You might associate Palmerston North more with its ‘swamp city’ reputation than as a place to explore the bush. But not only does it have plenty of awesome things to do in town, it also has some beautiful tramps close by.
Tramping in the Manawatu Gorge
There are a number of walks to enjoy in the Manawatu Gorge, ranging from the 11-kilometre traverse of the ridge above the gorge to a 20-minute loop track.
A family favourite is the four-kilometre Tawa Loop Track. Starting from the Ashhurst end of the gorge, the track is well maintained and suitable for all ages. It was built after a huge slip closed SH3 through the gorge in 2011 and has been very popular.
The state highway is now closed indefinitely due to the unstable geology of the area. Access to the far end of the gorge is via the Saddle Road, a slightly longer trip.
Tackling Tawa loop
Fifteen minutes’ drive from Palmerston North, a large carpark marks the start of the gorge tracks. The Tawa Loop follows the road before dropping down and under. It comes up the other side into a small damp valley beside a stream. Koura, the native freshwater crayfish, live here and lifting a couple of rocks to watch them scuttle away is fascinating.
While this walk is relatively short and well gravelled, the first half is pretty much uphill. The gradient differs along the way, but the initial climb gets the heart rate going.
Reaching the end of the climb, the track loops around and Whatonga rises out of the forest—an awe-inspiring metal sculpture. Whatonga was one of the first Maori chiefs to come to New Zealand and here stands guard over the forest.
From Whatonga, a side trip to the Slip Lookout is closed indefinitely. The volatile nature of the geology of this area means almost constant change. So you can either carry on along the main gorge track to the far end, or start heading back down the hill to complete the Tawa Loop.
Good progress can be made downhill; a large old totara tree with a cave-like hole and a grove of nikau palm are worth pausing for breath.
Sledge track—Kahuterawa valley
The Kahuterawa Valley is the mountain bike mecca of Palmerston North with the Arapuke mountain bike trails. It’s also a great spot for walking and a new swing bridge has combined the older Sledge Track with the mountain bike trails to create a two- to three-hour
A half-hour drive from town, the last part of the road is narrow and gravel, ending with a large carpark.The Sledge Track is for walkers only and undulates through shady bush beside the Kahuterawa River. There are lovely swimming holes along the way if you feel so inclined. Dogs on leashes are welcome on this track.
After an hour or less, you reach the new swing bridge and, once you’ve crossed it, a steep uphill climb begins, which is very muddy in the winter. As the climb levels out, the track utilises wide forestry roads. The area has been logged and the views from here are extensive.
The shared use tracks are clearly marked, so it’s a case of following the signs until the edge of the hill is reached. Here, you pass through a culvert and the track becomes narrow as it drops down the hill. This is only an uphill option for mountain bikers, so no concerns about anyone speeding down behind you.
The track zigzags down finishing in an easy wander beside a stream. Before you know it, you’re at the Kahuterawa River Bridge and heading back to the car park.