This remote mountain biking adventure winds through the heart of mystical Whanganui National Park to a striking bridge that literally leads to nowhere.
Forming part of the multi-day Mountains to Sea cycle trail, the Bridge to Nowhere Mountain Biking Trail takes riders back in time, around a hundred years or so, when soldiers returning from World War One were given plots of remote wilderness to farm. Ultimately, the land’s location and rugged terrain thwarted their attempts to tame it, but their enduring legacy is the trail into this hinterland, and the unexpected bridge originally intended to connect them to the outside world.
The trail begins on the historic Mangapurua Trail through Whanganui National Park, 30 km northwest of Raetihi town close to another national park, Tongariro. This mountain biking ride begins with a climb up to the junction with the equally historic Kaiwhakauka Trail – a more gnarly alternative start, accessed from the welcoming Blue Duck Station. Just beyond is the high point of the ride (661m), from where there are endless views across ridges blanketed in dense forest.
From this summit the trail winds in fast and thrilling fashion into the long-deserted Mangapurua Valley, dotted with overgrown pioneer farm remnants including mossy fence posts and wizened fruit trees. Vying for attention are the valley’s natural features, including lofty bluffs and rocky ravines. The riding is generally flat and pretty sweet all the way through to the Bridge to Nowhere, spanning Mangapurua Stream.
A striking sight set amidst dense forest, this concrete bridge was completed in 1936, just six years before the last farmer abandoned the valley. Its elegant form inspires much admiration and the clicking of cameras, while the story it tells is one of hope, hardship and broken dreams – and the awesome power of nature.
A winding 20-minute descent reaches the trail’s end at Mangaparua Landing, on the banks of the Whanganui River. The return to civilisation requires a 32km jet boat or kayak trip down to Pipiriki – an essential and highly memorable adventure. Riders wanting deeper immersion in the national park can break their river journey overnight on at the Bridge to Nowhere Lodge, a charming spot with homespun hospitality.
At Pipiriki, riders can be collected by shuttle or continue along the Mountains to Sea cycle trail on the picturesque River Road heading to Whanganui, passing many fascinating Māori and pioneer historic sites.
All transport and accommodation must be booked in advance. Local mountain biking operators offer shuttles to and from the trail, bike hire and guided tours, plus information on the latest trail conditions.
In the dry, the trail’s smooth, papa clay surface is a dream to ride: swift yet grippy. In the wet and after rain, it can destroy both bike and soul, covering every surface and clogging moving parts to grinding halt. The trail is best tackled from spring to autumn but can be ridden at other times after long spells of decent weather.