Bridge to Nowhere, WHANGANUI

Track Facts:

  • Located in Whanganui National Park
  • This is a whole day trip from Whanganui City
  • We did 4 hours driving + 1.5 hour jet boat riding + 1.5 hour hiking + 2 hours canoeing
  • Easy walk, relatively flat.
  • Older kid friendly
  • You will need: sun protection, water, insect repellent, wet weather gear, a packed lunch, toilet paper and some hand sanitizer
  • That last one (yeah. The TP) is a lesson learnt from our mistake.
Location of the Bridge to Nowhere (current location being Whanganui)
The Bridge to Nowhere
The Whanganui River

Mike and I have started gifting each other experiences instead of things for Christmas/birthdays/whatever. Xmas 2020 saw mike being gifted a trip to Kapiti Island from me, and he gifted me this trip to the Bridge to Nowhere in Whanganui National Park. We went on Waitangi Weekend, and it was so good I can’t believe it took us 5 years of living in Whanganui to finally do!

(Full disclosure, this is the second time I’ve been to the Bridge to Nowhere, but Mikey’s first. My first trip was when I was about 15 with a few girls I was doing my Duke of Edinburg with + our parents. We had done the 3 day/42km Matemateāonga Track that finishes at a pretty random spot on the river, and our parents had picked us up in the jet boat then we all carried on to the bridge.

I told our tour guide on this trip I had done the walk almost 15years ago and remembered the track being much harder-he told me they had done lots of work to flatten the walk and assured me my memory wasn’t tricking me! I’ve included some pics from back then right at the bottom. Obviously the bridge looks the same, but I definitely look younger!)

Getting There:

So there are a couple of ways to get to the bridge to nowhere:

  1. As an extra side hike while doing the 4 day canoe trip down the Whanganui River (one of New Zealand’s Great Walks)
  2. A 36km mountain bike ride from 30km north west of Raetahi, which is part of the Mountain to Sea cycle trail (and then either bike back or take a jet boat)
  3. Take the jet boat each way from Pipiriki (with the option to add a little canoeing in at the end like we did)
Campground views
Morning coffee in paradise

If you take the jet boat option, I would highly recommend going with Whanganui River Adventures (who have green jet boats). It’s run by locals who really know and love the river and it’s surroundings. They even have a campsite in the beautiful Pipiriki where we had coffee and relaxed before the trip.

Everyone else on the boat with us had stayed the night before (and were staying that night too!) in either tents, vans, or campervans and then had icecreams at the little shop when we got back. I was super jealous that they had thought to stay awhile in the paradise that’s on offer there.

You can also ring ahead and negotiate a camping spot for your favourite furry family members. (One of the campers had a cat with them in their van). We will 10000% be doing this sometime when we have friends/family come to Whanganui and we really want to sell the area.

The River:

Oh my. The river. The awa.

There’s a saying in Whanganui that locals use to communicate how important this river is to them. I hear it often when people are introducing themselves, in waiata/local songs, and when the tangata whenua of Whanganui are being acknowledged:

“E rere kau mai te awa nui mai te Kāhui Maunga ki Tangaroa, ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au.”

The river flows from the mountain to the sea. I am the river, the river is me.

Often shortened to “ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au” (I am the river, the river is me) it talks of how important the river is to life (for water and food, and as a trade route), how we are connected to the river, and the duty that we collectively have to look after it.

Waterfall in a cave we later explored on our canoe trip

Anyway. A fun fact is that the Whanganui River was the first river in the world to be given the legal status of a person. It was given “personhood” in 2017 through The Whanganui River Claims Settlement Bill. If you’re interested you can read about it on most global media outlets, including National Geographic and the like. Basically, the New Zealand government formally recognised how locals had always viewed the river, as a living being in need of respect and protection.

Several other countries followed suit afterwards, including the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers in India, and Lake Erie and Klamath River (among others) in the USA)

When you look at these photos of the river, you can easily see why it’s worth protecting. The beauty of the river on this trip honestly took my breath away (and I’ve seen some amazing sights growing up in New Zealand) and I will admit to shedding a tear or 5 (cue workmates asking if I was pregnant. Nope. Just that emotional over a river. Nature left to do it’s thing will do that to me every time.)

I’m not going to give you too much historical information about the river, because one of my favourite parts of the jet boat ride was the guide stopping at various points and sharing historical and local information. This was sooo interesting. And I think something you have to learn as you experience the mauri (essence/life force) of the river.

The guide will stop and share stories and point out things like: flood marks, hidden caves and waterfalls to explore by canoe, info on local bush and farmlands, the making of the movie The River Queen and its original story, remnants of how traders worked on the awa (like pulley systems for steam boats, and holes in the cliffs that people earlier than that used to paddle manually upstream), stories of farmers and land packages gifted to veterans from the world wars, original settlers plans for the area, and so much more.

I loved that we chose to take the additional option of canoeing the last few kms of the trip (which ended up being a 2hour paddle). We travelled mostly with the others from our boat and had awesome fun hoping out to explore caves the guide had pointed out on the ride up, and navigating rapids (which he had given us tips for as well). We also saw other jet boats drive past while we were paddling, and chatted to people 3 or 4 days deep into their canoe journey. I would highly recommend this, as a way to really enjoy what it means to be on the river (without the 4 day commitment)


The Walk:

Right. So. The walk.

It begins at Mangapurua Landing (manga= branch of a river or tree. purua= to double or repeat). If you are canoeing down the river, you can’t miss this landing. It’s on the left side of the river (going downstream) and is characterised by a large outcrop which has steps carved up, and places to anchor your canoe. If you get there after about 11am, especially on a holiday or weekend, there will also likely me many brightly coloured canoes already moored there.

The walk goes up relatively steeply from there, to a information shelter with lots of great info. From there, the track is mostly flat. It’s about a 3km/45minute walk from there. There are some long-drop toilets about half way through the walk.

There are some interesting things along the way. Like a relic from the farmers who tried to tame the land after the first world war, but eventually had to leave due to flooding and the harshness of the valley making it really unrealistic to settle and work.

There is a little look out/growing platform that’s only about a 3min detour shortly before you reach the bridge. This is really worth it to get to a breathtaking view of the bridge.

The Bridge:

The Bridge to Nowhere is 40m high (and oh man do you feel that when you look down) and 34.1m long, made from concrete. It was designed to be a single landed bridge for vehicles, but is now considered a foot bridge and one of the areas biggest tourist attractions.

There’s also a sister bridge; The Bridge to Somewhere, (which is also in Whanganui National Park, closer to Whangamōmona) that I hope to visit one day.

View from the lookout
Epic spot for a cuppa tea

The bridge was built in the mid 1930s by Sandford and Brown as part of a plan to have a highway through to Taranaki. Here are some pics that the tour guide had of the bridge being built *cue eeek face*

The bridge was built after a number of returning soldiers (35?) from WWI moved to the area with their families to farm the land in 1917. Shortly after the completion of the bridge, the area was abandoned by its settlers and the government decided it wasn’t worth putting in the highway after all. The land was just too rugged and the make up of the soil meant that there was going to be continuous and inevitable landslips. So the whole project was abandoned. But the bridge was left.

Remains of original wooden swing bridge

Funnily enough, even though the Bridge to Nowhere and the surrounds are nicknamed “the valley of abandoned dreams” the bridge gets more use as a tourist attraction now than it did when it was used by the original locals.

The bridge and the track there is maintained by DoC and significant repair and preventative work has been done over the years, making this bridge the best preserved example of ferry-concrete style bridges in New Zealand. (Even though it’s now almost 100years old).

Right. That’s enough info for now.

Happy Exploring / hiking



(P.S. enjoy some snaps below of my original trip in 2007)

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