The tracks can be walked or biked from either direction and when combined with a jet boat ride on the Whanganui River create a unique tramping or biking and boating circuit.
The track follows old road lines with good gradient. Approximate walking times for the track are:
These allow for leisurely walking. Biking times are approximately half the stated walking time, times are roughly the same if done in reverse.
Time: 2 hr walking, 1 hr cycling
Distance: 5.5 km
Follow the Kaiwhakauka Track along a farm road through Rētaruke Station (private land), following the true right of the Kaiwhakauka Stream to the large stock and pedestrian bridge.
Off to the right is the original depot where deliveries from riverboats were stored for the settlers. The track leads up the valley through a mixture of regenerating bush and farmland to the Whanganui National Park boundary. Care should be taken to leave gates as found and not to disturb stock.
Time:1 hr 30 min walking,45 min cycling
Distance: 4.4 km
Walking from the park boundary you come to the old Mosley homestead site near the Waione Stream. The open clearing here lends itself well to camping. A shelter with water and a toilet is located here.
Time: 2 hr 30 min walking, 1 hr 15 min cycling
Distance: 5.7 km
The track continues towards Cootes’ homestead (private land), crossing many small bridged side streams with only a few small open flats. The old Tobin homestead, which is marked by an old chimney stack, can be seen on the right of the track.
From here the steep climb to the junction passes through relatively undisturbed mixed tawa/podocarp forest for about 3.2 km to reach the junction of the old Kaiwhakauka and Mangapurua roads.
Time: 4 hr 30 min walking, 2 hr cycling
Distance: 10.8 km
Accessed from Ruatītī Road, the track climbs gently from the gate at the road end through private farmland, regenerating scrub and pockets of native bush. As you climb into hill country there are stunning views of the Tongariro National Park to the east.
A carved tōtara pou has been erected at the track junction to symbolise the ngahere (forest) and provide spiritual and cultural safety for visitors. The pou also pays tribute to the settlers of the Mangapurua and Kaiwhakauka Valleys.
Time: 30 min walking, 15 min cycling
Distance: 1.4 km
Continue heading west towards the Whanganui River you'll soon reach the Mangapurua Trig sign. This area provides a lunch or camping spot, with water and toilet facilities. The water is from a spring on the inside of the road bend just past the trig and the toilets are located about 25 m off the main track on the original access road. A sidetrack leads up to a cleared viewpoint. On a fine day, there are sweeping views of Tongariro National Park to the east and Mt Taranaki to the west.
Time: 2 hr walking, 1 hr cycling
Distance: 6.8 km
From the Trig the track heads steadily downhill, passing the only uncut section of forest in the Mangapurua Valley. The first swing bridge in the valley crosses Slippery Creek and a further 1.5 km along you reach Johnson’s.
As you move down the valley, you cross the grassy clearings that were created by the early settlers. Many of the papa bluffs are named after settlers that farmed the surrounding land. The names of these settlers also live on in the wooden signs installed along the track marking the location of the original house sites. Common features in the valley are the rows of exotic trees that mark the road and the house sites.
The large flat at Johnson’s makes a good camping spot. The campsite has a shelter, water supply and toilet. The original farmer Edward Johnson collected the mail twice a week from the Mangapurua Landing and distributed it through the valley.
Time:1 hr walking, 30 min cycling
Distance: 3.4 km
The track continues down the valley road to the abandoned Tester house which was the location of the first school in the valley, started in 1926 with seven children.
There are a number of large flats in the upper valley as you head towards Bettjeman’s. The other feature is the Himalayan honeysuckle. This introduced weed acts as a nursery plant for natives in much the same way as gorse.
Time: 1 hr 30 min walking, 45 min cycling
Distance: 4.6 km
The Bettjeman house site is easily identified by its straight row of poplars that line the old road. The Bettjeman family was one of the first settlers to arrive and last to leave when the valley was abandoned in 1942. All that remains today is the old chimney stack and exotic plants such as holly and cotoneaster.
There is good water supply from the stream near this house site and a toilet. Roughly 1.5 km from Bettjeman’s is Bartrum’s swingbridge, access for quad traffic ends at this bridge.
From Bartrum’s the valley becomes narrow with the track going around a series of bluffs. Care must be taken while crossing these bluffs as the Mangapurua Stream may be as much as 70m below – mountain bikers must dismount and walk, with your bike between you and the fall hazard.
Of particular note is the long bluff downstream of Cody’s house site. It's sometimes called Currant Bun Bluff because of the rounded exposed boulders located within the papa cliffs. Take extra care at this part of the track as it's narrow. A short distance further down the valley is Waterfall Creek with Hellawell's on the southern side. This was the location of many community picnics and hockey games. A 1.5 km side trip up the true left of the creek provides views of the waterfall.
Time: 1 hr 30 min walking, 45 min cycling
Distance: 5.7 km
The track continues to follow the true left of the Mangapurua Stream before descending towards the Bridge to Nowhere.
About an hour from Hellawell’s is Battleship Bluff, named for a feature across the Mangapurua Stream, resembling the prow of an old battleship. The bluff posed the greatest difficulty for the early road builders. Two years were spent terracing the bluff from the top using gelignite.
Continue along the narrow track which dips and climbs crossing streams and small bridges down the valley. Watch out for falling rocks while passing bluffs.
Almost out of nowhere you will turn the corner onto the historic Bridge to Nowhere. From the concrete bridge, you can see the remains of the old suspension bridge used between 1920 and 1936. This old bridge and its two predecessor wire cages were vital to the initial settlers for the transport of all supplies.
Time: 40 min walking, 20 min cycling
Distance: 2.7 km
This section of track is well used by visitors to the Bridge to Nowhere. This can be a very busy section of track in the warmer months. Mountain bikers need to look out for walkers and vice versa. There are toilets halfway between the bridge and the river at Hunter’s Clearing and shelter near the landing.
The Mangapurua Landing was the main access point to the Mangapurua Valley during the early years of settlement when the paddle steamer provided the only transport option. The landing is now used by jet boaters and canoeists.
Other one-day cycle options on the Mangapurua/Kaiwhakauka Track include:
The Mangapurua/Kaiwhakauka Track can be accessed by road from either Whakahoro or Ruatītī Road. Whakahoro is reached from State Highway 4, turning off at either Owhango or Raurimu. Ruatītī Road end is accessed from Ruatītī Road, north of Raetihi on State Highway 4.
The track can also be accessed by boat from the Whanganui River at the Mangapurua Landing.
Note: River transport is necessary to and from the Mangapurua Landing and jetboats can be hired to carry your party either to Pipiriki or back to Whakahoro.
Before you go into the outdoors, tell someone your plans and leave a date to raise the alarm if you haven't returned. To do this, use the New Zealand Outdoors Intentions process on the AdventureSmart website. It is endorsed by New Zealand's search and rescue agencies and provides three simple options to tell someone you trust the details about your trip.
The Mangapurua/Kaiwhakauka Track follows two quite different valleys - the Mangapurua, with its open flats, and the narrower Kaiwhakauka, which, especially in the middle reaches, has many patches of relatively undisturbed native forest.
The valleys were rehabilitation settlements where land was offered to soldiers following World War I. The pioneer settlers cleared the land of much of its virgin native forest and transformed it into farmland. At the peak of settlement there were 30 farms in the Mangapurua and 16 in the Kaiwhakauka. Chimneys, exotic trees and hedges mark the remains of the house sites.
Problems such as poor access, erosion and falling stock prices during the Depression years forced most of the settlers to abandon their farms. The few remaining farmers were forced to leave the valley in 1942 when the Government refused to maintain the storm damaged road.
Today this isolated valley is regenerating in native forest, but there are still signs of the original settlement for visitors to the area to see.