Tukino Ski Field

February 2018


Central Plateau



Vehicle type


Track type


For years I’ve driven past the entry to Tukino Ski Field on the Desert Road and wondered where it went. We attempted to get up there late 2017 but an accident on the Desert Road delayed our trip and it was getting dark by the time we got close to the turn off.

Waitangi Day conveniently fell on a Tuesday this year and we managed to get the Monday off - a four day weekend of exploring the Central Plateau and Manawatu Scenic route was planned. We met up with fellow overlander Tim early Saturday morning and hit the road towards the centre of the North Island!

For those that haven’t been through it, the Central Plateau of the North Island is volcanic land - very little grows there and winter weather can cause havoc up there. Even in the middle of summer it can be cold - it was around 8 degrees when we went there. It however means the landscape is like nothing else in New Zealand - it’s barren, rocky and steep.

The first section of the track, referred to as the “2WD section” is, as you’d expect, pretty easy, though it did have a few decent puddles along the way that provided a bit of fun! Once you get past the 2WD car park it pays to have a 4WD and a bit of ground clearance as there are a few ruts and slippery climbs up to the first lookout.

Because the weather wasn't playing ball, the higher we drove the worse the weather became, at one point pulling over because we couldn't see more than ~20 metres in front of us. This being a mountain though it cleared as fast as it came in and for a very brief moment the cloud gave up a couple of amazing waterfalls high up above us.

From the first lookout you can follow the track further up the mountain to the Tukino Ski Clubhouses - there is however a gate there which may be shut depending on what’s happening at the time. If it’s open, remember to leave only footprints and stay on the track - losing access to such an awesome place would be a shame!

As we drove further into the clouds I noticed that the altimeter in the Prado was climbing higher than we’ve ever been in a vehicle (previously 1300m on Rainbow Road in the South Island). By the time we reached the top car park we were sitting at 1700m! I could be wrong, but I don’t imagine there are many higher roads in the North Island.

After a short explore on foot we headed back down the mountain and headed towards the Kaimanawa/Urchin Campgrounds where we’d decided we were staying that evening. On the way we pulled over and helped out a guy who had a trailer tyre blow out on him and no tools to change it over - made me realise just how valuable carrying basic tools can be! 5 minutes helping him out and we were on our way again.

If you get the chance and you’re into volcanic landscapes and awesome views, I’d highly recommend hitting up Tukino - it’s worth pulling off the highway and even exploring the lower section of the track. Remember that the track is surrounded by army land, so don’t leave the tracks or you might have more than a bit of mud to worry about...