On Friday the 13th I woke before the sun, unable to sleep. I was itching to get some Nature Time as work was looming that afternoon it meant that only a short one was able to be done. Te Apiti Manawatu Gorge Tawa Loop is not too far away from home and is only a quick 2 hour hike. The perfect combination.

Te Apiti - Manawatu Gorge Tawa Loop
A not so successful self-timed photo. May need some more practice

Quick Stats

Time 2 hours

Difficulty Low, the track is wide and easy to follow, the inclines are steady and the trail is well-maintained

Fitness Low, there are a few inclines but they neither last long or are very steep

Access From the western end of the Manawatu Gorge. The car park is just before the gorge entrance after Ashurst. Note: the Manawatu Gorge is no longer accessible via car if travelling from the East so you will need to go over the Saddle Road to Ashurst or another alternative route.

Te Apiti - Manawatu Gorge Tawa Loop | The view from inside the tree
The view from my hidey hole in the tree

Hiking Te Apiti Manawatu Gorge Tawa Loop

I arrived at the start of Te Apiti Manawatu Gorge Tawa Loop just as the sun was starting to stretch across the sky. Stars were slowly blinking out one by one and a golden glow was starting to settle on the surroundings.

It felt like I was the only person awake as my feet crunched over the gravel and down the path to the bridge. As I made my way under the bridge I could hear the steady trickle of the hills emptying into the river.

My footsteps felt loud on the boardwalk in the stillness of the bush. Even the birds were sleeping in today. Not far from the bridge lies a fork announcing the start of the Tawa Loop Track.

I take the left fork and the steady incline winds up the hill. A bench lies facing the opposing hill with windmills sitting on the top. In between the two hills the river meanders, a forced rift between the hills. A train track follows the belly of the hill. I heard a train thunder through, breaking the silence not long before reaching the bench. A warm glow settles on the trees. The light teases the leaves, turning them from green to yellow.

The birds start to wake up as I stumble across the hollow Totara Tree. It was fitting as I was feeling a bit hollow myself. A quick flick around with the torch revealed I wasn’t waking any spiders so I crawled into the tree watched the suns reach paint more of the leaves.

The track is flatter after the Totara Tree and soon after Whatonga can be seen, tall and imposing. The Iron Warrior looks like he takes his job of guarding the forest very seriously. This is the halfway point and the decision to continue with the loop or carry on further to do the Gorge Walk lies.

I sit on the table and cry. My happy place all of a sudden turns into my sad place. It has been a hard few weeks and I had held it in for long enough. Through my tears I felt the forest around me, the birds singing and foraging, the trees whispering and sighing. I know I will be ok. I wipe the tears away, lift my shoulders and head back on the trail again.

The trail from Whatonga is mostly downhill with only a few minor inclines. Tom’s Lookout serves as just a quick stop to snap a photo and see the landscape transformed, basking in the now present sunlight. Not long after Tom’s Lookout I find myself back at the start of the loop and heading down the boardwalk again. Back under the bridge and crunching across the gravel once more to my waiting car.


What Makes Te Apiti Manawatu Gorge Tawa Loop Track a worthy Hike?

There are some really unique views and sights on this hike. The way you decide to tackle the loop will determine which sights you see first. I have done this track a few times with the kids as they have grown up. We tend to take the left fork near the beginning of the track.

Going Under the Road

This is a crowd pleaser for children. As you make your way into the bush, you first have to go under the road. It is like the entrance to a whole new world. Where you were once on the side of the road, you all of a sudden end up in the bush. The stream from the hills flows down here as well so there is a mixture of bridges, walkways, stairs, gently flowing streams and waterfalls before you hit the trail.

The Lookout

If you take the left fork, the first view is from the bench looking out over the gorge. If you time it right you can see the trains going through. They look spectacular with their steam billowing behind them, the windmills on the hill above them and the river below.

As I had gotten up so early I got the added extra of the sun coming up and the mist seeping through the valleys.

Te Apiti Manawatu Gorge Tawa Loop Track | NZ
The fog creeping through the valley

The Hollow Totara Tree

The next stop on the list is the tree. It’s no ordinary tree. It is a hidey hole Totara tree. The hollow trunk is big enough for an adult to squeeze in. Just don’t look up if you don’t like creepy crawlies. Luckily, I love creepy crawlies so happily sat in the tree and pretended I was a wee fairy for a while. You can do this when you are on your own coz there is no one there to take the piss out of you.

Whatonga – The Maori Warrior

After the fairy house, an Iron Warrior stands guard over the forest. Whatonga was one of three recognised Chiefs on board the Kurahaupo Waka, which journeyed across the Pacific Ocean to Aotearoa, New Zealand possibly as early as the 12th Century. Whatonga is thought to have discovered ‘Te Apiti (the Gorge) and settled his people at Papeoea (now known as Palmerston North). He marks the halfway point of the loop track.

Whatonga The Maori Warrior | Te Apiti Manawatu Gorge Tawa Loop Track | NZ
Whatonga – The Maori Warrior

Big Slip Lookout

Near Whatonga is the fork that you can take to continue on to complete the loop or veer off to do the Gorge Walk (the walk across the gorge to the Eastern Side). There also used to be a lookout called, “Big Slip Lookout” which looked out over a, well, big slip. But the track is too dangerous now with a bigger big slip slipping down the side of the hill (the reason why the road through the gorge is now closed).

Tom’s Lookout

As you make your way back down the loop you will come across Tom’s Lookout. Which is a, well, lookout. Take in the countryside views of Ashurst and out to Palmerston North.

Tom's Lookout | Te Apiti Manawatu Gorge Tawa Loop Track | NZ
The view from Tom’s Lookout

Final Thoughts

Te Apiti Manawatu Gorge Tawa Loop Track is a lovely walk to complete with the family. As I was heading back down the loop many families were making their way up. I could hear the chattering of young children floating above the trees before I saw them. As is usually the case when hiking with children.

The varied sights make for an interesting hike for children and adults alike. Te Apiti Manawatu Gorge Tawa Loop Track is a popular run for runners as it provides a moderately graded track. However, I won’t be testing that out any time soon (ever). Hiking = yes, running = no.

For more pictures head over to Facebook and check out that Gorge Walk album. There may be a picture of me inside a tree in there.


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TE APITI MANAWATU GORGE TAWA LOOP TRACK | NZ - The Manawatu Gorge, New Zealand hides a few different walks. The Tawa Loop Track is perfect for taking young children with a variety of sights to see along the way. Including a Maori Warrior and a hollow tree to sit in

TE APITI MANAWATU GORGE TAWA LOOP TRACK | NZ - The Manawatu Gorge, New Zealand hides a few different walks. The Tawa Loop Track is perfect for taking young children with a variety of sights to see along the way. Including a Maori Warrior and a hollow tree to sit in

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