The 42 Traverse is an old logging road that cuts through Tongariro Forest and is popular with mountain bikers for its challenging terrain and superb views. It gets its name from the original State Forest 42 as well as being 42km long. It is not called the 42nd Traverse, it is only known as the 42 Traverse.
Between 1903 and 1978, State Forest 42 supported 43 timber mills. Hundreds of millions of board feet of timber were extracted before a dwindling supply of accessible trees saw the decline of these mills.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the New Zealand Forest Service proposed to have much of the Tongariro Forest converted to farmland and pine plantations. A strong campaign from the local community, Federated Farmers, Royal Forest & Bird, Rifle, Rod & Gunn, the local tramping club, Rotarians and Borough and County Councils wanting the area preserved as a park for conservation and recreation as well as protection of Owhango’s water supply catchment, saw all remaining native forest transferred to the Department of Conservation (DOC ) in 1987.
4WD vehicle access on the 42 Traverse is open between 1 December and 30 April only, and 4WD vehicles are not permitted off this route. There is no access to any other roads off the 42 Traverse. This is a rough 4WD track unsuitable for SUV’s, and recovery gear should always be taken with you. Care is needed as river levels can rise quickly after rain. Always cross waterways only after checking they are safe.
Now for the part that is little known by the 4wd community of NZ and relates to how we came to be able to use this pristine track in a beautiful part of our country.
I’m unsure of the exact timing but about 15 years ago quite by chance it was noticed that DOC had made a change to the Taupo/Tongariro CMS (Conservation Management Strategy) with little public consultation. At this stage John Wilton, Peter Morse and John Eyes from the Taupo 4wd Club confronted them head-on. They attended many conservation board meetings which were very confrontational and at this time the conservation board was a very green affair, heavily represented by members of the Forest and Bird Society including their national president at the time.
They eventually managed to force them to open up the topic for public consultation which ended with a public meeting to hear all submissions that had been made. The result of this was that the 4wders won their argument and DOC was forced to work with them. Several field trips were made by these three campaigners with DOC, which sometimes tended to get quite confrontational.
There were several more board meetings over the years and eventually DOC were worn down by the 4wders sticking to the facts. Of importance here is the fact that at the beginning the 4wders were seen as a bunch of rednecks who just wanted to get out and destroy tracks and the surrounding bush.
What followed was a 4-5 year ban on 4wd use in the Tongariro Forest which the 4wd community was asked to adhere to and their support of this was awesome, in fact, the respect shown over this time was a turning point and the board actually started to respect what the 4wders had to say.
Eventually, a five-year trial was put into place with a closed season which generally has been respected although there’s been the odd club that has used the 42 Traverse out of season which has done our credibilty no good. At the conclusion of the trial period, the closed season format was formalised in the Taupo/Tongariro CMS.
Now that we have a great working relationship with DOC it is important that we don’t ruin it and break down this relationship by accessing areas we shouldn’t be in. It may not be a perfect scenario for some of you but it’s a huge wheel and it only turns very slowly. The other thing to be aware of is that this is the only legal 4wd opportunity in the Taupo/Tongariro Conservancy. SF70 at Rangitaiki has been closed to 4wd access for years, sure there are tracks there, but that does not make it ok to use them.
It’s an area that should be kept out of as it is very fragile and has conservation qualities and is very visible to the public eye being right beside a major highway.
Having put in hundreds of unpaid hours of their own time, John Wilton, Peter Morse and John Eyes have done the 4wd community proud by achieving what they have in this area and they continue to this day to work behind the scenes to ensure we have a good working relationship with DOC.
We are now seen as responsible users of the conservation estate and have gained the respect of DOC and other user groups within the Taupo/Tongariro Conservancy and further afield.
So let’s respect the work that’s been put in and continue to be responsible 4wders by checking out the areas we intend to use before we go there, doing a little bit of behind the scenes research to make sure we are allowed to be in there or to see if a permit is needed first. It doesn’t matter what part of the country you are in, you should always do some research.
This article first appeared in issue 99 of 4×4 Action Adventure magazine.