Project introduction

In 2017, the section of State Highway 3 through Te Āpiti – Manawatū Gorge was closed following a series of massive slips. This project is investigating the future of the old road.

  • Project type

    Road management
  • Project status


Te Āpiti Manawatū Gorge – a national taonga

In 2017, a series of major slips left SH3 through Te Āpiti – Manawatū Gorge impassable and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency made the decision to close the road. Since then, we’ve made great progress on Te Ahu a Turanga – Manawatū Tararua Highway, the new route between Woodville and Ashhurst. Because we’re constructing the new state highway, legislation requires us to establish how the old road might be used in the future, when it’s no longer a state highway. We know how important Te Āpiti is to everyone, so alongside our project partners and key stakeholders, we’re exploring what’s possible.

Geotechnical findings

Engineering geologists recently surveyed a 11km stretch of Te Āpiti - Manawatū Gorge, from the Ashhurst Bridge in the west to the intersection with Woodlands Road to the east.

They have carried out a risk assessment to help inform what options could be safely considered and investigated further.

Findings from the assessment have reconfirmed the decision to close the road to vehicles, while opening the possibility of access to parts of the Gorge for people walking, cycling, or riding horses in the future.

This geotechnical information underpins the work we’ll be carrying out over the coming months.

Geotechnical assessment

What does this project involve?

Business Case

We’re developing a Business Case to consider options for the stretches of the old road still safe for vehicles, including exploring the transfer of them from Waka Kotahi to Palmerston North City Council and Tararua District Council. This process is known as ‘revocation’ and in this case it will likely involve the removal of the status of ‘state highway’ from stretches of road on each end of the Gorge still safe for vehicles.

Management Plan

‘Road stopping’ is the term given to changing land with the legal status of road to a freehold title. The process involves Toitū Te Whenua Land Information New Zealand and must lay out proposals for the land after the road stopping process is complete.

We will recommend road stopping for the majority of the route, so we’re also developing a Management Plan with options for its future ownership and management. The Management Plan will also outline assets that remain in the Gorge, potential appropriate public access, and any risks and future opportunities.

Collaboration with community partners

All of this is a collaborative process with our project partners and key stakeholders.

We recognise Māori as partners and acknowledge that Te Āpiti Manawatū Gorge is a taonga that for hundreds of years has been under the kaitiaki of Rangitāne O Manawatū, Rangitāne Tāmaki nui-ā-Rua, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Tāmaki nui-ā-Rua, and Ngāti Raukawa iwi.

We are working closely with officers from Palmerston North City Council and Tararua District Council, as future Road Controlling Authorities, on revocation decisions. We are also collaborating with Horizons Regional Council, Manawatū District Council, and the Department of Conservation.

To inform the important discussions we’re having with our partners and key stakeholders, Waka Kotahi is committed to providing information on possible ongoing costs, liability and requirements for managing and maintaining the area, in addition to the safety evidence we have. 

Other information is also an important part of the picture; through all our work we must keep front of mind what a special area Te Āpiti – Manawatū Gorge is, the Masterplan developed for the area by the Te Āpiti – Manawatū Gorge Governance Group, and the deep history of Māori and Te Āpiti.

Our focus: information and recommendations

At the end of the Business Case process, we expect to have made key decisions together about the parts of the road to be transferred to councils. For example, what classifications the new local roads will have, exactly how far into the Gorge they will end, and any work that needs to be done on them. This work relates only to sections of road at each end of the route, which are still safe for vehicles. We are aiming to present the revocation options to the public in 2023 so wider stakeholders and community can have a say.

When we have completed the Management Plan, we expect to have clear recommendations for the Minister of Transport and Toitū Te Whenua Land Information New Zealand about options for future ownership and management of the rest of the old route through the Gorge (most of the route).

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Stay up to date with the project

We’ll be publishing regular updates via the Te Ahu a Turanga e-newsletter, media releases and social media as we progress.

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Frequently asked questions

  • What’s going to happen to the road?

    The focus for Waka Kotahi is providing information and recommendations for new ownership and management of Te Āpiti - Manawatū Gorge.

    We are looking to return parts of the 11km stretch of the old State Highway 3 through Te Āpiti - Manawatū Gorge, the parts of the road you can still drive on, to the local relevant councils (this is revocation). We’re also developing a Management Plan for the remaining areas – most of the route through the Gorge. 

    There are different ownership and management possibilities that will be explored.

  • Who makes the decision?

    Together with our project partners and key stakeholders - Horizons Regional Council, Tararua District Council, Palmerston North City Council, Manawatū District Council, the Department of Conservation and iwi - we are working through the various options. Our recommendations on revocation and road stopping need to be signed off by the Waka Kotahi Board and the Minister of Transport, and final decisions on future ownership and management of the route will be made by Toitū Te Whenua Land Information New Zealand.

  • How do you know the road is unsafe?

    In 2021 engineering geologists surveyed a 11km stretch of Te Āpiti - Manawatū Gorge, from the Ashhurst Bridge in the west to the intersection with Woodlands Road to the east. They carried out a risk assessment and report to give us a clear understanding of the geological and safety risks in the Gorge to help inform what options could be safely considered and investigated further.  

    The results reconfirmed assessments carried out following the 2017 closure of the Gorge, which showed the risks were too high to consider reopening the Gorge to traffic, without significant safety and costly mitigation. 

    Read about the geotechnical assessment

  • Why can’t it be opened right now for walking and cycling?

    Safety. We know how much people love Te Āpiti and how eager many people are to use the closed area again but as the current owner of the road it is our responsibility to keep people safe.

    A large area above the Kerry’s Wall rock face is highly unstable and the entire hillside continues to move. Since the road’s closure there have been further slips and cracks in other locations. We want to remind everyone that it is not safe to proceed beyond the locked gates at the entrances to the Gorge. Safe access would require some mitigation work which will be something for the future owner to consider.

  • Can’t some work easily be done to make it safe?

    As the old road is no longer part of the transport system (since we are building the new highway), Waka Kotahi won't fund any future work on the road outside the scope of revocation, ensuring compliance with any existing resource consents, and to meet our legal obligations.

    We’re also still determining if it’s even safe for anyone to work within the Gorge to complete maintenance.

    Any decisions around future access will be informed by risk mitigation measures and will be made by the future owner or manager of the road.

  • Who will manage the old road in the future?

    This is something we are exploring with our partners. With our partners, we’re developing a Management Plan for the route. The Management Plan will determine what can be done to manage the risks to people accessing the Gorge, identify who could ‘own’ or manage existing assets, as well as lay out potential costs for ongoing management of any remaining structures in the Gorge.

    When the road was open, around $1 million a year was spent on renewing rock fall netting alone and more was spent clearing out the nets after falls. There are over 100 structures along the route that all cost money to maintain.

  • Will the land be given back to iwi?

    While this is a possibility the focus at present is providing fulsome information to iwi and our other partners about the risk, cost and legal liabilities associated with the road.

    There are conversations with mana whenua as we develop the Management Plan for the route which will identify options for ownership and management of existing assets and structures in the Gorge. If the road ends up being ‘stopped’ (the legal status of the land as ‘road’ removed), the decision to transfer any land to iwi or another party would be the responsibility of Toitū Te Whenua Land Information New Zealand.

  • Who has the money/funding to manage the route in the future?

    There is a shared vision within the community to protect, preserve and enhance the area and we are still working through what the potential costs and levels of maintenance required in the future may be.

    Because the road will not be a state highway, the costs and levels of maintenance may be different in the future, depending on the safety and environmental management requirements.

    These are the types of discussions we are having with our partners and addressing in the Management Plan.

  • Is there a precedent, a case like this road before?

    Not exactly. Opening new state highway routes and converting the old state highway into a local road (revocation) is common however this situation is not as straightforward as most other cases.

    There was a case in the Waikato in recent years which was quite complex – an old state highway went through the site of a pivotal battle in the 1863 Waikato land wars - The Battle of Rangiriri. When the new Rangiriri section of the Waikato Expressway was being designed and built, we worked closely with local council, Waikato Tainui and other key stakeholders to agree what would happen to the old road. The new motorway travels to the west of the Pā so we revoked some bits of the old state highway and gave it to Waikato District Council, and ‘stopped’ the road through the Pā site. Toitū Te Whenua Land Information New Zealand then gave the stopped land back to Waikato Tainui.

  • Will the public have a say on what happens to the road?

    Initially, feedback from the public will help inform our final recommendations on the parts of the road to have the state highway status revoked and handed over to councils. For example, what work may be needed on the different parts of the road at each end of the route to ensure they are fit for purpose as local road. At the same time, considering all evidence and perspectives, with our partners we’ll work towards finalising the Management Plan for the rest of the route (where it’s not safe for vehicles) and this will be shared with the community.

  • How long will this work take?

    We’re working with our partners now and having discussions about options for the future of the road. We are also working to ensure we fully understand our responsibilities, for example what structures may need to be decommissioned now as per legal obligations, and how safe is it to get into the route to do this.  

    We will look to communicate where we’ve got to with our thinking in early to mid-2023. From there we will confirm our recommendation for revocation, and what work is needed on these parts of the road to ensure they are fit for purpose. The next step will be to finalise the management plan for the remainder of the route.

    We will keep stakeholders and the community in the loop as we work through this process.

    The project team can also be reached at any time on

  • What’s been done since the old road was closed?

    Since SH3 through Te Āpiti – Manawatū Gorge was closed in 2017, Waka Kotahi has: 

    • cleared 15,000 cubic metres of material from the road from the two original slips
    • cleared 4,100 cubic metres from three subsequent slips 
    • used helicopters and monsoon buckets to sluice loosened material at risk of falling
    • inspected all affected bridges along the route
    • inserted 16 support beams into the rock face in two locations to support the installation of extra rock-fall netting
    • extensively drilled to determine the volume of water within the Kerry's Wall slip site
    • engaged specialist geotechnical and structural engineers to identify what's happening at the slip sites and to monitor safety factors.
    • started working on a project to look into the future of the old road, its form and function and who might look after it in the future.
    • commissioned a geotechnical assessment
    • begun constructing a new highway route between Woodville and Ashhurst.