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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 7 (November 1, 1928)

The Manawatu Gorge

The Manawatu Gorge.

Palmerston North (339 miles from Auckland and 87 miles from Wellington) the largest inland town in New Zealand—a spacious and beautiful provincial centre—is fast attaining the dignity of a city. The only fault one has to find with this wide-spreading place of fine buildings and shady parks and bright flower gardens is its inappropriate and meaningless name. “Manawatu” has often been suggested as the fitting name for the town, and it would become it exceedingly well. As the metropolis of the wealthy farming district of the Manawatu Plains, it could bear no more convenient and euphonious name.

There is much topographical and historical interest in the district traversed on the eightyseven miles run from Palmerston North to Wellington. The southern peaks of the Ruahine page 41 Range of mountains and the northern part of the Tararua Ranges are in sight on the left. Through a deep gorge between their terminals comes the Manawatu River, which we presently cross. The Manawatu, wide-bedded and running in several streams, is an example of a once useful waterway ruined by deforestation along its banks. When the settlers first came into this bush-covered country the Manawatu was navigable by large canoes from its mouth right up through the gorge by which it breaks out from the Hawke's Bay plain.

Farming on these alluvial levels becomes more intensive as we run southward, with the part forested Tararua Ranges now more close and looming bold and blue. By way of variety there is to be seen the great flax-growing swampy plain of Makerua, where the cultivation and milling of the native phormium tenax engage capital and labour on a large scale.

This Manawatu section of the North Island railways was originally constructed and managed by a company formed in Wellington. The memory of one prominent commercial pioneer is preserved in the name of Levin, the principal town of the lower Manawatu country. Before the railway was built, traffic up the coast was by coach, and the route ran for many miles along the ocean beach between Paekakariki and the mouth of the Manawatu. The numerous rivers and streams were forded at their mouths.

The Tararua Mountains take their name from a central prominent height which was termedTararua by the Maoris because of the double peaks
Twenty Years Ago. The first through N.I. Main Trunk Special at Frankton Junction, August, 1908.

Twenty Years Ago.
The first through N.I. Main Trunk Special at Frankton Junction, August, 1908.

(“Tara” is a sharp mountain top, and “rua” means two). The loftiest point is Mount Hector, 5,016ft; the highest peaks of the blue sierra in sight run up to about 4,000ft. The winter snows and the mists resting on the summits of the mountains are poetically described by the Maoris as the hina or “white hair” of the Tararua. Up yonder in the recesses of the range, opposite the railside township of Shannon, are the Mangahao hydro-electric power works. The mountain-streams supply the electric current which lights the Manawatu towns and homesteads, and drives the milking plants and factories and mills of a wide countryside.