SH 4, 97 km, 2–2.5 hours

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Take the road west from Raetihi to reach the Whanganui River at Pipiriki after 30 minutes. An interesting alternative to the SH 4 route is to take the road that follows the Whanganui River (covered by a heritage trail brochure). It is a slow, narrow road, with a 31-km unsealed section from Pipiriki to Koriniti (suitable for campervans, but not caravans). However, it is a very scenic journey, steeped in Maori and European history, with river and forest landscapes, pa, marae and sacred Maori sites. The spiritual and practical relationship Maori had with the river was so important that they named virtually every corner.

Pipiriki: Pipiriki lies on the edge of Whanganui National Park, and is where most kayakers and canoeists from Taumarunui finish their journey. The only food available is take-away style from a caravan (during the busier summer period). There’s a 30-minute nature walk from the DOC base (not an information centre), though the easiest way to experience the park is by jetboat—tours can be arranged here. A jetboat ride to Mangapurua Landing allows you to take the 40-minute walk to the historic ‘Bridge to Nowhere’. The bridge over the Ma
ngapurua Stream was opened in 1936 as a link in a proposed road between Raetihi and Taranaki. When the Mangapurua Valley was closed to settlement in 1942, regenerating forest covered the approaches to the bridge, which became known as the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’.

Pipiriki–Wanganui: Jerusalem, 11 km from Pipiriki, is most commonly associated with the commune established there by the revered poet James K. Baxter. The beautiful Church of Hiruharama (Jerusalem), built in 1892, features a carved altar of Maori design, kowhaiwhai panels on its walls, and historical information about this remote community. There is also a convent that was the home of Mother Aubert’s mission. The Flying Fox is an isolated, rustic, organic country-stay located across the river and reached by wire-cable. Beyond Jerusalem, Ranana has a century-old church and a memorial cairn. Nearby Moutoa Island was the site of the Battle of Moutoa in 1864 between Whanganui Maori and invading Hauhau warriors. The site of Operiki Pa, 18 km from Jerusalem, has well-preserved earthworks, and a little further on Koriniti (Corinth) has two restored wharenui (meeting houses) on the marae and a beautiful old church dating from 1865. There are no shops or service stations though until you reach Upokongaro back on SH 4 where the very new Café Riva offers organic coffee, a brunch menu plus a relaxing garden and live music on occasion. On Thursday–Sunday nights they delight in providing Maori cuisine such as hangi, paua (abalone) and tuna (eel). Perhaps call ahead to make a dinner request.

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