Minister of Conservation opens Te Apiti – Manawatū Gorge carvings

Visitors to the eastern side of Te Apiti – Manawatū Gorge will be greeted by Te Hononga Maunga, a carved entrance at the Ballance Bridge carpark designed to provide blessing and safe passage to all who pass by.

Rangitāne o Tamaki nui-ā-Rua kaumātua Manahi Paewai will bless the carvings in a dawn ceremony on Monday morning, prior to the Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage joining Te Apiti – Manawatū Gorge Governance Group members for a ribbon cutting event at 10am. 

Te Apiti – Manawatū Gorge Governance Group and Horizons Regional Council chair Bruce Gordon says that in addition to the carving ceremony, the Minister has been invited to see some of the work being done to enhance the biodiversity, recreational, educational and cultural values of the Gorge.

“The Gorge Governance Group was established in 2016, formalising a collaboration of various organisations that had been underway for over a decade. This project work has helped contribute to the overall experience for approximately 70,000 visitors per year,” says Mr Gordon.

“The Group is working to secure finances to deliver work programmes that contribute to a long-term vision.

“Funding for work programmes primarily comes from contributions from the Department of Conservation, Horizons Regional Council, Palmerston North City Council, Manawatu District Council, Tararua District Council, KiwiRail and the NZ Transport Agency. 

“Through the partnership of councils, iwi, DOC and landowners the Group has completed biodiversity management and health and safety plans, as well as successfully securing $105,800 of central government funding towards installing larger toilet blocks at both ends of the popular visitor destination and $100,000 towards targeting invasive weeds within the Gorge.

Minister Sage opens Gorge carvings

“On the ground work for pest plant and animal control is continuing to contribute to improved biodiversity, and we are investigating the possibility of reintroducing native species previously found in the area. 

“Recent developments to increase recreational user experience include a walking bridge upgrade at the eastern end of the 11km Manawatū Gorge track, plant identification signage along the entire length to help educate visitors about the special flora, including the rare maidenhair fern, that live in Te Apiti, and the Te Ara o Mahurangi Mountain Bike Trail.

“The popular Tawa Loop track at the western end of the Gorge is scheduled to receive an extensive upgrade in Autumn 2019.

“Wider work is also underway to plan for future enhancement, including proposed new visitor facilities and recreational trails to complement the Te Ahu a Turagana: Manawatū Tararua Highway construction on the northern side of the Gorge.

“Having carvings at both entrances to the popular Gorge walks has always been part of our vision for enhancing the cultural value of the site. The carvings have been a number of years in the making and we are fortunate to have had access to the services of Rangitāne carver Craig Kawana.”

Rangitāne o Tamaki nui-ā-Rua kaumātua Manahi Paewai says the name Te Hononga Maunga refers to the unique position of the Gorge between two mountain ranges and was a revered place to Rangitāne. 

“Rangitāne people, who reside both east and west of Te Apiti would recite karakia (prayers) when travelling through to invoke safe passage,” says Mr Paewai.

“These carvings, amongst other things, represent karakia for those who visit. They are also sister carvings to the ones at the Ashhurst entrance so regardless of whether you do a return trip from one side, or walk from one end to the other, visitors are blessed at the beginning and end of their journey.”

Signage at the site provides an explanation of the carvings’ history. Further signage highlighting particular aspects of the carvings, including guardians, ancestors and unique patterns to Rangitāne, will be added in early 2019.

Following the ribbon cutting event Minister Sage will head to Te Waha o te Kurī, Ferry Reserve to hear from members of the Manawatū River Leaders’ Accord about work underway to protect and enhance the Manawatū River and catchment, of which the Gorge is a special feature.

Battle for our Birds pest control operation deferred

DOC’s Manawatu Operations District planned to apply cereal baits containing the pesticide sodium fluoroacetate (1080) over approximately 900 ha of the Te Āpiti - Manawatū Gorge project area during the spring of 2018. Rat and possum numbers in the Manawatu Gorge are currently too high for forest health and successful breeding by forest birds. The operation was planned to reduce possums, rats and stoats across the whole site using a combination of aerial and ground-based bait application methods.

Standard operating procedures for animal pest control operations include gaining necessary approvals from the Public Health Officer. The consent for this operation required the pest control to be completed before mid-December 2018.

“Unfortunately, it was not possible to deliver the operation to standard before the consent date ended for the 2018 calendar year,” said Allanah Irvine, DOC Operations Manager Manawatu.

Gorge_Walk.jpg

Aerial 1080 operations require a very specific set of weather conditions. 1080 is water soluble, so dry weather is required either side of bait application. Calm weather is vital for safe and accurate aerial bait application and the geography of Te Āpiti – Manawatū Gorge makes this especially critical.

“To ensure some protection for taonga species in Te Āpiti - Manawatū Gorge this summer, animal pest control will now revert to methods already in place,” she said. “Specifically, the use of diphacinone in an existing bait station network on the south side of the reserve only and community stoat trapping initiatives in both sides of the reserve.”

Allanah Irvine said the goal is to protect the forest and wildlife of Te Āpiti – Manawatū Gorge using the most effective and practicable pest control tools available.

“Te Āpiti - Manawatū Gorge is an important site for biodiversity values; home to titipounamu (riflemen), miromiro (tomtits), majestic northern rātā and other taonga species. To protect and enhance the natural values of this special place, we need to control rats, possums and stoats throughout the forest. Options for animal pest control to be used in 2019 will be considered in the new year.”

Battle for our Birds Operation

UPDATE: The application of pre-feed baits planned for 14 November 2018* was postponed due to wind. Notification will be given before the next attempt is made.

*Original update: Recreational tracks in Te Apiti - Manawatū Gorge will be closed on Wednesday 14 November during aerial application of non-toxic baits for pre-feeding. 

Signage will be in place and DOC rangers will be stationed at track entrances to inform visitors during the operation.

Tracks will be closed for a second time during application of toxic baits at least five days later, at the next suitable weather window. Cereal baits containing the pesticide 1080 will be applied over approximately 900 ha of Te Apiti - Manawatū Gorge to enhance forest health and protect native wildlife. Tracks will be open as normal outside of these times.

Background

The Department of Conservation will be conducting a pest control operation over approximately 900ha of Te Apiti - Manawatū Gorge this spring, to enhance forest health and protect native wildlife. The operation will take place between 23 October and 7 December 2018, as weather allows. Recreational tracks within the Gorge will be closed to the public for a short time during aerial application of baits on two occasions – once for the pre-feed and again at least five days later for the toxic baits. DOC rangers will be stationed at track access points to inform the public while the operation is taking place. Tracks will be open and safe for use outside of these times. Bait application requires specific weather windows, so exact dates are not known at this time but updates will be posted on our website, and to Facebook and Instagram.

DSC00013.jpg

The forest and wildlife of Te Apiti – Manawatū Gorge is battling for survival. Every day rats and possums kill birds and other native animals, and browse on forest plants preventing regeneration. Rat and possum numbers in the Manawatū Gorge forests are currently much higher than is accepted for forest health and successful breeding of forest birds. Due to terrain and access, ground-based control methods cannot safely and effectively treat the entire site. The road closure presents a unique opportunity to treat both sides of reserve at once.

Please click here for a factsheet that provides general information about the Battle for our Birds operation.

Preferred option for SH3 Manawatū Gorge replacement announced

The NZ Transport Agency has selected a preferred option for a new State Highway 3 route to replace the closed Manawatū Gorge, connecting the Manawatū, Tararua District, Hawke’s Bay and northern Wairarapa regions.

Option 3 for GorgeRd replacement.jpg

The preferred option selected is Option 3 of the four shortlisted options, which runs from near the Te Apiti carpark western entry of the closed Manawatū Gorge, cross the Ruahine Ranges north of the Gorge, before emerging at Woodville.

NZ Transport Agency Director Regional Relationships Emma Speight says after a thorough investigation and extensive consultation, Option 3 emerged as the safest and most resilient route that best balances the combined needs of the communities, businesses and road users who will utilise it.

“Everybody understands just how important a replacement for the Gorge is. It will re-establish a key strategic transport and freight link that supports the needs of the people and economies of Central New Zealand.” Ms Speight says.

“Alongside this, the Transport Agency has committed to advancing investigations for a Regional Freight Ring Road, including a second road bridge across the Manawatū River, which stakeholders across the region see as a critical package to unlocking regional economic development opportunities.”

The Detailed Business Case process will begin immediately, covering a ten year programme of work, targeted for completion at the same time of the replacement route for the Manawatū Gorge.  

Horizons Regional Council Chairman Bruce Gordon says that progressing a Regional Freight Ring Road in parallel with the Manawatū Gorge replacement route would be a significant step forward for the region. 

“It would connect key freight hubs and bring significant improvements to freight and passenger vehicle movements through the Central North Island hub of Manawatū, improving travel times and lowering costs. This better positions the region to attract investment in logistics, manufacturing and processing, which is critical for the region’s future growth and prosperity,” Mr Gordon says. 

The inclusion of a second bridge over the Manawatū River would assist in building the region’s resilience, provide a safer and more effective connection between some of the region’s key industrial areas, and remove heavy trucks from Palmerston North’s city centre.

Palmerston North City Council Mayor Grant Smith says engagement with regional stakeholders to reach a solution that achieves wider strategic objectives for both the region and the country as a whole was important.

“It is important for unlocking future regional economic development that the new State Highway 3 link offers connectivity and alignment to a proposed Regional Freight Ring Road and a new bridge. We are pleased this package of work achieves this,” Mr Smith says.

“It is a great example of central and local government collaboration to optimise public investment in infrastructure for the long term, and reflects the impact of the new Government Policy Statement on Transport, which requires regional economic development considerations to be taken into account.”

Tararua District Mayor Tracey Collis says that this outcome has strong support from a range of local authorities and industry representatives.

“The ongoing instability of the Gorge, which ultimately led to its closure in April 2017, has caused huge disruption for the region. The replacement route has been a matter of priority for the local councils and mayors and its pleasing to have worked so constructively with the Transport Agency to reach a decision that addresses both the immediate issue and the longer term strategic issues for the Tararua District and the wider region,” Ms Collis says.

A detailed business case on the new SH3 route will be finalised over the next few weeks. The project team will then seek resource consents with construction planned to begin in 2020, with the new road completed by 2024.

Extra information:

Option 3 will have an average incline gradient of 5.8%, with a maximum of 8% (in comparison, the current main alternative route, the Saddle Road, has a maximum gradient of 16%).  

Travel time is estimated to be 13 minutes for general traffic (compared to an average 16.7 minutes that it took to travel the Manawatū Gorge).

For more information visit: www.nzta.govt.nz/sh3-manawatu-gorge

Additional facilities enhance Te Apiti - Manawatu Gorge visitor experience

Single pan permaloos at both ends of Te Apiti – Manawatu Gorge have been replaced with larger toilet blocks to support increasing visitor numbers to the popular scenic reserve.

The new facilities were funded through a successful central government mid-sized tourism fund application of $105,800 received earlier this year, as well as additional funding of $20,000 each from Horizons Regional Council, Palmerston North City Council, and Tararua District Council respectively. 

Manawatu Gorge - Ashhurst carpark 1.JPG

Te Apiti – Manawatu Gorge Governance Group and Horizons Regional Council Chair Bruce Gordon says that while the road may be closed the reserve’s recreational facilities are still very much open.

“Te Apiti – Manawatu Gorge is a highly prized destination that offers a range of recreational opportunities in a highly-visited, biodiversity managed and scenic location.

“Last year’s figures showed that the area had over 100,000 visitors, with walking track numbers increasing by 350 per cent since 2012, and an estimated 100 campers staying in Ferry Reserve every week over summer.  

“This meant the toilet facilities at the respective Ashhurst car park and Ferry Reserve ends of the Manawatu Gorge had outgrown their capacity.

“Four bush walks, including the newly re-routed 11 km full length walking track, a mountain bike trail, and freedom camping, fishing, swimming and a designated BBQ area at Ferry Reserve means the Manawatu Gorge is one of the Region’s best places for recreation.

“It could even be said that the road’s closure is a biodiversity blessing as we have heard numerous reports of increased native bird activity from species such as morepork, bellbirds, kereru, tomtits and falcons.”

The Te Apiti – Manawatu Gorge Governance Group is a collaboration between Horizons Regional Council, Manawatu District Council, Palmerston North City Council, Tararua District Council, the Department of Conservation, iwi, landowners and individuals. 

Formed in 2016, in its first year the Group’s actions included a budget for pest control and parks and reserve management, and the compiling of an overarching biodiversity management plan for the area. They also funded work to upgrade the Grade 3 Te Ara o Mahurangi mountain bike track.

A proposed new 4km walking track at the Ashhurst end of the Gorge and new mountain bike track are being considered as a result of the Accelerate25 Manawatū-Whanganui Economic Action Plan.

Mr Gordon says the Governance Group’s membership reflects the high level of commitment towards protecting, enhancing and sustaining the wider Manawatu Gorge area.

“Not only is it about collectively funding initiatives, it is about on the ground work,” says Mr Gordon.

The toilet facilities in the Ashhurst end carpark will be maintained by Palmerston North City Council, and the ones at the Ferry Reserve will be maintained by Tararua District Council.

“Tourism is hugely important to many of our regional economies and infrastructure is essential to harnessing the benefits of growth in the sector,” says Mr Gordon.

“Our collective efforts are putting people back into what is uniquely ours.”

New bridge, complete track

The eastern end of the Manawatu Gorge track is once again completely open after a walking bridge has been replaced. 

The old bridge had no longer been fit for purpose, as due to the design and location, was often under water when river levels got high. The new bridge is higher and sturdier than its predecessor and will improve safety and accessibility for Manawatu Gorge visitors.

IMG_0935.JPG

Walkers can once again enjoy the full 11km walk from one end of the Gorge to the other, or take a shorter stroll with the loop options at either end. Tracks can be accessed from the car parks at both ends. For your safety, please adhere to all signs and barriers.

Horizons Regional Council restricts river access as a precaution

Horizons Regional Council is working with river users to restrict on-water activities through Te Apiti - Manawatu Gorge as a safety precaution.

The Gorge has been closed to traffic since two large land slips blocked the road in April. New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) geotechnical reports have identified that rock conditions remain unstable and further slips are possible.

Horizons emergency manager Ian Lowe says due to the high risk of rock fall into the Manawatū River the Council has restricted on-water activities on the stretch of the river through the Gorge until further notice.

“Under our navigation safety function we are advising all river users to keep clear of the stretch between the road bridge downstream of Ferry Reserve and the confluence of the Manawatū and Pohangina rivers. Signage advising this will be erected at Ferry Reserve, the Ashhurst end carpark to the walking tracks and Ashhurst Domain.

“At this stage we are not sure how long this stretch of the river will need to be avoided. However, public safety is our top priority, and with the potential for large boulders to fall into the river, this restricted access is absolutely necessary.”

Horizons chairman Bruce Gordon says the Te Apiti – Manawatu Gorge walking tracks remain open and encourages the public to continue using them.

“While the river and road are closed, the tracks are still open for business. Based on information from NZTA’s geotechnical reports, we have determined the tracks are at least 300 metres away from the furthest possible slip area in established native forest, and at very low risk of being affected.

“Signage regarding track status is also going to be established at the road closure barrier in the next few weeks. This will indicate if there has been any impact on the tracks as a result of a slip.”

Mr Lowe says Horizons is working closely with a number of agencies such as NZTA, the Department of Conservation, local Councils and Police to plan for a number of possible scenarios.

“This includes a slip potentially causing a partial blockage in the river. While we cannot predict when this may happen we’d like to be prepared just in case.”

Members of the public are reminded to please stay away from the slip site and not proceed beyond the locked gate at the entrances to the Gorge. For more information on the Gorge road closure go to this NZTA web page and for track information please see the alerts page on our website.

$100,000 funding boost to fight invasive weeds in Te Apiti – Manawatu Gorge

The Department of Conservation (DOC) will be contributing an extra $100,000 to target invasive weeds within Te Apiti - Manawatu Gorge.

The funding is part of DOC’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ weeds programme benefitting weed control projects across the country, targeting those weeds identified as doing the most damage to our natural landscapes. 

The Te Apiti - Manawatu Gorge Governance Group, made up of senior representatives from Horizons Regional Council, DOC, Palmerston North City Council, Tararua District Council, Manawatu District Council, iwi and a community representative, welcome this much needed funding boost.

The Group’s membership reflects the high level of commitment towards protecting, enhancing and sustaining the biodiversity, recreational, educational and cultural values of the wider Manawatu Gorge area. The Gorge offers a range of recreational activities in a highly-visited biodiversity management and scenic location, which has the potential to contribute to a stronger economy, community and cultural wellbeing.

The Governance Group has set itself goals, which in its first year includes budget for pest control and parks and reserve management, and the compiling of an overarching biodiversity management plan for the area. 

DOC director operations Lower North Island and Te Apiti – Manawatu Gorge Governance Group member Reg Kemper says the funding will target two areas. $80,000 will be used for ground control of old man’s beard and the remaining $20,000 will be used for control of Japanese honeysuckle and wandering willie.

“This funding is in addition to the project’s current $50,000 budget, which we hope will allow us to treat all accessible old man’s beard vines in the project area during the upcoming season,” says Horizons Regional Council and Te Apiti – Manawatu Gorge Governance Group Chair Bruce Gordon.

“If this is achieved, future old man’s beard control will consist of maintenance works at a much reduced cost and the native forest will be protected from one of its major threats,” says Mr Gordon.

The work to control Japanese honeysuckle and wandering willie will be undertaken by Rangitane iwi, who are stakeholders in the Te Apiti - Manawatu Gorge project.

“This extra funding is most welcome as we hope the control work carried out on these two weeds will make a significant impact on the project area,” says Mr Gordon. 

“It comes at a time when the Gorge is faced with significant challenges due to its roading infrastructure. However, we want to remind everyone that the walking and mountain bike tracks are still very much open. 

“The recreational values of the Gorge have continued to prove popular over the last five years, with walking track visitor numbers increasing by 350 per cent since 2012. The Governance Group has funded work to upgrade the Grade 3 Te Ara o Mahurangi mountain bike track, re-routed the 11 km full length walking track, made commitments towards the development of a new 4km walking track at the Ashhurst end of the Gorge and a toilet on the Tawa Loop track, as well as received central government funding to replace single pan permaloos with larger toilet blocks at both ends of the popular visitor destination before the start of summer.

“Freedom camping numbers at Ferry Reserve have also increased, and the Gorge Governance Group wants to encourage more visitors to stay in the area, where they can enjoy a unique scenic reserve and quality experience while contributing to the Region’s economy.”

Mr Kemper says DOC staff are currently working to assess and long-term implications of track stability and safety. Maintenance includes monthly inspections in accordance with DOC standards for this kind of facility. 

“We also complete other inspections in response to natural events such as storms and earthquakes, as well as in response to user feedback about track conditions or issues,” says Mr Kemper.  

The Gorge Governance Group will be presented with a geotechnical report on land stability in the park’s recreational areas at its August meeting.

For more information on Te Apiti – Manawatu Gorge visit www.teapiti.com. For more information on the War on Weeds visitwww.doc.govt.nz/nature/pests-and-threats/war-on-weeds/

Mid-Sized Tourism Funds for additional facilities in Te Apiti

Tourism Minister Hon Paula Bennett announced today that Te Apiti – Manawatu Gorge will receive $105,800 to help replace single pan permaloos with larger toilet blocks at both ends of the popular visitor destination. 

As part of a wider $5.2 million national announcement, Minister Bennett said this funding will be a relief for communities responding to the steady stream of visitors they are seeing.

“Tourism is hugely important to many of our regional economies and infrastructure is essential to harnessing the benefits of growth in the sector,” she says.

Te Apiti – Manawatu Gorge Governance Group and Horizons Regional Council Chair Bruce Gordon says walking track visitor numbers have increased by 350 per cent since 2012.

“This has meant the current toilet facilities at the respective Ashhurst Carpark and Ferry Reserve ends of the Manawatu Gorge have outgrown capacity,” says Mr Gordon.

“A proposed new mountain bike track is being considered as a result of the Accelerate25 Manawatū-Whanganui Economic Action Plan; such a development will further increase visitor pressure given this activity is a year round one that isn’t weather dependent.

“This funding will contribute towards a project to replace the current single pan permaloos with larger toilet blocks at both locations, catering for increasing visitor numbers and providing for continued tourism growth in this area.”

The estimated cost of the project is $178,000. In addition to central government’s funding Horizons Regional Council, Palmerston North City Council, and Tararua District Council will contribute $20,000 each. 

Tararua Mayor Tracey Collis says as well as walking visitors, an excess of 8,000 vehicles a day on average travel through this part of the Region, and an estimated 100 campers stay in Ferry Reserve every week. 

“The recreational values of the Gorge continue to prove popular. Encouraging more visitors to stay in the area, and giving them a quality experience while they are here is good for our economy,” says Mrs Collis. 

“It’s also great to have some positive news about the Gorge when the challenge of keeping the road open is clearly at the front of people's minds currently.”

“Te Apiti – Manawatu Gorge is highly prized by locals for its recreational, biodiversity, cultural and educational value with more that 100,000 visitors in the last year,” says Palmerston North Mayor Grant Smith.

“The Gorge offers a range of recreational activities in a highly-visited biodiversity management and scenic location, which has the potential to contribute to a stronger economy, community and cultural wellbeing.” 

The mayors and chair are part of the recently formed Te Apiti – Manawatu Gorge Governance Group, a collaboration between the three councils, along with Manawatu District Council, Department of Conservation, iwi, landowners and individuals. 

Mr Gordon says the Group’s membership reflects the high level of commitment towards protecting, enhancing and sustaining the wider Manawatu Gorge area.

“The Governance Group has set itself a 10-year vision, which in its first year includes budget for pest control and parks and reserve management, and the compiling of an overarching biodiversity management plan for the area. We have also funded work to upgrade the Grade 3 Te Ara o Mahurangi mountain bike track.

Last month, Conservation Minister Hon Maggie Barry opened the newly re-routed 11 km full length walking track and also made commitments towards the development of a new 4km walking track at the Ashhurst end of the Gorge and the toilet on the Tawa Loop track. Relocations within the park are also planned for the single pan permaloos.

Re-route on Manawatu Gorge Track (eastern end)

29 May 2017: Re-route on Manawatu Gorge Track (eastern end)

A section of the Manawatu Gorge Track traversing Te Apiti Manawatu Gorge has recently been re-routed around a large slip towards the eastern end. The re-route has added approximately 1 km to the length of the track, climbing up and around the active slip site. This should add about half an hour to your usual walking time.

There may be some movement and slumping of earth on the new track as it settles. This is normal; we will be undertaking regular monitoring and remedial workover the next few months to manage this.

The full 11 km Manawatu Gorge Track is currently open and safe to walk.

Take care when walking the new section and report any significant damage to DOC’s Palmerston North office (email manawatu@doc.govt.nz or phone +64 6 350 9700).