The Bridge to Nowhere

3rd – 6th February 2024

Saturday: We departed 5:30am from Pukahu and travelled on the Napier – Taihape road, bypassing Taihape then through Waiouru, Ohakune, Tohunga Junction and halfway towards Raetihi before turning off in a northwesterly direction down Ruatiti road for 40 km. Ruatiti road starts off sealed, but quickly becomes a narrow, winding unsealed road. The further we drove towards the Ruatiti Road end the more changeable the weather became. The start of the Bridge To Nowhere track at the Ruatiti road end is marked with signs, an information board with some history and a toilet.

The track wound it’s way initially around grassed hillsides which merged into native bush. The higher & further west we went the more prominent the rain became. After 5 hours we arrived at the highest point of the tramp, the Mangapurua Trig/Saddle, here we were confronted with very strong winds, 9 degree Celsius temperature and hail. We huddled in the lee of a large information board listing (with some photographs) ex servicemen as to where they settled in the steep & rugged surrounding area. Along with the information board is a flag pole and a chained off stone monument topped of with an axe reminding us of ex servicemen who struggled to resume a normal life in NZ.

After the brief storm front passed, it was onward down hill for two hours on a now slippery papa rock farm track to the Johnson’s campsite in the Mangapurua valley. The Johnson’s campsite comprised of a large three sided shelter, water tank and toilet set just 20 metres off the track in a large grassy area, close to where a house and garden once existed. Here we tented for the night making good use of the shelter to dry wet gear, cook and toe tap a floor mounted water pump, pumping water into the shelter sink.

Sunday: The second day, having packed up wet tents, we tramped further down the Mangapurua valley amongst very tall non-native trees (fruiting & non fruiting), cleared grassy areas and past once cleared hillsides that had reverted to bush. One wonders how much settlers got to see of all the tree planting that occurred before they left the area. We stopped briefly where once the Bettjeman family had a home and viewed an old brick house chimney enclosed and supported by wooden scaffolding where descendants of Bettjeman family had left a memorial plague on the chimney. From here onwards the route becomes more of a walking track than a farm track with quite a few narrow wire rope bridges over narrow and deep gullies.

After two hours we arrived at the Hellawell’s campsite which consisted of a tall grassy area, a toilet and no easily accessed or obvious water source. A decision was made to continue on and we eventually found another grassy area with a convenient water source near by. Just off the track in the grassy area was a small wooden bridge section which became a table of sorts and was another “Bridge to Nowhere”. We set up our tents here (to dry out) and, leaving some gear behind, walked for a further 1 1/2 hrs to the true “Bridge to Nowhere” and then 40 minutes further to the Mangapurua Landing at the Whanganui river. Along the way the track narrows, going below and around precipitous bluffs. Further information boards indicated vehicles somehow came all the way in from the Whanganui river around these narrow bluffs and across wooden bridges over deep gullies.

The “Bridge to Nowhere” looks magnificent in the bush setting.  A tribute to hardworking people who brought in materials and constructed it in an isolated area. At the Mangapurua Landing, beside the Whanganui river, folk were either being dropped off by jet boat or were stopping briefly while canoeing to have a look at the bridge. In front of us was the 2 1/4 hour return tramp back to our campsite so all up we’d tramped for about 6 1/2 hours. The day had warmed up considerably compared to yesterday with temperatures being in mid 20’s. Time to recover, talk about the days events and cook our tea on that other “Bridge to Nowhere”.

Monday: The third day meant taking down wet tents again because of heavy dew. The aim was to tramp back the way we came in for 5 hours, backup to the Mangapurua Trig via Hellawell’s, Bettjeman’s and Johnson’s campsites. As the day progressed the temperature got up to 29 Degrees Celsius and the thought of climbing out of the Mangapurua valley in that heat made us think again. We got back to Johnson’s camp site just after midday, unpacked tents to dry out then had a siesta for a couple of hours. During this time we met a number of cyclists either coming in and out for the day or hoping to meet up with a jet boat.

Later in the afternoon, with tents packed up and water containers topped up, we tramped back up out of Mangapurua valley to the Mangapurua Trig on a much drier track. We arrived late afternoon at the Mangapurua Trig where tents were set up around the stone monument and under some nearby bush. Close by is a toilet and about 40 metres down the track towards the Ruatiti road is a hewn out rock recess that collects clean water. A 7 minute track walk above the stone monument led to a trig point which gave great views of Mt. Taranaki, Ruaphehu and Ngauruhoe. Also close by, off a fork in the same track, was a 5 metre long cavern set into the rock, previously used to store explosives. If only we’d found this on our first day here during stormy conditions, we would have had much better shelter.

Tuesday: The morning sunrise revealed we were above a sea of mist that hid all but the tops of surrounding hills. Again we had another warm, fine day. After 4 1/2 hours of slight track undulation and downhill we ended up back at the club van. We couldn’t get our boots off quick enough and rest those weary legs. Ohakune was our lunch stop on the way home with the weather staying fine all the way home to the Bay, arriving late afternoon.

Party: Colin J , Nic W , John M , Anne C , Simon W & Jude H

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