A Whanganui Jet Boat Ride to the Bridge to Nowhere

Waking up with aching muscles reminds us of the epic mission over the Tongariro Crossing yesterday, but makes us pretty thankful for today’s adventure: a jet boat ride along the Whanganui River to the Bridge to Nowhere!

A road into a forgotten land

We hit the road early morning, leaving the exposed volcanic lands at the base of Mt Ruapehu and head toward the infamously jungle-like Whanganui National Park. Once we pass the small town of Raetihi, the drive in itself gets pretty adventurous. Winding narrow roads take from the top of rolling green hills dotted with sheep down into the dense and dark valleys of the Whanganui National Park. The road is very reminiscent of the Forgotten World Highway, which we took 274 days ago where again, this part of the country is so remote that it looks long forgotten.

Hitting the river with Whanganui River Adventures

Although we know we’re heading to a place called Pipiriki, where Whanganui River Adventures is based, we’re still surprised to find the village all the way down here in the middle of nowhere! We check in at the Whanganui River Adventures campground and meet our jet boat driver and guide, Ken, who gets us kitted up with a life-jacket each. From there, it’s a super short drive to a super short track to a jet boat that will take us 32km up the Whanganui River.

A jet boat with a difference

The jet boat is unlike any other jet boats we have seen in New Zealand (and trust us, we’ve been on 11 different jet boat tours in the past 313 days)! This boat is designed by Ken himself for an optimal sightseeing experience on the Whanganui River. A line of textured metal plate on the nose of the boat leads to an small hatch which opens onto the boat with a walkway in the middle and seating on the sides, so you don’t have to clamber onto the jet boat and stand all over the seats! Genius!

Cruising down the Whanganui River Cruising down the Whanganui River
Checking out the cracks and crevasses of the Whanganui River Checking out the cracks and crevasses of the Whanganui River
Silver fern action in the forest Silver fern action in the forest
Where does this bridge lead to? Where does this bridge lead to?

The stunning scenery of the Whanganui River

Once we are all seated, it’s up the Whanganui River we go! The jetboat smoothly glides over a a shallow section of rapids until we reach the deeper waters that appear as still as glass on the surface. The water vividly reflects the towering canyon walls carpeted in moss and topped with thick ferns and palms. It’s like entering another world.

A river steeped in history

As the longest navigable river in New Zealand, the Whanganui River is steeped in history. Ken regularly stops the boat and stands up to show us some interesting features, from eel fishing stands traditionally used by the indigenous Maori people and still used today to distinct holes carved into the walls of the canyon made by the Maori who used to dig poles into the sides of the river to push their waka (canoes) along the river. The history goes deeper than that in the lines of seashells seen in the rocks from when New Zealand used to be under the sea!

The wild and wonderful whanganui River

waterfalls and canyons

Where some places on the Whanganui River are worth stopping for the history, other places are worth stopping for its pure beauty. We find ourselves in a couple of different narrow estuaries and almost underneath towering waterfalls delicately falling from the top of the canyon into the river below. There are certainly no lack of waterfalls on the Whanganui River.

A hike in the whanganui forest

After about 50 minutes of mesmerising river scenery, we get to the landing point for our walk to the mysterious Bridge to Nowhere. Ken leaves us to it so he can tie up the boat somewhere else, then insists he will catch us up later. We are suddenly within the dense forest that we have only gazed upon from the river so far.

Moss grows on plants which have grown on trees: it’s so wild! We also see plenty of birds, such as robins bathing in a puddle and silvereyes and fantails bouncing around the tree branches.

Ken shares the history of the Bridge to Nowhere Ken shares the history of the Bridge to Nowhere
Back to the river from the Bridge to Nowhere Back to the river from the Bridge to Nowhere
Awesome sighting of a blue duck! Awesome sighting of a blue duck!

The bridge to nowhere

We meet up with Ken again halfway up the 45-minute walk to the Bridge to Nowhere. He tells us a little bit more about the history of the land, telling us that the track we are following right now used to be a main road into this area that was felled for farming. Looking at the place now, you would never believe such a story!

Just before reaching the Bridge to Nowhere, Ken suggests we take a quick sidetrack to a lookout. Once we get there, we realise this is by far the best way to see the Bridge to Nowhere for the first time! From a mountainside, we look down on a pretty good-looking concrete bridge nestled in thick native forest. It looks so out-of-place in this wilderness setting! We simply have to take some photos then make our way onto the bridge ourselves where Ken is preparing hot drinks and biscuits.

We have plenty of time to stop for lunch here, soak up the scenery, and listen to Ken tell the fascinating history of this peculiar bridge, using photos of the bridge through the ages to tell the story.

Rare wildlife spotting and 360-spins

From here, we have the return journey through the stunning forest and back down the Whanganui River. Just as we are about to charge off, Ken slows the boat right down next to a blue duck! Blue duck, or whio, are a native rare duck species that are rarer than kiwi birds! We feel super lucky to be getting such a close look at its piercing yellow eyes and unusual lips at the end of its beak. What’s more, the duck is completely not bothered by a jet boat right next to it what so ever!

After the blue duck action, we now get to see some more jet boat action, including 360-spins! When Ken has more stuff to show us on the way downstream, we stops the boat in style with a quick 360-degree spin.

Welcome back to Ohakune!

It’s pretty, pretty, pretty all the way back to base where we say goodbye to Ken and hit the road for our final destination today, Ohakune. But wait a minute, haven’t we already stayed in Ohakune earlier during this 365 Days: 365 Activities?! Well, yes, but this time we hope the weather is going to be a hell of a lot better to check out some of the outdoor things to do around the mountain town. To mix things up a little bit since last time we stayed, we base ourselves in The Junction side of town at the Kings Lodge where the owner of the accommodation, Stu, suggests some pretty awesome hikes for us to check out tomorrow. So join us then!

Laura and Robin

Our first sight of the famous bridge to nowhere!
Our first sight of the famous bridge to nowhere! Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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