This challenging route over the mighty Tararua Ranges connects the Manawatu Cycleway at Palmerston North with Route 52 at Alfredton in the Wairarapa.
While it’s still possible to complete this journey across the ranges, the closure of the nearby Manawatu Gorge has forced heavy traffic on to this route, and made a 10km section too dangerous for cyclists. You’ll need to bridge that gap by using the local taxi service (or by finding a friendly local with a bike rack or ute).
The mighty Tararua ranges are hard to cross on a bicycle, and this feat has been made even more difficult since rock fall closed the section of State Highway 3 known as the Manawatu Gorge. A major highway through the lower part of the North Island, its closure has forced large volumes of traffic (including heavy trucks) through the alternative route – namely the Pahiatua-Aokautere Road section of the Tararua Traverse.
The Pahiatua-Aokautere Road section of the Tararua Traverse is therefore temporarily closed while this is the main route between Mauawatu and Wairarapa for general traffic and trucks.
It is recommended that cyclists get shuttled the 20 or so kilometres from Palmerston North (or Summerhill Shopping Centre at Aokautere, on the city fringe) up to the corner of Pahiatua-Aokautere Road and Balance Valley Road. (Contact Taxis Palmerston North regarding a bike shuttle service.)
From the Balance Valley Road junction, ride 100 metres along Balance Valley Road and right onto Tararua Road, right onto Balance Road and left onto Pahiatua-Mangahao Road, which takes you into the centre of Pahiatua.
From the southern end of Pahiatua, take Tiraumea Road southeast. Tiraumea Road becomes Kaitawa Road, then Mangaone Valley Road. About 19km from Pahiatua, turn left onto Pa Valley Road. Follow Pa Valley Road for 10km to reach Route 52, which connects Waipukarau and Masterton. Cycle south for 2km to Alfredton which has a campground, public toilets and water available.
Masterton is 46km from Alfredton on Route 52, a great stretch of mostly downhill riding.
A helpful source of information about this ride, and other Heartland Rides, is Classic New Zealand Cycle Trails by the Kennett Brothers.
The surface of this trail is 90% sealed road and 10% gravel road, with a short section of cycle path near Pahiatua. Due to the increase in traffic on Pahiatua-Aokautere Road, a taxi or shuttle is recommended to avoid the first 20km between Palmerston North and Balance Valley Road.
From Balance Valley Road, the roads are very quiet, however, riders should still have good road sense and still expect traffic at any time.
FITNESS & SKILLS
This route is mostly undulating with some steep climbs, classified as a grade 4 (advanced) route, and is best suited to fit riders with cycle touring experience.
TYPE OF BIKE
Road bikes or touring bikes are most suitable 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 signposted, but a map will prevent wrong turns, help you time your ride, and identify points of interest along the way.
It is possible to ride this trail all year round. However, the Tararua Ranges experience high winds and torrential rain, so a good raincoat is essential at all times. Riders should also check the forecast before they set off.
There are services and accommodation at Palmerston North and Pahiatua and a campground at Alfredton.
FOOD & WATER
Food is available at Palmerston North and Pahiatua; riders will need their own supplies between Pahiatua and Masterton.
Intercity buses service Palmerston North and Pahiatua. The Capital Connection and Wairarapa Line train services link Wellington with Palmerston North and Masterton respectively.
There is no cellphone coverage around Alfredton.
There are public toilets in Palmerston North and Pahiatua.