Price was high, but this walk's worth the wait

Gorge slip silver lining

MATHEW GROCOTT
Last updated 12:30 04/01/2013
Mathew Grocott
GOING BUSH: Mathew Grocott checks out the newest piece of track in the Manawatu.

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It would be cliched to call it a silver lining, but the truth is without the slip that fell in the Manawatu Gorge on October 18, 2011, the new Tawa Track would still be some way off being built.

Because the NZ Transport Agency needed to cut a track to the top of the slip in order to clear it, the opportunity arose to create a loop track in the Gorge.

Since my teens, when I was introduced to tramping by my father, I've walked extensively around the trails in the Auckland, Bay of Plenty and Waikato regions.

In the 18 months I've lived in Palmerston North, I've had fewer chances to get into the bush, though I've done the original Manawatu Gorge track and a few others in the area.

So I was keen to experience the Tawa Track when invited by the Department of Conservation to join their staff for a walk around the loop.

Starting from the DOC car park at the Ashhurst end of the Gorge, the track soon branches off to the left of the Gorge track.

It rejoins that track about 2km later, though with fewer sections of steps it's a more gradual climb than the original route.

Another bonus is that the track is made of lime, trucked in from the quarry at the Woodville end of the Gorge, and so is softer underfoot than the aggregate used on the main track.

The climb to the lookout takes about an hour, during which an errant calf muscle causes me some pain - I must really get into the bush more often - but the effort is worth it when we reach Tom's Lookout.

The view from the lookout is outstanding; Manawatu stretches out in front of you - Palmerston North, Feilding, Ashhurst and Bulls are easily identified.

On a clearer day, Kapiti Island would be visible to the south, as would Mt Taranaki to the west.

The view to the north is blocked by trees, but I imagine if a raised platform could be built there trampers would be rewarded with a view that stretched from Mt Ruapehu to the top of the South Island.

The new lookout is named after Tom Shannon, whose farm is visible in the foreground.

Mr Shannon was the driving force behind the move to build the track and repeatedly lobbied both DOC and Horizons Regional Council for it to be built.

He could see the tourism benefits a track would bring to the region. He reasoned that people would be much more interested in doing a loop track than heading some distance up the Gorge track and then returning to their car.

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It's a fair assumption, and at a total length of 4.1km the track is a comfortable distance for families and those wanting an afternoon out.

From the lookout it's a meandering, undulating path over a ridge towards the centre of the Gorge. Bird life is much more noticeable as we head east - tui especially - while a wood pigeon makes its presence known by crashing through a tree and flying away with the telltale whomp-whomp noise of its wings.

The top end of the loop track meets the path the NZ Transport Agency bulldozed through the forest to access the top of the slip.

This stretch, about 300m long, is a bit of a downer.

Given its width it feels as if you have intruded into the forest. But, given the loop track would not have happened without this intervention, it's the price that has been paid.

In fact, the work the transport agency did in getting its earth moving machinery to the slip significantly reduced the cost of track construction for DOC.

Their work clearing the Gorge slip has also allowed space for a lookout to be made at the top of the slip site.

This gives great views along the Gorge in both directions and a stark comprehension of the scale of the slip when you see how far below you State Highway 3 is.

From there the descent of the Gorge Track is much quicker than the climb up.

The great thing about being at the top of the slip is you understand quickly just how much earth fell on the road and why it was closed for so long.

It is a reminder of the fragility of the area, and the efforts of those who cleared it

- Manawatu Standard

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