The Road to Pipiriki


One of the reasons that I was interested in my current part-time role at the Whakapapa Visitors Centre was that I wanted to learn more about the area in which I’ve lived for the last decade. Just how unaware on my local area I was, was made clear last year when I was the census collector for the northern part of Mt Ruapehu. What kept going through my mind was that old Tourism NZ advertisement “Don’t Leave Home til You’ve Seen the Country”

So I have set a new category “Around and About” to capture my explorations but don’t be surprised if they deviate off into other (geographic) areas as well…

I attended a farewell dinner for a friend at RNZAF Ohakea on Thursday night and woke on Friday morning to a bright sunny day (I may have appreciated the brightness and the Vampire jet buzzing the airbase if the previous night hadn’t been quite so good!). After brunching at Wendy’s and doing a little shopping in the big smoke, I set off home up SH4.

About 30km north of Wanganui, there is a signposted turn-off to Pipiriki (didn’t think to take a photo at this point). I was quite keen to drive this road as a tourist on the Visitor Centre had asked about it in my first week and I had said that I didn’t think that there was a road along the Whanganui River besides the last few kilometres of SH4 and had to be set straight by another staff member.

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View of the Whanganui River from the lookout at the top of the first hill after you turn off SH4

I found it to be a nice drive that follows the river for 60 km to Pipiriki where it turns inland for another 30 km to pop out on SH4 again at Raetahi. It is quite narrow (down to single lanes at some points) and winding but surprisingly busy so it is essential that a driver assumes that there is oncoming traffic around every corner and is prepared to stop in half the visible road.

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Obstacles…

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…and more obstacles…

There are many single lane bridges and drivers need to be aware of who has the right of way and rural road etiquette e.g. the traffic coming up a hill generally has the right of way…

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The road is always at least ten metres above the river so I think it unlikely that it gets closed often by flooding…DSCF7512DSCF7516One of those single land bridges will bring you into the historic settlement of Jerusalem…

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There is quite a long stretch of unsealed gravel road between Jerusalem and Pipiriki…

DSCF7519It is drivable in 2WD but the surface in some parts is quite loose so I popped the mighty Ssangyong into 4WD for better control and a smoother ride…

I couldn’t resist the TipTop icecream sign so popped into the Pipiriki store for a Trumpet…

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Pipiriki is a nice spot…

DSCF7523 DSCF7521 DSCF7522And then it was back on the road heading inland towards Raetihi…this road is probably more travelled and, while still narrow and winding at the river end, is certainly in better condition than the road south of Pipiriki…Halfway to Raetahi, the road breaks out onto the Central Plateau…

DSCF7529This is a drive that I would recommend to anyone looking to head south from the Ruapehu district with a little time to spare. I found it a nice change from SH4 direct to Wanganui or heading through Ohakune to pick up SH1 south to Wellington.

It is drivable by car i.e. 2WD but care has to be taken for other road users around the any many blind corners and single lane bridges. Small campervans i.e. those of people mover/SUV chassis would be OK but I would not be that keen on driving it in a large van-like campervan even though there are numerous small laybys where such vehicles can pull over to allow other vehicles to pass…

The scenery is nice and this drive provides and opportunity to see more of the Whanganui River than you can see from SH4 without actually having to get onto/into the river itself. If you want to get on to the river, there are opportunities to do this at Pipiriki with various canoeing, rafting and jetboating temptations…

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