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Trail Updates
  • Section 4
  • 36km
  • 5–7 hours
  • Grade 4 (advanced)
Highlights
  • remote farming valley
  • national park wilderness 
  • the Bridge to Nowhere
  • Whanganui River jet boat ride
  • poignant post-WWI history 

Mangapurua Track

This classic New Zealand mountain bike ride takes riders back in time through a remote, long-deserted valley to the Bridge to Nowhere and mystical Whanganui River.

A must for experienced bikers, this journey through Whanganui National Park takes in overgrown farms, native forest, dramatic bluffs and deep ravines before reaching the Bridge to Nowhere, a graceful monument to early settlers’ broken dreams.

The jet boat ride to Pīpīriki is an invigorating way to end this wilderness adventure.

Riding the Trail

The Mangapurua Track is almost always ridden from the Ruatiti Road end, finishing at Mangapurua Landing on the Whanganui River (Te Awa o Whanganui). The only way out is back the way you came or along the river; either way it is essential to pre-book your transport connection.

Most riders finish with the jet boat trip downstream to the small riverside settlement of Pīpīriki – the start of the Whanganui River Road section of the Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail and the pick-up point for shuttles back to Ohakune, Raetihi, National Park or other regional destinations.

Be sure to start your ride on the Mangapurua Track early so you have plenty of time to stop and explore the abandoned farms along the way without fretting about missing the boat!

Super-fit riders can finish in less than four hours but mere mortals should allow considerably longer – especially when it’s muddy. Much of the surface is papa clay, which is a dream to on ride when it’s dry.

In the wet, however, it has been known to snap derailleurs, destroy brakes and test the mettle of even the hardiest riders. Pick a fine day to ride if at all possible, and check in with local operators, visitor centres or DOC for the latest conditions.

This is a remote wilderness ride with no facilities other than the odd toilet en route. It is recommended that riders take a PLB (personal locator beacon) or spot tracker.

 

Ruatiti Road—Mangapurua Trig

12.2km, 2–2.5 hours

From the Ruatiti Road car park, a 4WD track climbs gently for around 6km through private farmland and regenerating native bush, opening up impressive views of Tongariro National Park to the east and the Kaiwhakauka Valley to the north.

Around the 10km mark is the junction of the Mangapurua and Kaiwhakauka Tracks. Here a carved tōtara pou – signifying the spirit of ngahere (the forest) – offers visitors symbolic protection in this special place.

It’s a short climb here to the Mangapurua Trig from which Whanganui National Park unfolds ahead of you in a series of forested ridges and valleys, with the cone of Mt Taranaki glimpsed way out to the west on a fine day.

At the trig is a memorial to the WWI servicemen and their families who settled the Mangapurua and Kaiwhakauka valleys more than one hundred years ago. There’s a toilet and water here too, plus wilderness camping for bikepackers and hikers.

The Mangapurua Valley is rich in history, being one of the first areas offered to returning WWI soldiers in 1917. At its peak there were 30 farms in the Mangapurua Valley and 16 in the Kaiwhakauka, established through the back-breaking work of families who cleared and worked the land.

Strong communities formed and thrived for a while despite the arduous conditions and constant physical labour. But just 25 years later, the Mangapurua was virtually deserted following the decision to close the treacherous access road.

Today the native forest is regenerating in this ‘valley of abandoned dreams’ but there are still signs of the original settlements offering visitors a fascinating glimpse into post-war life.

 

Mangapurua Trig—Johnson’s

6.8km, 1 hour

Now you’re rolling, because from here it’s downhill or flat virtually all the way to the Whanganui River trailhead. Descending steadily from the trig on a wonderful section of track (when it’s dry, that is), riders pass through a section of virgin forest in the Mangapurua Valley.

After crossing Slippery Creek, the track starts to level out and after another 1.5km reaches the Johnson’s, named after the farmer who collected mail from Mangapurua Landing and distributed it through the valley twice a week. Flat and open, with a shelter and toilets, it’s a great spot to take a break to even camp overnight.


Johnson’s—Bettjeman’s

3.4km, 30 mins

As the track continues down the valley it passes various grassy clearings and papa clay bluffs named after the settlers. Their memories live on in wooden signs marking the sites of the original houses and exotic trees and plants that still grow here.

The old Bettjeman’s Farm is Identified by a straight row of poplars lining the road. The family was one of the first to settle the valley, and some of the last to leave when they gave up the land in 1942.

A chimney stack and plants such as holly and cotoneaster are all that’s left of what was once a thriving homestead and bunkhouse that even had its own tennis court. There’s also a toilet here and a good water source from the stream by the old house site.

 

Bettjeman’s—Hellawell’s

4.6 km/45 mins

Continuing gently down the valley for 1.5km the track reaches Bartrum’s swingbridge and the end of the quad-bike access on the track. From here it traces a narrow and somewhat precarious route around a series of sheer bluffs where riders should dismount as advised by signs.

Near Cody’s House, keep an eye out for Current Bun Bluff with its spherical boulders sticking out of the cliff face.

Just before Hellawell’s is Waterfall Creek, where there’s a 1.5km side-trip up the true left to see the actual cascade. Hellawell’s was once the site of community picnics and hockey games and still makes a great spot to linger. There is also a toilet here.

 

Hellawell’s—Bridge to Nowhere

5.7km, 45 mins

About half an hour further along the valley is Battleship Bluff, one of the most striking features along the track. Resembling the prow of an old ship, it presented one of the greatest obstacles to early settlers who spent two years blasting a route across the mighty cliff face.

Today the bluff makes a fantastic photo-op although nervous cyclists might want to get off and push their bikes. Eyes ahead and don’t look down!

After a few dips and climbs as the track crosses streams, the Bridge to Nowhere suddenly comes into view. It’s an incongruous yet impressive sight arching elegantly across the steep ravine with the Mangapurua Stream 40 metres below.

Many of settlers had already abandoned the valley by the time it was completed in 1936, and after a storm six years later the whole road was doomed. The bridge now stands as a poignant memorial to the broken dreams of settlers, and an iconic symbol of Whanganui National Park.

Ironically, the bridge is now used more than it was when it was first built. As well as riders and walkers tackling the Mangapurua Track, it attracts thousands of people who visit on guided tours fro Pīpīriki or as part of the Whanganui River journey, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks (that’s actually a kayaking adventure).

Just beyond the bridge is a lookout track that winds up above the Mangapurua Stream for lofty views of the bridge and surrounding bush.

 

Bridge to Nowhere—Mangapurua Landing

2.7km, 20 mins

In summer, this section gets pretty busy so riders should expect to meet walkers on the track. Winding downhill through the trees this is a lovely way to finish the day’s ride.

There are toilets around the halfway point and shelter just shy of the Mangapurua Landing that comes in handy if the weather has taken a turn for the worse.

The Landing used to be the main supply point for the valley but is now used by kayakers on the Whanganui Journey and jet boat operators running guided trips or collecting riders and bikes for the transfer downriver to Pīpīriki.

 

Mangapurua Landing—Pīpīriki

2.7km, 20 mins

The only way to Pīpīriki is via the river, so pre-booking a jet boat trip is essential. This 32km river section can also be kayaked; local tour operators can advise on arrangements for this as well as riverside accommodation at two DOC campsites, a DOC hut and a private lodge.

However you choose to travel, the Whanganui River is a highlight of the Mountains to Sea adventure as it passes through dense forest and a scenic gorge, and bounces over the exciting Ngaporo and Autupu rapids.

Your tour operator will give you clear directions of where to go and what to do once you’re on river.

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Need to Know
  • The Mangapurua Track is made up of remote, rough-and-ready 4WD track and backcountry singletrack, much of which is on papa clay – smooth, fast and flowing when dry, but super-slippery in the wet.  The majority of the riding is not especially technical but there are steep drop-offs to the side in some places

  • The track also sidles around a series of bluffs with precipitous drop-offs and rock-fall hazards. Riders should take extra care on these sections, as signposted.

  • These factors makes it a Grade 4 (advanced trail best suited to experienced mountain bikers, rain or shine.

Please be aware, after rain or severe weather condition of the Mangapurua track may change. At any stage, there may be fresh debris or windfalls on the track, particularly around the papa bluff sections. After significant rain, please check the track status updates on this site: the chance of a new slip or windfall is high.

  • The Managapurua track is open on a seasonal basis only, (Winter closure).
  • The track may also close temporarily for inspection after heavy weather events : Please do check the Track status for current conditions.  The team at Department of Conservation are committed to providing a safe and enjoyable track, and work hard to maintain this remote section - and we thank them.

Consider riding Mangapurua only if you have sound riding skills and are prepared to ride with due care. The Whanganui national park is is a remote, dynamic terrain and environment, hence the track requires respect at all times as conditions may change unexpectedly. 

  • As you cycle through the trail, if you do encounter any section you have doubts about your ability to cross, then please walk. (these sections are generally very short).  It is recommended you position your bike on the outside edge of any fall hazard (bluffs or drop offs), this is the safest and most balanced way to cross narrow sections.
  • E-bikers and those with panniers — be aware you may be required to lift/carry your bike around debris
  • There is no mobile coverage, you are advised to take basic tools and safety gear, including a PLB
  • A good-quality, well-maintained mountain bike is essential. Decent bike mechanical skills are a must as it’s a long way from help.

  • Mountains to Sea markers line the trail at regular intervals and track junctions are clearly signposted. A map and/or DOC’s Mangapurua/Kaiwhakauka Tracks brochure, however, will help time your ride and identify the many interesting landmarks.

  • The best time to ride the track is between November and April when the weather is most settled. However, heavy rain can occur at any time of year in Whanganui National Park and track conditions can change quickly. Riders should therefore be prepared for every eventuality.

  • Be sure to check the weather forecast, and pick a fine day to ride if at all possible. DOC, tour operators and local visitor centres can advise on various expectations including current track conditions.

  • This is a wilderness ride with no shops or services. Riders should take plenty of food and water, although there are places to fill water bottles along the way. Very basic supplies including ice creams and drinks are available at the campground in Pīpīriki.

  • There is virtually no cellphone reception on the track. Riders should consider carrying a PLB (personal locator beacon) or ‘spot tracker’.

  • All shuttle and jet boat transport must be booked in advance.

  • Local tour operators offer a variety of packages including two and three-day adventures with accommodation.

  • Public toilets are located at the start of the track and regular intervals along the way at the Mangapurua Trig, Johnson’s, Bettjeman’s, Hellawell’s and just after the Bridge to Nowhere.

  • This is Section 4 of the Mountains to Sea Trail, connecting with the Middle & Ruatiti Roads (Section 3), and Whanganui River Road (Section 5) at Pīpīriki.

You can find more tips in our Plan section.

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