with stunted and gnarled specimens interspersed with mountain cedar and mountain beech as you climb further. At Makotuku Flat the trees succumb to the altitude and are replaced by specialised alpine shrubs such as olearia with its thick, glossy leaves and the woolly mountain daisy in amongst red tussock. By the time you reach the top (1620 metres), even the hardy mountain herbs are subdued, sheltering as tiny communities of cushion plants and mosses among the boulders. In an alpine bog next to the base of the ski field chairlifts, beautiful yellow mountain buttercups, pale blue gentians and white foxgloves grow.
Along the way on the road are numerous points of interest. The Mangawhero Campground is on the left 1.5km up the road, which has large areas suitable for picnics. Further up the Road is a picnic area on the right, at the start of Rimu Hill. This steep, winding section is marked with impressive rimu trees.
Next on the right is the start of Blyth Track and further on is the Waitonga Falls walking track (also the Round the Mountain Track). Two kilometres further are the spectacular Mangawhero Falls (a short walk from the road) and past the hairpin corner is the Makotuku Flat with the only club lodge on the Turoa side of the mountain – Massey University Hut.
A little way further on the left is the track to Lake Surprise and the Round the Mountain Track heading west and around a few more corners is the top of the Road and the Turoa Ski Field. All of the way above the tree line and at a few places below it, magnificent views of the west coast of the North Island can be seen, taking in the forest-clad hills, Mangaturuturu River heading away towards Mt Egmont/Taranaki, the surrounding farm lands and forestry and all the way out to the Tasman Sea from the higher points. And of course there is the view in front of the magnificent Mt Ruapehu standing high above you as you drive towards him.