Kia Ora: Mangaweka

The Rangitikei town of Mangaweka, gateway to the water, charms Elisabeth Easther.
Mangaweka is a gateway town to the Rangitikei River, which is perfect for white water rafting. Photo / NZME
Mangaweka is a gateway town to the Rangitikei River, which is perfect for white water rafting. Photo / NZME

Origin of name: The weka is the native woodhen, and manga means stream so, essentially, "stream of the weka".

Population: Under 200, with 100 rateable properties.

Town icon: The DC3 plane on the main road. Placed there in the 1980s, it used to be a grand cafe although today it's looking for love and a new lease of life.

Old news: The township was originally called "Three Log Whare"; established in the 1890s in anticipation of the railway going through, it soon became a bustling settlement. Much later, in the 1970s, SH1 was diverted and the town's heart was broken, although today that bypass is the reason for Mangaweka's untouched charm.

Bridle sweet: In 1936, local horse Wotan won the Melbourne Cup.

Famous locals: Robin White painted here for a spell and her famous Mangaweka painting hangs in Te Papa. Notorious art forger Karl Feodor Goldie (real name Karl Sim) was born here.

Legend has it: Poet Sam Hunt cruised through town once or twice and some people say he won the local boarding house, Puha Palace, in a game of pool. The star of Robin White's famous painting, today it's a private home.

Best website: mangaweka.co.nz

Big business: Serving the agricultural sector, the town is home to a stock truck company, a shearing gang and fencing contractors, while the river brings in a fair bit of tourism.

Opportunity knocks: If anyone wants to turn the DC3 back into a high-flying cafe, now's your chance. And the pub's for sale too.

Old roads: Forty years ago, the road from Mangaweka to Taihape was a tight, slow, windy drive and, if you walk around the old road today, you can still see paint on the cliffs, skinned from vehicles that failed to negotiate the corners.

Town fiestas: The Fakes and Forgeries Art Exhibition is a bi-annual event in celebration of Goldie. Anyone who wants to can paint a forgery of a well-known painting and be in with a chance to win generous prizes. It features craft and food stalls, bouncy castles, entertainment and good old-fashioned fun.

Bridge it: Controversial in its day, the unique cantilevered Mangaweka Bridge was completed in 1904 but, for some reason it was never officially opened until last year when, at the Mangaweka Bridge Pioneer Day, the ribbon was cut. Set to become a lively bi-annual event.

Why stop? As the northernmost town on the Rangitikei River, Mangaweka is considered the gateway to this waterway with tourists flocking for kayaking, fishing, swimming, rafting and camping.

In tents: There are two campgrounds on either side of the river -- one is quite basic for classic Kiwi family holidays, while the other has full facilities.

Here for a short time: Wander along Broadway, the town's historic main street -- with half of the original buildings still standing it's like taking a step back in time, with the disrepair adding to the ambience.

Kids love: The river and nature are big drawcards for kids -- if you're sharp-eyed you'll find heaps of fossils along the riverbank.

Best park: The public reserve down by the river has swings and slides, picnic tables, barbecues and lots of room to run around and skim stones.

Best walk: The Mangaweka Scenic Reserve Walk follows the main trunk line and is a very sweet little ramble. Mangaweka is also the gateway to the Ruahines, with plenty of epic hiking within its margins. The trail to the top of Mt Mangaweka, the summit of the Ruahines, is hard but rewarding work.

Dam right: Nip over to the historic power station, stroll five minutes up the creek and you'll find one of the oldest dams in the country, commissioned in 1908. Its interpretation panels are rather fascinating.

Best view: From the campground, gaze up to the old bridge and those spectacular cliffs.

Best place to pull over: The rest area at the southern end of Mangaweka looks down towards the river and is a safe spot for taking pictures.

Best swim: The swimming holes by the old power station are well loved, featuring five jump spots, a swing and a playground.

Best museum: Heritage Mangaweka runs an intriguing museum, open on Sunday afternoons.

Nice arts: There's one permanent gallery and a few studios that welcome visitors although the Goldie Museum has closed. Art lovers will also enjoy the Mangaweka Masterpieces mural project.

Emporiums: The town has just two cafes and an antique shop that's open every now and then.

Cream of the coffee: Papa Cliff Cafe on SH1 is housed in a building that replicates the town's original heritage -- aside from great coffee, their creamy mushrooms on toast are sublime.

Best food: Papa Cliff Cafe is always good or, on Sundays, Awastone's Summer Sunday Sessions are a treat if you like pizza, music and riverside relaxing.

Wet your whistle: Langholm Hotel is a bone fide rural pub; burned down yonks ago it was rebuilt in the 1930s in the art deco-style.

Best mountain biking: The Manawatu Scenic Cycle Route starts in Mangaweka and goes all the way to Palmerston North. Part of the national cycleway, this 115km route is known as "The Country Road".

Best adventures: Mangaweka Adventure Company runs a wide range of family friendly adventures, including an introductory white water rafting trip that can take kids as young as 3, if the conditions are right. With 60km of river, you can do one- to four-day expeditions that are completely guided. Tents, food and good times are all laid on.

Best-kept secret: The river itself; so many people don't realise, when they're driving along SH1, they're just 8m from this deep, dramatic gorge.

Wildlife: The bush is home to swags of birds, although sadly no weka. Possums, trout and pigs also live here.

The verdict: Gorges. Gorgeous.

Thanks to Paul at Mangaweka Adventure Company.

Checklist

WHERE IS IT?

Perched on the towering banks of the Rangitikei River in the Manawatu-Whanganui region, 19km south of Taihape and 27km north of Hunterville.

- NZ Herald

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