Spanning the Mangapurua Stream, a tributary of the Whanganui in Whanganui National Park, the Bridge to Nowhere is the last remnant of a government plan to offer nearby land for farming to soldiers returning from World War I. The area is now known as the “valley of abandoned dreams”.
As for the Bridge to Nowhere, it really does go nowhere, but that’s no reason not to visit.
The Bridge to Nowhere, Whanganui River
After World War I, the government hatched a plan to gift fresh land for farming to returned servicemen, and about 40 families settled on steep land covered in thick native bush in the remote Mangapūrua Valley.
The land was free, but the settlers were expected to convert it to productive farmland.
The population peaked in 1925 with 38 farms, and the Bridge to Nowhere, which was very much supposed to be a bridge to somewhere, was planned open the place up to motor vehicles.
Alas, the Great Depression brought a lowering of wool prices and then there was the erosion-prone terrain.
By the time the concrete road bridge opened to replace the original wooden swing bridge in 1936, there were only six families left at the settlement. The last of them left the Mangapurua Valley Soldiers Settlement in 1942 when a storm washed the road away.
But the bridge is still there, and it’s a major visitor attraction for a reason. She’s a beauty, all elegant archways of concrete and steel standing defiantly in the bush.
How to visit the Bridge to Nowhere
With the road long gone, there are now only two ways to visit the Bridge to Nowhere: by bicycle or by boat.
Ride the Bridge to Nowhere Mountain Biking Trail
The Bridge to Nowhere mountain bike ride is a section of the Mountains to Sea cycle trail, one of New Zealand’s Great Rides. The track starts on the Mangapurua Trail with a one- to two-hour climb up to at high point at the Mangapurua Trig, then it’s all downhill for the next few hours to the abandoned bridge itself.
There’s some very cool history for mountain bikers to check out along the way, including lines of trees demarcating old house sites and signs naming the families who once settled deep in what is now Whanganui National Park.
The ride finishes about 20 minutes past the bridge at Mangapurua Landing. There, you and your bike can catch a jet boat back to Pipiriki, where you’ll be able to continue on the Mountains to Sea cycle trail, or catch a ride back to civilization.
(You can ride the track as an out and back as well, but you’ll want to be pretty fit to do it, and you can walk the track if you have the time – it’s not just for bicycles.)
Take the Whanganui River Journey to the Bridge to Nowhere
The only Great Walk that is actually done with a paddle, the 145 kilometer Whanganui River Journey is a canoe trip from Taumarunui to Pipiriki.
It’s done over about five days, and one of the must-do stops along the way is Mangapurua Landing, where you can hop out of your canoe and walk about 40 minutes up to the Bridge to Nowhere.
More about the Whanganui River
Originating in Tongariro National Park, the Whanganui River turns south from Lake Taupo and flows all the way to the Tasman Sea.
The longest continually-navigable river in the country, it has long been a thoroughfare, negotiated first by waka and, from 1891, by riverboats carrying people and freight between the coastal town of Whanganui and the inland settlements.
In 2017, New Zealand parliament passed the Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act. Te Awa Tupua Act granted the Whanganui River system legal personhood – the first river in the world to be given such status, which granted the river the same responsibilities and, importantly, rights as a person. It enshrined the Maori concept of mauri, which understands that all thins have a personality and life force, in a legal framework.