A spare, mainly fine weekend was the perfect opportunity for David Coxon and partner May to explore the Taihape area.
Leaving Wellington our first planned stop was at Palmerston North to have a quick look at the square and the shops, as May had never been there. En route we spotted a partly harvested field, and while I am no expert in farming crops, the contrast between the head-high stalks and the harvested stubble was a photo opportunity not to be missed. Moving on we had our brief stop at Palmerston North as planned, then continued through to the Ashhurst Domain for lunch in the sun. We found a nicely placed picnic table where we could enjoy the sun and sounds of birdlife in a park-like setting, while still being close to a little café where I could get a coffee. Returning to Ashhurst after lunch we headed up the Pohangina Valley for a short distance before climbing up onto the low ridge above the Pohangina River where the road turned to gravel for the first time on our trip.
As we climbed we met a farm dog sitting in the middle of the road. He was obviously waiting for someone as he excitedly led us
up the road before turning into a driveway and waiting for us to follow. He looked very confused and disappointed when we just kept going, but we had plans to follow the ridge all the way up to Apiti, not visit one of the locals. We moved under clouds as we drove and were treated to a mixture of rain and sun, with the some interesting autumn colours in the trees and interesting patterns of the evening sun and cloud shadows on the hills around us. Finally reaching Apiti we continued north along the fairly major sealed road of the Manawatu scenic route before taking a short gravel detour up East Mangahuia Rd, where we stopped for some photos looking down a very narrow and deep gorge before the road dropped through some very attractive native bush, ending at an open, but private-looking gate where we turned and returned to the main route.
As it was getting late, we decided to call it a day and just follow the scenic route back to SH1 at Mangaweka. This took a bit longer than we expected thanks to the scenic
beauty of the evening sun backlighting the fields and trees causing far more photo stops than we had planned. Following the final deep valley down to the Rangitikei River at Mangaweka I noticed a road on the other side of the valley that looked like it was worth exploring, so I put it on the list for a future trip. Finally back on SH1 it was straight up to Taihape for the night. Day 2 saw us head east out of Taihape following a network of roads that link into the Taihape – Napier road, before turning right down Moawhango Rd and doing a long loop back to SH1 only about six kms from where we started. The loop was a mixture of sealed and gravel roads with some very pleasant views out over the sun-dappled hills as we climbed and some impressively deep narrow gorges, many of which we crossed on impressively high bridges.
Lunch was at an opportunely placed grassy clearing on the inside of a hairpin bend where we sat for over half an hour enjoying the fresh air without seeing a single vehicle. We completed the run back to SH1 after lunch then headed off on a second loop to pick up the roads we didn’t do the previous day. As this was a much shorter loop and we felt closer to home, we spent more time stopping, with May collecting watercress at the side of the road and me once again enjoying the photographic opportunities of the late afternoon light reflecting off braided river beds and filtering through the yellowleafed trees. We finally returned to SH1 and Mangaweka via the Kawhatau Valley and the road I had seen the previous evening. Yes, it was worth exploring. Cruising back to Wellington we both agreed that by focussing on one area, in this case Taihape, and not trying to cover too much back road distance had made this one of our most enjoyable trips. Less really was more this time.
Despite the odd shaft of sunlight, the weather was quite threatening towards the Ruahine ranges.
The Rangitikei River catching the afternoon sun.
East Mangahuia Rd took use down to this little pocket of native bush between farmland and forestry plantations.
“The road goes on . . .” Scenic back country touring at its best.
A geometric pattern caught in the sun, but we couldn’t shake the clouds for long.