Take the scenic alternative to State Highway One and discover stunning scenery, deep valleys and towering mountain ranges. 

This scenic route offers you a wide range of activities, from secret swimming holes, walks and hikes through ancient native bush, horse treks at high altitude as well as gardens and heritage collections galore. 

You can drive this route in a day easily, but to really make the most of this unique experience we recommend that you plan it over at least two days. That way you’ll have plenty of time to stop off at the many highlights, scenic spots and more along the way.  Heading down the Pohangina Valley, this route takes you on an incredible journey through an evolving landscape and offers you an insight into real Kiwi backcountry where the journey is as much a part of the adventure as the destination. For the best insider knowledge of this expansive area, visit Iron Gates Experience. 

Download i-SITE New Zealand’s official touring map here with details on the Manawatu Scenic Route. 

Manawatu Scenic Route map

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Day 1 

What to do:

Starting in Mangaweka, make sure you check out the iconic Main Street, one block back from State Highway One. Here, you’ll see a street frozen in time – the perfect place for photographers to get some great shots!

Pop in and see the team at Mangaweka Adventure Co. and book in for rafting or kayaking, or indulge in some hot coffee, home baking and tasty food to go at Papa Cliffs Cafe! Once you’re all fed and watered, your journey begins with the Mangaweka Bridge, and leads you through a deep gorge steeped with white papa cliffs.

From here, you’ll pass the Ruahine Dress Circle Reserve, with waterfalls and swimming holes this is the perfect rest stop, and a local secret!

A quick detour into Rangiwahia affords you the domain for camping, plus public facilities and the stunning Rangiwahia Bush Reserve where you can walk through ancient native bush which once covered the local area pre-settlers.  Back on the scenic route, make sure you pull over at the intersection of Te Parapara Road and Main South Road. There is a picnic table, an info board and incredible views too! From here you can detour down Renfrew Road and head to the start of the Rangiwahia Hut and Track, or visit the Ian McKean Pinetum for incredible views and walks. Continue your journey down Main South Road. You’ll pass Mangahuia Wetlands, a free wetlands for the public to enjoy, and the perfect spot for some bird watching. If you’re after some adventure, visit the team at Table Flat Trekking, and book in for some high altitude horse rides, or stop for a night at Table Flat Farmstay. Nearby, you’ll find the little-known Limestone Creek Reserve glow worm caves too. 

A detour into Apiti village is highly recommended, with the Apiti Tavern & Eatery a friendly local hot spot, free camping at the domain, a local museum and two local artist studios to visit – Eric Brew and Creative Woodwork. For some great local information, check out Iron Gates Experience. 

Where to eat:

Papa Cliff Cafe
Apiti Tavern and Eatery

Where to stay:

Mangaweka Campground
Awastone (motorhome park)
Mt Huia Farmstay B&B
Mairenui Rural Retreat
Rangiwahia Domain & Campground
Table Flat Farmstay
Makoura Lodge
Apiti Lavender Farm

Day 2

What to do:

What better way to start your day than by heading down the scenic Pohangina Valley. Seasoned Four Wheel Drivers or extreme bikers will want to make a side trip up Takapari Road to the tops of the Ruahine Ranges, or for something at a slower pace check out Springvale Gardens.

You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to native bush walks with the Totara Reserve stretching down the valley. Totara Reserve is not only renown for it’s stunning ancient native bush, it is also the perfect spot to camp, picnic and swim in the river. Public facilities, BBQ’s and a play ground are all located here. 

Tucked away at the foothills of the Ruahine Ranges, you won’t want to miss Pohangina Heights Gardens. With a uniquely high altitude and stunning views, wander through the gardens to soak up the clean mountain air, or book in to the romantic and rustic cottages for a night of relaxation and soak in the outdoor bath with views as far as Kapiti Island. Raumai Reserve is a fantastic picnic and swimming spot to explore. 

A side trip to Pohangina Village offers several wetlands to explore including Luttrells White Pine Gardens and Pioneer Museum, and the local village centre, County Fayre. Open on weekends, check out the historical wall displays and grab a hot cuppa. Cartwheel Creamery is another must-do in Pohangina where you will find handmade award-winning artisan cheese crafted on-site.  Heading onwards you’ll come through to Ashhurst, a colourful town offering all your basic needs and supplies, plus a great local cafe and Inn as well as an art studio and gallery. 

From here, you can divert off to the themed gardens at The Herb Farm & Cafe, dine at the tasty onsite cafe or book in for a spa treatment. Alternatively, take the chance to visit the iconic landmark that is Te Apiti – Manawatu Gorge, where you will discover native bush walks, swimming, horse trekking and much more. Now – onwards to your next destination of Palmerston North city, Wairarapa, Hawkes Bay or Wellington.

Where to eat:

The Herb Farm
Fusion Cafe
Ashhurst Inn Bar & Restaurant

Where to stay:

Totara Reserve
Springvale Gardens Bed & Breakfast
Songbird Gardens & Cottages
Rossley Lodge Bed & Breakfast
Pohangina Base
Hiwinui Country Estate