Following the official Manawatu Scenic Route between Mangaweka (on SH1) and Palmerston North, this is a scenic and often surprising journey full of natural wonders, local history and country hospitality.
It is recommended that riders take two days to enjoy this trip through rural Manawatu. There’s certainly plenty of great scenery to savour, including soaring cliffs near Mangaweka, the dramatic backdrop of the Ruahine Ranges, and lush farmland along the Pohangina Valley terraces.
There are plenty of interesting places to dally along the way, from country cafes and pubs, galleries, gardens, scenic reserves, swimming holes, glowworm caves, picnic areas and camping spots.
This trail provides a route touring link to the Tararua Traverse Heartland Ride, which heads over to the northern Wairarapa. It’s also reasonably close to two other Heartland Rides, the Gentle Annie to Hawke’s Bay and the OTT to Ohakune. However, to connect with them, cycling 20km to Taihape along a busy section of SH1 is required.
44km, 2–4 hours
Ride east on Ruahine Road, past the Mangaweka Campground and over the Rangitikei River bridge where you will be greeted with the impressive sight of soaring white papa (mudstone) cliffs and magnificent cobbled river terraces.
Just 9km from the start of Ruahine Road, you will find Mt Huia Farmstay and a further 1km from here is Mairenui Rural Retreat.
Be sure to check out the Ruahine Dress Circle Reserve. This swimming and picnic spot off Lagoon Road sits on a river bend and is surrounded by cliffs and dotted with waterfalls. Early settlers named the spot the dress circle because the cliffs reminded them of an opera house. The turn-off is 11km south from the Mangaweka Bridge.
Rangiwahia is only 10km from Mairenui. It has public toilets, campsites, free Wi-Fi and interesting stories to tell.
Back on the road, head north on Te Parapara Road. Be sure to savour the views along this particularly scenic stretch.
Lush farmland with the Ruahine Ranges as a backdrop greets you as turn right onto Main South Road. Stop for a break at Mangahuia Wetlands, a series of ponds that are home to native birdlife and trout.
Heading along Main South Road, you’ll travel through the dramatic Mangoira Gorge. After the Gorge, you can take a detour by turning into Table Flat Road (gravel) for some great panoramas alongside Table Flat Farmstay and some glowworm caves.
Back on Main South Road, continue down and detour onwards into Apiti for artist studios, the Apiti Tavern for a hearty meal or coffee, and camping at the Apiti Domain.
57km, 3–6 hours
On from Apiti, head back up Oroua Valley Road and into Pohangina Valley East Road. There are some amazing photo opportunities as you wind your way down into the Pohangina Valley, especially in autumn when the foliage turns gold. In summer, look out for blueberry picking and swimming spots in the river.
From Apiti, it’s 23km to the small, basic Piripiri Campsite run by the Department of Conservation. Just down the road is Springvale Gardens & Accommodation.
This area is rich in native bush and has a good range of bush walks for all abilities. Head down past the historic Komako Church and you will find Totara Reserve, a playground of native bush, glowworm caves, swimming holes and campsites with great facilities.
Another 24km on from Piripiri Campsite is Raumai Reserve, a great place to cool off in the river; there are also public toilets here. Continue on Pohangina Valley East Road and turn left onto Pohangina Road (on weekends, a 5km detour into Pohangina Village is worthwhile to visit County Fayre, a community run tea room and heritage display site, and the nearby Cartwheel Creamery, makers of artisan cheeses). You will pass by Valley Road, which is home to Pohangina Valley Estate winery.
Continue down Pohangina Road for 10km to reach Ashhurst. Stop for coffee and baked goods from the local café or grocery shop, picnic on the village green, or explore Ashhurst Domain where there is camping. Ashhurst Inn offers all day dining and good accommodation.
20km, 3–6 hours
From Cambridge Avenue, turn left onto State Highway 3 (Napier Road). Continue down and pull off to the left before the bridge, then ride down under the bridge and onto the first section of the Manawatu River Pathway. You’ll ride along for 3km before turning right onto Raukawa Road, bringing you back out onto SH3.
Turn left and head along SH3, keeping to the shoulder for 2.6km then turn left onto Te Matai Road. Follow Te Matai Road until Riverside Drive. Turn left down Riverside Drive and at the end of this road is the second section of the Manawatu River Pathway. You’ll follow a gentle, undulating path that follows the Manawatu River into Palmerston North.
After 6km on the Manawatu River Pathway, cross under the Fitzherbert Avenue Bridge, then to the right (where you can detour into the stunning Victoria Esplanade gardens and cafe) and head up Fitzherbert Avenue. It’s just 2km to The Square (Palmerston North City Centre).
Palmerston North i-SITE has luggage lockers and showers and can arrange your bookings while providing you information on your next stop.
‘Palmy’ has plenty to offer the visiting cycle-tourer, including street art and a sculpture trail, plus Te Manawa Museum of Art, Science & History and the New Zealand Rugby Museum. It’s also great for dining, with all sorts of cafes, restaurants and pubs dotted throughout the central city.
A helpful source of information about this ride, and other Heartland Rides, is Classic New Zealand Cycle Trails by the Kennett Brothers.
Need to Know
The surface of this trail is approximately 111km on sealed roads and 10km on cycle paths. The majority of this route follows the ‘Manawatu Scenic Route’ on roads with very little traffic but riders should still expect to encounter other road users at any time. The final 2km along Fitzherbert Ave to reach The Square is a busy four lane road but has cycle lanes in both directions. Riders should be confident riding in an urban environment, or may wish to walk their bikes on the footpath.
FITNESS & SKILLS
This route includes a couple of good climbs. It is grade 3 (intermediate) and best suited to reasonably fit riders with some cycle touring experience.
TYPE OF BIKE
Road bikes and touring bike are best suited for the terrain. E-bikes are also suitable. Riders should ideally have basic mechanical skills and carry a tool kit and spares.
MAPS & NAVIGATION
New Zealand’s country roads are well sign-posted, but a map will help prevent wrong turns, help you time your ride, and identify points of interest along the way. For all places of interest, download a copy of the Discover The Country Road map and guide from manwatunz.co.nz.
It is possible to ride this route all year round. However, heavy rain and high winds can occur at any time of the year, and it can be frosty in the mornings in winter, especially close to the Ruahine Range. A good raincoat, and warm clothing in winter, are essential.
A variety of accommodation is available in Palmerston North, Ashhurst, Apiti and Mangaweka. Camping is also available en route at Raumai Reserve, Totara Reserve, Pohangina Valley and Rangiwahia; while farmstay accommodation is dotted along the route.
FOOD & WATER
This cycling route is remote, with only a few businesses providing accommodation or food along the way, except for Palmerston North, Ashhurst, the tavern at Apiti, and Mangaweka. Cyclists must plan in advance and go well prepared.
There are a number of settlements where you can fill your water bottle. River water should be boiled or treated
Regular trains run between the capital, Wellington, and Palmerston North. Intercity buses also run service Palmertson North and Mangaweka.
This route also links up with the Tararua Traverse at Palmerston North.
Coverage is available in most places but not along the whole route.
Public toilets are available at regular intervals along the route.