“Years ago” early settlers gave it the name, because the surrounding cliffs reminded them of a dress circle in an opera house. This is particularly evident when standing at the edge of the bank on Ruahine Road looking down into it, as shown in the first photo.
Access to the swimming spot is about 4-5 minutes from Ruahine Road. To get there turn off Ruahine Road onto Kelpie Road & then left down Lagoon Road and over a bridge. Turn left onto a paper road and the swimming hole is a short walk at the end. Vehicle access is also possible.
The Mangawharariki Stream, which flows through The Dress Circle, is made up of 2 types of parpa rock. During floods, the water corrodes the soft parpa creating large holes, giving the impression, as Janet from Destination Manawatu said, of Middle Earth. Over the years several waterfalls have corroded away because of this action. The 2004 floods played further havoc and much of the existing riverbed was eroded away lowering its level, leading to the destruction of the then existing waterfall and a great swimming hole.
Since the 2004 floods the picnic area has been neglected. Access down the paper road was near impossible by vehicle with scrub and willows growing over the track. Getting down to the stream was even more difficult with re-growth everywhere.
Several people contacted Steve to complain about its demise. He contacted Manawatu District Council, who gave permission for Steve & farmer, Geoff Le Quesne, to tidy it up. They used their machinery to clear the track into and down to the stream. Another enthusiast, Bruce Stern (retired surveyor from Feilding with past family connections with The Dress Circle) cut a short track through the bush parallel to the paper road.
All this hard work has paid off. During the hot summer days, many people have been down to enjoy the marvelous swimming spots and the remarkable scenery. It really is quite unique.
Campervans and campers have parked there overnight, but in reality it should only be used as a picnic and swimming area for day trips. There are not the facilities, such as toilets and clear camping areas. The Rangiwahia Domain, about 5 minutes away, is set up to accommodate campervans, with public toilets, water, power points, a dump station, picnic tables and tennis court available.
I have included a few photos of waterfalls taken last century and, of course, recent ones as well. The first photo is taken from Ruahine Road looking down into the Dress Circle. You can see the opera house affect.