Bridge to Nowhere Family Trip
by Peter Smith
Although many people had left Wellington before 5pm, it was not until after 11pm when the first cars drew up at the Whakahoro campsite. A group was getting themselves sorted out in the hut so we trundled across to the large pine tree and put the tents up. It was gone midnight before all were asleep.
Although we intended to get a reasonably early start, it took a long time packing. A lot of the gear had been hurriedly packed into the car the previous day. Children's life-jackets which we had brought with us were off-loaded with the boat operator. By 9.45am 16 of us, seven adults and nine children between six and 12 years' old were away. The boat operator came over and asked us if we could be picked up at 11.30am on the Monday at Mangapurua Landing instead of 1pm. We said we would try but could not promise anything. We departed the campsite and climbed up leaving the Wanganui River and looked back down the Kaiwhakauka River where it joined the Wanganui River, a few ducks were swimming down stream and a furry animal scurried across a log bridging the two sides. The track was a bit muddy in places, chewed up by farm bikes. We stopped for a morning snack under a notice that said 'Mangapurua Trig 4 hours'. That was fast! We had only gone 1½ hours and it was supposedly 8 hours to the trig. We headed on up further and had lunch. The track followed the river in fairly steep country and not much sign of any flat camping. Just before 4pm we came to Moseley's clearing with regenerating bush and running water so set up camp.
Tom had all the children trying to light a fire with only two matches; there is plenty of practice needed there. Two trampers passed heading up the track - the only other trampers we were to see all weekend. A chap came up the valley with his young son on a farm bike and a dog in tow. He was living in an adapted dwelling around the old Coutts chimney stack. The original house had gone to Ohakune. Leaving next morning we met him again driving in metal stakes. So past the old Tobin chimney on the right in the Whanganui DoC estate. These were the last settlements before we headed up towards Mangapurua Trig. We stopped for a break on the way up and looked out towards Ruapehu shrouded in mist. On to the high point on the track. We arrived just gone midday, three hours up. We inspected the gun powder repository now a two-bed cave. We had lunch at the trig and dried out the tents which were still wet from the morning dew. A couple of farm bikes came up from Raetihi. One of the men's sons had been working for the people involved in a big cannabis bust, only a valley or two away. I had wondered what that smell was from the trig. So downhill now, great country looking towards the hills to the north and east of the Whanganui National Park with the sunlight catching the backs of the ferns. We crossed a bridge and a couple of fellas with six dogs crossed after us. They said they were staying in the valley. So down to the first settlements, Quinn and Anderson. We came across a DoC toilet, I'm not too sure where the camping was. Past a big sycamore tree, then Tester's place and McDonald's with a lovely blue and white hydrangea in flower. The track clung high above the Mangapurua River and campsites seemed none existent. There were several gun shots and dogs barking across the river and the occasional noise from a wild pig. It was 4.30pm when we reached the Bettjeman residence and a place to camp. We headed up to where the old homestead was and where a plaque on the chimney stated that the family and its descendants returned to the spot in 1987, 45 years after they had left. We camped by the old macracarpa trees. A roar of a motorbike came along the track. I went to check it out. A medium size boar lay on the tank and handle bars. The two lads said they were in a competition based from Ohakune to get a trout, wild pig and deer. They had the trout and boar and were off to get the stag. They managed to get the bike and pig over the tree blocking the track and roared off into the distance. To bed. The quiet serenity of the place was shattered during the night by possums cavorting in the trees.
Off next morning to the Bolton's and Bertram's, then past a row of sweet chestnut trees with a few unripe nuts on the ground and a bridge with water cascading into several pools before reaching the river below. Then to Jack Ward's place or Lofty as he was known, he certainly had a large area of flat land. We continued past the Dress Circle Bluffs to Cody Bluff and now we could see exactly where we were on the map. We were making good progress, we had definitely made a lot the previous afternoon. We crossed over Waterfall Creek, but were told later that it would have been a worthwhile side trip to see the waterfall. The bridges were interesting construction with hinges holding the 1½ metre planks together and each end sliding on the entry and exit points. Past the Hellewell's place and to Battleship Bluff. The children came up with some innovative ideas on how the place was so named. The metre-wide track was quite spectacular. It was once four times that width and could carry vehicles. Then past the Mowat's. Apart from the Tobin, Coutts and Bettjeman residences which retained their brick chimneys, there was little evidence of the buildings; although there remained quite a lot of fencing. Time for lunch.
So on to Bennetts Flats and what we suspected to be the last flat area for camping before the bridge. Tom, Bruce, Peter and Stuart went to check it out, yes only a quarter of an hour fast pace to the Bridge to Nowhere. Back to Bennetts Flat to put up the tents. It was nice to have a short day. The initial camp near a wasps' nest was quickly changed and with dinner served we lit a fire. The children played poker with pieces of bark as chips. Next day, half an hour with packs to the bridge where we met several canoeists and tourists. Up to the lookout and Morgan's camp. Then out to the Mangapurua Landing past the Hunter's place with the old plough. We were there by 11am. So time for an early lunch before the trip back up the river to Whakahoro - a highlight of the trip for most of the children where we stopped off for a short break at one of the campsites. The next time we will be back will be the family trip canoeing down the Wanganui River.
In all a great weekend, the weather was kind to us. The children, as did we all, learnt a little about the ill-fated Mangapurua settlement from Arthur Bates' book.
Party members: William (leader) & Daphne Dashfield, Eleanor, Tamsin & Ian; Bruce & Marilyn Richards, Hayden & Phillippa; Tom Kneebone & Paula van Wijman, Vincent & Walter; Peter Smith, Stuart & Nigel.