Tararua – Guide for Backpackers
Things to do in Tararua.
Untouched coastline, bush-cloaked ranges, sparkling fish-filled rivers, wind farms… The landscape of this part of Manawatu-Whanganui in the North Island has created a playground that locals have been enjoying for centuries, from hiking in the famous Te Apiti Manawatu Gorge to fishing where the river meet the ocean in Akitio. All of this is in the Tararua region stretching from the ridges of the Ruahine and Tararua ranges to the shores of the Pacific Ocean.
Tararua encompasses the townships of Norsewood, Dannevirke, Woodville, Pahiatua, Eketahuna and Pongaroa, as well as the coastal areas of Akitio and Herbertville. You’ll find the towns to be characteristically Kiwi with friendly hospitality. State Highway 2 is the main route through the region where you can travel north from Wellington or south from Hawke’s Bay to enjoy to this region.
Things you can’t miss in the Tararua District
- Hike the Manawatu Gorge Track!
- Have a barbeque at Waihi Falls.
- See the world’s rarest white kiwi at the Pukaha Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre.
- Fish the “Five M” rivers!
- Have a beer at the Tui Brewery.
Hiking in Te Apiti Manawatu Gorge
Wedged between two mountain ranges, Te Apiti Manawatu Gorge is one of New Zealand’s most iconic natural attractions.
Manawatu Gorge Track (2-3 hours one way)
Join 44,000 people a year who enjoy this 10km walk in the hills above the Te Apiti Manawatu Gorge. Many find the hike both physically and spiritually rewarding, as they are surrounded by towering New Zealand native bush, hearing nothing but the songs of New Zealand birds and the rhythmic thud of hiking shoes. Look out for the enormous Maori sculpture of Whatonga, the father of the Manawatu people. In addition, there are five places to stop and be transfixed by views over the magnificent gorge; see the railway, the reserve and the wind farms.
Be prepared for a workout – this walk takes at least 2-3 hours. The track follows a 5% gradient and can be challenging at times. Make sure you take plenty of food, water and wet weather gear. The track is well marked and has toilet facilities at the halfway point.
You will need to have a car parked at both ends of the walk, as it is not a loop track. Alternatively, call the local i-SITE before your walk to arrange transport back to your car: 0800 TARARUA.
Tawa Loop Walk (2 hours loop)
If you want to experience the beauty and splendour of the Te Apiti Manawatu Gorge walk but don’t want to tackle the main track, then the 4km Tawa Loop may be for you. It is less than half the distance of the main track and loops back to the Ashhurst car park at the west end of the gorge – the car park on the left side of the road immediately before the gorge entrance.
Manawatu Gorge Loop Walk (15-30 minute loop)
This walk begins at the Woodville end of Te Apiti Manawatu Gorge and is the easiest walk of the bunch. It is a gentle 1km flat path that provides a native bush, fauna and wildlife experience. To get to the track turn off State Highway 3 onto Ballance Gorge Road and cross the Ballance Bridge to the car park and track entrance.
Situated in the middle of farming country, Waihi Falls stands majestic and spectacular. This stunning waterfall is one of Tararua’s best-kept secrets and just an added bonus to the spectacular rolling countryside so characteristic of New Zealand’s North Island. The drive down countryside roads for about 45 minutes can be accessed off Route 52 near Waione.
Because it is such a mission to get to these falls, you may find that it can get pretty quiet up here, which is a great excuse to test some photography skills and enjoy the serenity. Take some food for the barbecue facilities. There are toilets too.
Pukaha Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre
You know all those rare New Zealand birds? Well the Pukaha Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre is one of the best places to see and learn all about them. New Zealand’s rarest birds are carefully conserved here in a project designed to protect rare and endangered species in the Mt Bruce wildlife reserve.
See Manukura, the only white kiwi in captivity in the world, who lives in the Kiwi House. Get up close to some of New Zealand’s most threatened native birds including takahe, hihi, kaka and kokako. Learn how captive breeding research contributes to the survival of native species. Experience the colour, light and sound of the forest as it was millions of years ago.
There are also tranquil bush walks through primal rainforest, six daily talks starting at 10:30am with the takahe ‘talk and feed’ and seasonal kiwi chick feeds. Then watch eels devour tasty morsels at 1:30pm, and finally check out the kaka’s crazy antics at 3pm.
The Pukaha Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre is along State Highway 2, 10km south of Eketahuna.
FISHING AND HUNTING IN TARARUA
Tararua Country offers a unique experience for avid anglers and hunters. Get your saltwater-meets-freshwater fishing experience in the bag on Tararua’s long golden beaches with the surf rolling into rivers. You’re bound to catch some brown trout. Visit the small coastal town of Akitio where there are a number of fishing charters or places to set up your fishing rod along the Akitio River.
Looking to delve deeper into the region’s remote rivers? Anglers come from far and wide to fish the “five Ms”: the Mangahao, Makuri, Mangatainoka, Makakahi, and the Manawatu rivers. Make sure you check out our Fishing in New Zealand guide so you know what fishing licenses are needed to enjoy a day’s fishing.
The western boundary of Tararua includes both the Tararua and Ruahine State Forest Parks; the kind that trampers and hunters dream about. There’s a reason why we say the the Manawatu-Wanganui region is one of the best for hunting in New Zealand in our Hunting in New Zealand article. There are numerous interesting bush walks and huts for the adventurous.
It’s all about the iconic Tui Brewery in the small town of Mangatainoka. You don’t need a reason or an excuse to stop, it’s practically compulsory! Beer is huge in New Zealand, with more than 160 breweries across the country. Tui is the brand you’ll see in every supermarket and likely the beer you’ll drink as a cheap backpacker. If Tui has been a particularly important element to your backpacking or working holiday experience then honour it at the Tui Brewery.
For NZ$25 you can enjoy the 35-minute tour, three beers and a complimentary Tui glass to take home with you. You can also have a Tui-style BBQ lesson, wander through the Tui museum and then enjoy refreshments in the Tui bar and restaurant.
Read more about New Zealand’s beers in our article 25 Awesome New Zealand Beers.
If you have more time in Tararua…
- Cycle through the wind farms of Tararua and Te Apiti.
- Get a Scandinavian-style experience at Johanna’s World Park with backpacker accommodation.
- Visit the Hovding Gallery in Norsewood.
- Discover the Wops Wops Wetlands in Norsewood.
- Visit the International Police Museum in Dannevirke
Where to stay in Tararua?
- Johannas World Park, Norsewood
- Knucklebone Lodge, Eketahuna
- Otapawa Farmstay and Backpackers, Eketahuna
- Saigon Hotel Backpackers, Dannevirke
- The Coast Road Backpackers, Pongaroa
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