Tour Aotearoa Day 10 – Mosley Homestead to Whanganui

I tossed and turned on the creaking wooden floorboards of the Mosley Homestead. Now on day 10, my body is adapting to life on the bike, but this growth phase comes with aches and pains, and it’s vital to get good recovery and good sleep. I eventually gave up on more sleep, rolling out of bed at 06:30 to pack up my tent, promising myself I’d reach Whanganui and find a hotel tonight.

This morning’s ride would continue to be challenging and isolated, along the Mangapurua Track, one of New Zealand’s classic adventure cycling routes. As I pedalled along the trail down the steep-sided valley, I knew I was heading to a dead end. The access road I was riding on would quite literally end at the Bridge to Nowhere, but fortunately, I had a plan up my sleeve.

I mentioned it in yesterday’s blog, but today there was lots more evidence of the pioneering soldiers who’d returned home from World War One and been offered clearings of native bush to farm. In total, 35 holdings were made available. But this wasn’t the gift it first appeared; the land was infertile and inappropriate to farming, while the rugged valleys and ravines made it an inaccessible place to live. Plaques and information boards recalled the lives of these extraordinary soldiers, of the horrors they’d faced in the war and then of their inspiring resilience and they embraced the hard labour to make the land prosperous.

Nowhere captures the failure of this scheme to reward returning soldiers more than the Bridge to Nowhere. I’d pedalled 30 kilometres through thick bush, most of it gradually descending back to the Whanganui River, when out of the thick green jungle, the impressive span of the bridge emerged, arching over the deep Mangapurua River. This bridge, unconnected to any road, symbolises the unfulfilled dreams for this valley. The plan had been to build the bridge in 1936 and then return later to build the roads. But by the time they came to construct the road, only 3 of the 35 holdings were inhabited, the other 32 being erased by the forest, and the road plans were abandoned.

It was here that my road ended too. I stood on the bridge gazing into the impenetrable jungle where my road ended abruptly. But throughout the history of the region, both the indigenous Maori and the European settlers have found it easier to take to the Whanganui River than bash through dense bush. I’d followed their lead and opted for the same.

I sat on the top-deck of the jet boat to Pipriki, basking in the sun, while whizzing down the snaking river. This was nothing like the slow chug of the fishing boat across the Kaipara Harbour. This was a fast boat, and the captain seemed to love his job, swerving down the river, heeling the boat over to the ooh’s and ah’s and occasional screams of his passengers. At these speeds the wind was a deafening flap of clothes and sometimes a splash of spray would cool us down. The vertical valley walls passed in a whir of rocks and greenery, and sometimes seemed nearly close enough to reach out and touch. It was a good rest for my legs.

I unloaded at Pirpriki and continued along the Whanganui River Road, at the slower pace of the bicycle. This peaceful road had little traffic on it and was a gradual return to civilisation after the last two days, even passing some smaller settlements. At times the road climbed higher to vantage points, from where I enjoyed a twisting view of the river valley, before descending back to pedal along its banks. This was easy riding, but it was still 70 kilometres, and 600 metres of elevation gain to reach Whanganui, the city of 43,000 people situated at the mouth of the river. It was 21:30, and had been a longer day than I’d expected, but I’d loved the tranquillity of the last two days beside the river.