Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

The River Road ahead

Koroniti Marae

17th C building on the right

Room for guests

Along the River Road

The village of Jerusalem

St Joseph's Church

Inside St Joseph's Church

The alter in St Joseph's Church

The boat ramp at Pipiriki

The coffee maid

View on the Wanganui River

The river paddle boat landing

A jet boat front seat hair style

The Bridge to Nowhere

Time to leave

Wanganui River

Good-bye to our fellow travellers

Evening at Raukawa Falls

Sylvia’s Comments

This morning when we opened the van door we were met with a rush of ducks to greet us, our friend from last night had turned up with his mates looking very hopeful, they were not disappointed. Hope tonight’s campers look after them as well as we did. We left the camp site for a days drive along the Whanganui River Road. The Whanganui River curls its way 206 miles from its source on the flanks of Mt Tongariro to the Tasman Sea. It is the longest navigable river in NZ and shaped the regions destiny. By functioning as a transport link between the sea and the interior, first for Maori and then for European settlers. Paddle steamers used to ply the river on a regular basis until rail and road travel took over. Today tourists can still take a paddle steamer up the river from a pier in Wanganui.

To reach the scenic road we travelled out of the city on SH 4 before turning off and climbing up the inevitable hill to emerge at the top to a stunning view over the valley below. The 34 mile road hugs the river side all the way to Pipiriki and we got some great views. Our guide book indicated that a good proportion of the road was unsealed but we got a pleasant surprise to find it mostly sealed (all but 10 miles is unsealed) and they are working on completing the remainder. The road passes through a number of historical areas and Maori villages. At Koriniti Marae a sign at the end of the road welcomed visitors but stated that if anyone Maori people were staying to ask permission. We drove down the road and parked the van, there were a lot of people outside the Marae preparing to leave. A lady saw me outside the gate and came over and when I asked permission to look around she welcomed us in. She told us that they had had a lot of people staying for the week but as they were leaving we could look around the museum and the main building. To enter the Marae you are asked to remove your shoes and we were allowed to take photographs in this one. Inside the carvings were lovely and intricate, the first building we entered was the museum and went back to the 18th Centaury, whilst the other building was built in the 17th Centaury. We do not know the history of the third building.

Continuing on we came across a historic flour mill and millers cottage which had been recently restored, so another stop for us to explore. Our drive was like a world tour as we first passed through a village named London and further along a small village named Jerusalem. In this village we came across a French Catholic mission led by Suzanne Aubert who established the Daughters of Compassion in 1892, and close by a beautiful church of St Joseph’s. The church sits on a hill and when you come around the corner it makes a good photographic opportunity. We parked our van and walked up to have a look around, from outside it was a simple building but inside was a lovely Maori carved alter table.

Soon after leaving the church we arrived at our destination of Pipiriki, a small community, but once a busy thriving town when the paddle steamers came here. We decided to book the jet boat trip up the Whanganui River to the Bridge to Nowhere so we called in at the local booking office cum café. The gentleman phoned the company and we were booked on tomorrow mornings trip and would be met at the café at 10.30am. We were also informed there was another young man, called Christian, also in a campervan, booked onto the trip. Our friendly café owner told us that we could camp down at the boat ramp so we drove down to it. It had signs up saying no camping allowed and during a very late lunch we wondered what we should do. We were in such a remote area that we thought no one would spend time checking up to see if anyone was camped here. However with the ‘wings’ embalm on the front of our van letting everyone know we were in the motor home club, this would be against club policy. Our decision was to walk back to the café, have a coffee and get further advice.

At the café we discovered the owner busy assisting his cousin building an extension to his home, and he suggested we go and make our own coffee in his cafe. Whilst I was busy occupied boiling the kettle and Jeff was wandering around the owner’s home looking for milk, Robert, another British tourist arrived and asked for a coffee. I had to explain that if he wanted anything fancy like cappuccino he would need to go and get the owner off the roof, if he was happy with instant I could make it for him. He settled for my coffee and we all sat outside together, can’t have been too bad as he paid his money before leaving. Returning to our van we moved it up into the village area where we would camp for the night. When another campervan drew up beside us we guessed this must be Christian, and he later joined us for a beer and an evening of traveller’s tales.

Morning, and we were ready for our trip on the river. The Whanganui from Pipiriki to Taumarunu,i is one of NZ’s Great Walks, known as the Whanganui Journey and it takes four days to complete It seems strange calling a canoe trip a great walk but at least it should be easy on the feet. It is a Grade II river, so inexperienced travellers should be able to cope with it, and passes over some rapids to keep things interesting. So far we have done a day walk on all the Great Walks in the South Island, so it was good to know we were going to be on another of these Great Walks, not in a canoe or kayak but in a jet boat. We were joined by another three young people for the trip today and walked down to the boat ramp and boarded our boat. I sat in the front and caused a laugh for everyone when they saw my hair style on disembarking at the other end, it was literally standing up on end.

Our journey took us up the river for a distance 19 miles through Whanganui National Park and Ben, our guide, pointed out areas where the film The River Queen was shot. He had been involved in bringing cast, crew and supplies up the river from Wanganui so we were hearing the tales first hand. Jeff and I were the only two not making the return journey in canoe’s, and as we passed through each set of rapids our driver pointed out the way to navigate through on the return journey or the route to haul the boat over the stones. I did make the comment that there was nothing to it and got a strange look.

When we disembarked at a large rock, which was also the stopping point for the paddle steamers, we then had a 40 minute bush walk to the bridge. This area is known as the ‘Valley of Abandoned Dreams’. At the end of the First World War the NZ Government offered returning soldiers plots of land, between 500 and 800 acres, on a lease to buy basis. They were shown plans of the plots and then invited to make the river boat trip to see the land before signing up for the scheme. What no one knew at this time was that the soil was very poor here and sitting on a rock base. Once the bush and trees were cleared the rain washed the soil away. The government also promised to build the SH3 from Palmerston North to New Plymouth through the area. It took a number of years to build the bridge needed to cross one of the streams and by the time it was completed most of the people had due to the hardships of farming in the area and the high cost of transporting goods on the paddle boats. It was also during the time of the great depression in the 1930’s.

The Bridge to Nowhere now stands as a memory to those days and the only way to reach it is by boat or on some of the tramping tracks in the National Park. We had our picnic lunch on the bridge and Ben told us the history of the area and produced books with pictures for us to view. Soon it was time to return to the boat and for the return journey I sat in the back. For our fellow passengers it was the first trip on a jet boat so Ben gave us a couple of 360 degree spins and soaked all their cameras. Part way back we dropped off our intrepid canoeists and waved them good-bye, it will take them two hours to return to Pipiriki, whilst we would jet back in about 12 minutes.

Once back we were soon on our way to Raetihi, a historic logging town where we joined SH 4 to return to Wanganui. It was now getting late so we stopped at the YMCA Adventure Campsite close to the Raukawa Falls. We arrived just as the caretaker was leaving, so he quickly showed us where everything was and left us to it. So here we are on a big campsite surrounded by a few dozen sheep to keep us company.

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