The Bridge To Nowhere in the Whanganui National Park is indeed an anomoly of crazy land development planning. It does indeed go nowhere. Such a beautiful bridge. To nowhere.
I camped last night on the bridge.
Birdsong in the morning was awesome. Just awesome. Sounds that I have never heard before in the South Island of New Zealand.
An increasingly concerning issue for me during this wee detour into the Whanganui National Park, was my food supply. I was already a day later than I had expected, and I knew that I would not be able to strech my food for more than another two days. I just hoped that it would only take two days at the absolute most to float down the river.
From The Bridge To Nowhere, it was a short ride along nice smooth tracks to the Mangapurua Landing. People who canoe the Whanganui Journey along the Whanganui River will stop at the Landing and visit the Bridge, or tourists will get a jet boat ride up the river from Pipiriki to visit the Bridge (see www.bridgetonowhere.co.nz for details). This means that the track to and from the Bridge to the River is well worn. In stark contrast to the rest of the track.
When I got to the landing, I started work on the raft. First thing, pumping up the tubes. Using a foot pump given to me by Bruce from a few days ago each tube took 15 minutes to inflate. I had to repair a few small punctures (due to falls on the bike during the last few days on the track).
Punctures fixed, tubes tied, and I was ready to depart.
I was feeling pretty cool on my raft and felt pretty smug as mere mortal tourists cruised by in canoes and oooohed and ahhhed at my ingenuity and hardcoreness.
After four hours on the river however, I was not feeling quite as cool. Those canoeists had already arrived at their campsites, and I was still trying to paddle with a growingly painful headache. My legs were surprisingly warm, despite hanging in the water for the entire time. It wasn’t until I pulled to the bank for a break after four hours that I realised that they were just numb. I could hardly walk for 5 minutes as I regained feeling.
The river is not always as tranquil as in the photos above. There are regular rapids (1 to 1.5 grade) that require some paddling skills. Certainly fast enough to get my pulse pumping.
At one stage, I spent 30 minutes floating around and around in circles, caught in a massive eddy. If not for the help from Joe from the Ramanui Lodge (Bridge To Nowhere Lodge), who was upstream in his jet-powered barge checking on his horses, I may have still been circling a week later. He came to the rescue and gave me a tow out using his jet boat.
After the ‘rescue’ the headwind started. It was an agonsing two hours to cover the remaining few kilometers to the Lodge. At this rate, I was definitely going to run out of food before getting to Pipiriki; the next road that I planned to cycle out of the park on.
Due to the ‘rescue’ my fame went ahead of me to the lodge. Across the river from the lodge is the DOC campsite, but I didn’t realise this, and ended up on the Bridge To Nowhere Lodge side of the river. THe river was swift at this point, and there was not much chance of me getting across to the DOC site for some free camping. I sucked it up and made the trek up to the lodge, ready to try to talk my way into being able to camp on their property for free.
Joe and Mandy, the owners of the Lodge were having nothing of it. “You’re a madman!” Joe spouted as he shook my hand with a vice-like grip. “But good on you!”
They took pity on me, and I was shown to the bathrooms for a warm shower, they fed me, and I was mercifully spared from having to camp in the back yard with ‘the zoo’ (ponies, llamas, peacocks, chickens, dogs), and I was able to set my tent up on the front lawn with an amazing view of the river below.
The Bridge To Nowhere Lodge is amazing luxury accommodation in the middle of Whanganui National Park, accessable only by jet boat or canoe. Just incredible.
From a Wikipedia article about the Mangapurua Valley:
THE BRIDGE TO NOWHERE
Started in January 1935 and completed in June 1936, this bridge was built by the Raetihi firm of Sandford and Brown, for the Public Works Department. It is 130 feet long, and 125 feet above the stream. The cost of labour was 598 pounds 11 shillings 7 pence, and cartage of all materials (via the Mangapurua Valley road) cost 419 pounds 14 shillings. Unfortunately the cost of materials was not recorded. Aggregate for the concrete is said to have been transported from the Rangitikei River. The completion of the bridge was delayed considerably due to floods, slips, and the consequent delay in the supply of materials. The bridge was built to facilitate vehicular access to the Wanganui River, to link the settlers of the valley with the riverboat service. In 1917 the Government opened up the valley for settlement by soldiers returning from World War I. Virgin forest was cleared, and a total of 35 holdings developed. A school was opened, and for some years the valley prospered. However economic hardship, and problems associated with the remoteness and difficulty of access, resulted in many families abandoning their farms. By 1942 there were only 3 families left. After a major flood in January 1942 the Government declined to make further funds available for road maintenance, and it officially closed the valley in May 1942. The disappearing road line, old fence lines, stands of exotic trees, occasional brick chimneys, and this bridge serve as reminders of the ill fated settlement of the Mangapurua valley.
Today’s ride was by no means easy, but certainly easier. From Cootes Clearing the track followed a quad bike track most of the way to the Bridge To Nowhere. For the 10 hours it took me to get there, I could cycle about 40% of it. The rest was pushed, carried, and hauled.
The photo above shows a rare smooth section of bare sandstone rock near Cootes Clearing. This mostly cycle-able track led all the way up to the Mangapurua Trig.
Arrival at the top of the ridge was a big milestone, because from here it was all downhill. No more grunting and pushing.
My optimism was short-live however. The track disintegrated into a deeply rutted 4×4 four wheel motorbike track.
This lasted for two hours, before the deep gullies cut by streams flowing into the Mangapurua Stream put a stop to the quad bikes’ progress. They slowed me too, forcing me to remove all my luggage from my bike every time I had to cross a swing bridge.
After the fifth time-consuming crossing, I took to just lifting the whole bike up and over the wooden poles at the beginning of the bridge. I could then wheel the bike across, nervously making care not to drop the wheels off the side. Hoping that the bridge (limit one person) would carry the combined weight of me and the bike.
If swing bridges and muddy quad bike tracks weren’t enough, the other challenges were the bluffs. Many of these massive cliffs with their precarious tracks were washed out in places. Ferrying my gear and bike across these washouts, my heart was in my throat.
I arrived at the Bridge To Nowhere well after dark. I had hoped to get all the way to Mangapurua Landing on the river, but that was not going to happen tonight. I camped on the bridge instead, since it would not do not to take photos of this phenomenon of mad gonvernment planning.
Today had overtones of those four days pushing my bike in Kyrgyzstan (starting on Day 51). What I had expected to be a perfectly navigable by bicycle track ended up being a serious hiking trail with steep gully descents and absolutely un-rideable terrain.
I was following the Mangapurua Track from Whakahoro to Mangapurua Landing via the Bridge To Nowhere. This track that takes hikers 2 days to complete cuts through the Whanganui National Park to the very depths of the bush to the Whanganui River. From the Whanganui River, the only option is to get a jet boat out to the nearest road (about 30km up or down stream). Or, you can carry your own transport. I was carrying four truck tyre tubes and a foot pump.
The weather was a consistent drizzle that kept the otherwise easily cycle-able first 4km greasy at best.
With the heavy tubes on the back of the bike, plus all my other touring gear, the track was tough going in the steeper places. On the flat, I had to keep my speed down; the semi-slick touring tyres on the front of my bike did not have sufficient grip to keep me going in a straight line.
The dirt track lasted 4km across farmland before entering the murky depths of the Whanganui National Park. Once in the Park, the track well and truely became a hard-core tramping track, with mud, steep rocky sections.
I spent the remainder of the day (6 hours) pushing and hauling my bike across the track. Towards the end, I gave up pushing and hauling the bike and gear together. I took the luggage off, and ferried it individually back and forth. What should have taken a few hours on an unloaded mountain bike, took 9 hours on my loaded recumbent touring bike. Next time I will be on a mountain bike.
I only made it less than half way today, and camped in one of the many clearings that the early settlers made in the Mangapurua Valley.
I felt a deep sense of satisfaction despite the rediculous circumstances. I am sure that I am the first and last to ever haul a recumbent bike into this valley, but being there in the quiet of the native New Zealand bush, with a gazillion stars in an inky sky so close I could almost touch them, I felt content.
I was up and away from Taumarunui Holiday Park early today with the first stop the local Beaurepairs tyre repair shop.
Here I scrounged out back for four large truck tyre tubes.
With help from the staff, I walked out with four grand second-hand tubes, expertly patched up for NZ$10. I folded them meticulously, and attached them to the bike.
I estimate the weight of the tubes to be somewhere between 7 and 10 kilograms. Add to that the fact that they pulled the center of gravity of the bike way up, the bike felt rather unweildly.
I visited the local Mitre 10 for some cheap nylon rope (30m for NZ$10), and I was on the road.
The ride from Taumarunui to Whakahoro (end of the road heading into Whanganui National Park) was not the greatest. Frequent light showers, dampened the mood somewhat, until I got onto the gravel road heading into the park.
The road followed a small trubutary to the Whanganui River, and I relished the lack of traffic and beautiful birdsong of native New Zealand birds.
I arrived in Whakahoro just before dark, and stayed at the DOC hut there with Fritz and Johana, a German couple canoing down the Whanganui River.
Many canoeists make the 5 day canoe journey from Taumarunui to Pipriki through the Whanganui National Park along the Whanganui River. It is called the Whanganui Journey, and is 145km long. I never even knew that there was a Whanganui National Park, let alone a river going through it that was so popular with tourists!
Awoke today to frost!
Today was Labour Day in New Zealand. This is a national holiday celebrating the 40-hour week. The holiday is strictly observed, except for large supermarket chains. The plan to get tubes today for the Whanganui National Park mission was thwarted, so I checked into the Taumarunui Holiday Park for the day and enjoyed a relaxing day finishing off 50 Marathons in 50 Days by Dean Karnazes.
Another reluctant farewell today, as I rode off from Bruce and Melanie’s into a cold day with occassional showers and lots and lots of uphills, gravel roads, and no traffic.
I have to give a big thanks to Bruce for discussing with me possible routes south. The beauty of travelling by bike, is that you are free to dream as big as you like. My eyes are drawn to the most minor, out of the way roads as possible. In New Zealand, I find myself eyeing up the big patches of map with no roads at all. As I gazed at the map at Bruce’s my eyes were drawn to the dead-end roads leading into Whanganui National Park.
I’m not sure of exactly how I ended up with the final route, but from here, the plan is to head south to Taumarunui, get some tractor tyre tubes, haul them to the Bridge To Nowhere in the guts of the National Park across mountain bike tracks, pump them up, float 30km down the river to the next road, and then bike out. On paper, the trip looks fairly straight forward. I look forward to putting the plan into action!
Going by road, it would take a few days. Going this route, it will take about a week.
I arrived in Taumarunui at about 9pm, just after dark. I snuck into the Taumarunui Golf Course, and camped under a tree.
I got to sleep on a spare matress in the living room of one of the most spell-binding homes I have stayed in on my travels. Waking up to birdsong, sitting up and being greeted by a commanding view over the lower valleys, shrouded in low cloud…I’m pretty sure that before I woke up I was dreaming that I could just click my fingers and the house would be my own. I would sit alone on the hilltop and just soak the view in.
Thankfully Bruce pulled me out of this dream, and I enjoyed company today that outmatched the view. Bruce and Melanie own and manage two cafes; the Bosco Cafe in Te Kuiti, and Huhu Cafe and Store in Waitomo. They are a busy couple, with seemingly boundless energy. Towards the end of today, Bruce would realise that today was the first day in a long time where he hardly gave his business a thought.
Mike Howie, long time friend of Bruce, was visiting also, and we all went on a walk with the family and other relatives to the mythical birthplace of a distant past Maori royalty. Bruce, if you’re reading this, you’ll need to refresh my memory on the story.
One of Bruce’s sons, Finn, and his friend, made the most of ample opportunity for mischeif and adventure.
After the invigorating walk, it seemed appropriate for some food making. Parsely Pesto was the mission, and once again Finn featured in talking Mike through the process.
There’s the basic ingredients, and the rest (quantities) are up to your personal taste.The stuff was amazing. On bread or crackers with cheese…mmmmm…
An awesome dinner at relatives in the evening (living even deeper in the hills of the mysterious King Country) topped off a fantastic day. The day ended feeling full of food, full of great company, and full of awesome atmosphere.
Progress called today, and I was on my bike by mid-morning, heading for Waitomo. Bruce, co-owner of Huhu Cafe and Store in Waitomo, contacted me after reading updates on my blog since he saw me on national TV when I was still in China.
Once again I stuck to the back roads, and headed south out of Hamilton onto Highway 39. Pirongia Forest Park was my constant companion to the west for most of the morning and afternoon, until I arrived in Otorohanga. A quick call to Bruce confirmed that the Waitomo Valley Road was the better alternative to the main road to Waitomo from Otorohanga.
I got to Waitomo late afternoon, just before the rain started.
“You can stay here if you want,” Bruce said when I arrived. “Or you can come up to our place about 30km south from here. We live up on a hill in a great spot.”
Bruce’s long time friend Mike Howie was at the cafe also, down from Auckland for a quiet Labour Weekend at Bruce’s. I joined him for the roller coaster drive from Waitomo to just past Te Kuiti to Bruce’s. The land here is either up or down. Sharp limestone ridges and deep valleys, all covered with a fur of fluroescent green grass, punctuated by white fluffy dots (sheep).
Bruce and his wife Melanie live in a spectacular location. The house is situated in the heart of the King Country, surrounded by Maori history. The mythical birth place of Maori royalty is a short 15 minute walk away, and the site of defence towers are visible from the verandas. The home is designed with a DOC bush hut in mind, with rough cut materials and bare utilitarian utilities. The view is spellbinding, capturing my attention for long moments between balancing conversation with the family and wanting to just close myself off and stare at the view.