There’s the inconvenience of getting to and from the trailheads, but if you’ve got a plan for that, this is a great value walk in a place international tourists overlook.
This post will give you the details you need to know about the Manawatu Gorge walk, one of the most popular things to do in Palmerston North.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
DETAILS ABOUT THE MANAWATU GORGE WALK
The walk itself is awesome. I was super lucky my Aunty dropped me off at the trailhead, and managed to hitchhike (easy in NZ) back to Palmy easy enough. But, it’s definitely an inconvenience that takes away half a point.
The track is well maintained and there are lots of little sites along the way to check out. It would be nice to see more of the river, but there’s only so much that can be done about that. 10km is a good distance, and with minimal elevation, it’s doable for most. As long as you can get to/from the track okay, pop it on your list of possible things to do in New Zealand.
So while it’s cool, I wouldn’t go as far as making it a WOW worthy walk. That said, the hiking standards are high in NZ!
When2: October 2018
Difficulty4: Easy-medium. There’s the ascent to begin with, and then the track gets rugged for a couple of brief moments but anyone with reasonable fitness will be able to finish this without too much whinging.
Incline5: Unknown. I didn’t track the walk with Strava, but other than the ascent at the start the track is pretty smooth going n terms of elevation changes. I’d say 500 metres maximum (I’m not sure what I think of the Maps.me number below).
Hike Duration6: The walk took me just over 3.5 hours. I was surprised it took me this long as I normally walk a lot faster than recommended times. The DOC brochure suggests 3.5-5.5 hours, which I think will be accurate for many of you. But you can certainly do it in under 3 hours if you’re short on time.
MANAWATU GORGE WALK MAP
Unfortunately, the track isn’t on Google at all, but it’s on Maps.me which is where the screenshot is from above. This is the route I recommend if you’re walking from end-to-end. Once you’re on the trail, the DOC signs are super frequent so you shouldn’t get lost.
HOW TO GET TO THE TRAILHEAD
You can start from either end of the track. In terms of walking, with either route, there’s an incline to start as you make your way to the top of the gorge before walking along the top of the mountain range and descending at the end.
My experience is starting from the Woodville End, but I believe most start from the Ashurst End.
Driving: As it’s an end to end walk, you could drive to one end (Ashurst has the nicer car park) and walk there and back. Otherwise, you’ll need to do a key swap or some other kind of arrangement if you aren’t lucky enough to have someone drop you off. I like how this post displays the options for this.
Public Transport: Public buses go between Palmy and Ashurst on weekdays with a very limited schedule that $4 each way for adults. This is a good option to get there, but as they only run a couple of times a day, you’ll need to be careful with your timing to get back, otherwise, you’ll be hitchhiking. You can check the timetable here. Also, consider there’s a walk to get to the trailhead from where the bus drops you off.
Shuttles: If there’s a group of you, call Palmerston North City i-SITE and they should be able to arrange a shuttle for you. Phone: 0800 626 292
MY EXPERIENCE ON THE MANAWATU GORGE TRACK
My Aunty dropped me off at the Woodville end trailhead at about 10.20 am and was surprised there was just the one other car in the car park. I’ve always thought of this as a popular hike. But that is likely because it was mentioned at Christmas which I often spent with the family in Palmerston North.
It’s easy to get started with big signs on the trailhead leading you into the bush. It was a flat start to the walk which soon got intense going up the stairs. I made it okay, but they were unexpected which caught me off guard. Just plod along, and know once you’re up the top of the stairs you’re basically there. All that’s left is a few switchbacks to the top of the range. From then on you’ve got gentle undulations and flat track walking the rest of the way.
I made the decision early on to visit all of the little lookouts that running off the main gorge trail. It only a few minutes to see each oneach one, so unless you’re short on time I recommend them. The viewpoints are:
- Windmill Lookout
- Sentinel Lookout
- Windy Lookout
- Te Apiti Lookout
- Tom’s Lookout
- White Horse Rapids Lookout
The best viewpoint is definitely White Horse Rapids.
As I said earlier, once you’re at the top of the gorge it’s a smooth walk from here. The trail is well maintained, and there’s nothing too crazy about it. The forest feels different from the Tararua Ranges and in reading about the hike on other sites, it must be the Nikau Palms and the tropical feel they portray. The greens were a lot brighter!
Once you reach the Te Whatonga monument you’ve got a decision to make. This is the halfway point of the Tawa Loop Track that starts at the Ashurst trailhead. If you veer left, you’ll go past Tom’s Lookout, but you’ll need to turn around when you reach Tom’s Lookout so you can take the other route and pass the White Horse Rapids Lookout (the best one).
I suggest doing this unless you’re short on time, because why not? It’ll add a bit of distance to the walk so if you don’t really like the viewpoint above just turn right 🙂
After the White Horse Rapids, you start the descent down the mountain. It’s gradual enough so your knees won’t hate you. The last section along the river is stunning, and there’s plenty of information to read about the area in the shelter too.
From here, I’ll leave you to figure out your transport!
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I wish it was easier to access this hike, but that would probably make it too popular and I’d complain anyway. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a nice hike between Tongariro National Park (do the Tama lakes Track!) and Wellington.
What to read next:
- Wow, the Fly by Wire is epic!
- Visit the Rugby Museum in Palmerston North
- Things to do in Kapiti (one hour south of Palmerston)