The Manawatu Gorge (in Māori Te Apiti, meaning "The Narrow Passage") runs for 6-9 km between the Ruahine and Tararua Ranges in the south part of the North Island of New Zealand, linking the Manawatu and Hawke's Bay regions. It lies to the northeast of Palmerston North. Its western end is near the small town of Ashhurst and its eastern end is close to the town of Woodville.
The Manawatu Gorge is significant because, unlike most gorges, the Manawatu River is a water gap, that is it runs directly through the surrounding ranges from one side to the other. This was caused by the ranges moving upwards at the same time as the gorge was eroded by the river, instead of the more usual erosion of an already existing range.
The Manawatu River is the only river in New Zealand that starts its journey on one side of the main divide and finishes it on the other side.
The road through the Manawatu Gorge, State Highway 3, is on the south side of the river, and was completed in 1872. It was the primary link between the two sides of the lower North Island, before being abandoned in 2017 due to the number of slips. Other than Saddle Road and the Pahiatua Track, both narrow winding local roads a few kilometers north and south of the Manawatu Gorge, 100 kilometres (62 mi) to the south, and SH5 between Taupo and Napier 150 kilometres (93 mi) north of the Manawatu Gorge.the gorge was the only east-west road connection between the Akatarawa Valley,
The road through the Manawatu Gorge had a history of sometimes being closed by slips, especially following inclement weather.
A single track rail connection was established on the northern side of the gorge; it was completed in 1891 and is now part of the Palmerston North–Gisborne Line. The rail connection is mainly used by goods trains; there are currently no scheduled passenger rail services through the gorge. Occasional railway excursions, typically with steam trains, also make use of the scenic Manawatu Gorge Railway line with its two tunnels and several small bridges.
The Old Gorge Cemetery lies on the north side of the Manawatu Gorge. Public access is available, but the cemetery was closed many years ago to further burials. The road is located just a few kilometres out of Woodville on the north side of the gorge.
In 2011 the gorge was closed after several massive landslips. It did not reopen until August 2012, and parts of the highway were still limited to one lane.In October 2012 it was temporarily closed so contractors could destroy large rocks that posed a threat to traffic. Restoration was completed in November 2012.
SH3 was blocked again for one month by further slips after severe weather on 9 April 2015.
In April 2017, the Manawatu Gorge was closed again due to a large slip. Contractors were pulled out of clearing the slip in July 2017 due to ongoing geological movement in the hill, closing the road indefinitely.
A further slip in July 2017 at the Ashhurst end of the Manawatu Gorge left an additional 10,000 cubic metres of rock on the road.The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) decided to close the Gorge route permanently. The authority investigated long-term options to bypass or replace the gorge route, with their final list having four options.
The chosen new route option, delayed from December 2017 and announced in March 2018, will be above the Gorge, but below the Saddle Road, and will bypass Ashurst.
A 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) tramping track, the Manawatu Gorge Track, runs parallel to the gorge on the south side through native bush.
The walking track passes several lookout points, one of which is above the site of the 2015 landslide, aptly called the "Big Slip Lookout".The majority of the track leads through native bush, with the lookouts offering views overlooking the gorge and towards the Te Apiti Wind Farm continuing on the hills north of the gorge.
Also along the track, in the midst of native bush, stands the 6 metres (20 ft) tall metal sculpture of Whatonga, one of three recognised Māori chiefs on board the Kurahaupo Waka, which journeyed across the ocean to New Zealand. The statue was funded by the Manawatu Gorge Biodiversity stakeholder group and is made of steel. It was lowered to its location in the bush by helicopter, and blessed at a dawn ceremony on 11 April 2014. The artwork on the sculpture features hammerhead shark patterns and depicts elements of the story of Whatonga's sea voyage, as well as emblems of all of the Manawatu Gorge biodiversity project stakeholders.
Up to date information on all walking and biking tracks is available on the Te Apiti website.
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