Location: West side of bridge on SH1 over the Tongariro River, Turangi.
Access: Car park beside bridge.
Length: ca. 3 km (one-way)
Grade: Flat, informal sandy path with some areas of river cobbles
Status: off leash (under control)
Cafes and restaurants: Cafe kiosk in car park at the start of the walk; many other cafes in town
From the road bridge over the Tongariro River in Turangi, there are four options for dog walks: two headings downstream, on either side of the river, and two upstream. Whichever route we choose, we can park in the large open car park on the west side of the bridge – where for much of the year there’s a mobile-kiosk serving excellent coffee.
It’s perhaps unfair to dismiss the downstream paths as being unattractive, for in other parts of the country, where dog walks are at a premium, we’d treasure them. But around Turangi, where we’ve plenty of options, they’re not the best choice by any means. Neither reach Taupo Lake, and both involve a bit of a slog along dry and dusty paths or across rough and cobbly river bars.
Of the two downstream walks, the path on the true left (i.e. west) bank, is probably the better. We can follow this for about 3 km, mainly in the form of a 4-WD track running more-or-less parallel with the river. At first, the track is good, the river’s not far away on or right, and there are frequent side-tracks leading to fishing spots, where the dogs can grab a paddle and a drink. Soon, however, the path becomes rougher, it splits into different branches, and we’re likely to find ourselves having to double back because we’ve come to a dead-end or a ford across a tributary. On a hot summer’s day, the surface is dry and loose, and we find ourselves following the hypnotising tracks of quail feet, like zips in the sand.
After twenty minutes or so, we cross a grassy domain at the end of a suburban road, then pick up the trail through an area of scrubland. Now, we begin to notice, the sand gets finer the further we go, so that it puffs up around us with every step, and makes little clouds of dust that follow the dogs as they plod, heads-down, onwards. In places, we meet the river and get a glimpse of a cormorant sitting on a post, or a group of them in a dead tree. Now and then we see, also, a heron or a fisherman standing in the water, waiting for a catch.
For a couple of kilometres we weave our way along the track, then suddenly rise up onto a long gravel levee. Following the path straight ahead, we cut across the neck of a large meander in the river, then turn left, with the river on our right and dense woodland to our left. Five hundred metres later, the path splits again, though it doesn’t matter much which branch we take, or whether we disdain the pair of them: within 50 metres they both lead to a gate, where the track ends. So now it’s time to turn round and retrace our steps, though we can get some variety on the return route by choosing different branches in the track and perhaps, when we reach the grassy domain, by forsaking the path at this stage and walking back along the shady and quiet streets through the town.