WEEK­END DRIVE

This month David Coxon finds a re­mote loop west of Whanganui that looks too in­ter­est­ing to ig­nore.

NZ4WD - - CONTENTS - Story and photos by David Coxon.

Our solo ve­hi­cle trip started when we turned off SH1 just north of Bulls, pass­ing straight through Mar­ton and head­ing into the hills, ac­com­pa­nied by low­er­ing clouds. Our route took us in an arc into the hills then back down to­wards the coast, end­ing up in Whanganui, our stop for the night. With a mix­ture of sealed and easy gravel roads, this was a very pleas­ant and scenic route that nicely filled in the af­ter­noon, tak­ing about three times as long as the di­rect route to Whanganui. On a good af­ter­noon there would have been many stops for pho­to­graphs of the early spring coun­try­side, but un­for­tu­nately the clouds were low and heavy, giv­ing gloomy, flat light­ing that made good pho­to­graphs a lost cause. Apart from a few record photos, the only sub­ject of in­ter­est was a rather dra­matic bridge that we found at the turnoff up the Whangaehu River val­ley. Of course, as soon as I tried to get photos of the Prado on the bridge, the pre­vi­ously empty road was sud­denly full of ve­hi­cles all head­ing across the bridge and up the val­ley. With the bridge photos taken, the gen­er­ally gloomy con­di­tions en­cour­aged us to mark this as an area to re­visit in bet­ter weather, and head straight to Whanganui and hope for sun­nier weather the next day. Our hopes were re­alised the next morn­ing when the day dawned fine and warm. We left Whanganui, fol­low­ing Sommes Pa­rade along the Whanganui River be­fore it branched into the Kauara­paoa Stream which we con­tin­ued to fol­low, stop­ping a few times to pho­to­graph the val­ley from the bank.

Oops…

The third time I did this was on a nar­row sec­tion of the road so I pulled well over for safety, and promptly slid into the very soft drainage ditch. Even with both diff lock­ers en­gaged and all four wheels turn­ing I was go­ing nowhere, and the free­dom of be­ing on our own sud­denly be­came a lot less at­trac­tive. My first thought was to winch out, but there was noth­ing around to winch off. I thought of let­ting the driver’s side t yres down and hope that that would give me enough trac­tion, then I re­mem­bered that I was car­ry­ing a set of Tred re­cov­ery boards that I had got for sand re­cov­er­ies and never needed to use. Al­though re­ally de­signed for use when bogged in sand I thought that they might work to give the driver’s wheels some­thing to grip, so I wedged them un­der the driver’s side wheels, with the front one aim­ing slightly up onto the road and gen­tly eased for­ward, fol­low­ing the an­gle of the front Tred. I was amazed at how eas­ily the t yres gripped the Treds and guided me far enough out of the ditch for one front wheel to reach the sealed road and pull me

the rest of the way out. With the cri­sis averted, I re­alised that I had not taken a sin­gle photo of my sit­u­a­tion, but May was adamant that we were not go­ing to get stuck again for the cam­era. As we pro­gressed up the val­ley the road be­came nar­rower and ob­vi­ously less well used, with tow­er­ing cliffs on one side and steep drops on the other, and even grass grow­ing in the cen­tre in some places. I started think­ing of all the other ‘ through roads’ on the topo map that ended up be­ing pa­per roads across a gated pad­dock. Was I about to find a gate across the road?

Wa­ter­cress

When May spot­ted some un­touched wa­ter­cress grow­ing on the side of the road it was time for a har­vest­ing stop and an op­por­tu­nity for me to en­joy a to­tal­ly­peace­ful cof­fee while May har­vested. Back on the road and not much fur­ther up the val­ley, my con­cerns of com­ing to a locked gate were eased when we stopped to pho­to­graph an old shed and I spot­ted a pair of very faded old signs point­ing both the way we were go­ing and where we had come from, both say­ing “Wan­ganui” – ob­vi­ously pre- dat­ing the name change. Soon af­ter this we reached the high point at the far end of the loop at the Kauara­paoa Scenic Re­serve and started drop­ping back down to­wards Whanganui. As we moved from a val­ley of farm­land and na­tive bush to one based on forestry, the road im­proved dra­mat­i­cally as did our speed. With lunch now high on the agenda, the only in­ter­rup­tion on our run to lunch was a quick stop to pho­to­graph an old bus. While we had planned to stop in a suit­able clear­ing for lunch, the lack of pleas­ant clear­ings and the heavy cloud that was hang­ing on the hills led to a change of plans, with lunch be­ing a de­tour to the Kai Iwi beach where there was a very nicely laid out day picnic area at the mouth of the Mowhanau stream. Un­for­tu­nately, al­though we had got away from the threat­en­ing clouds over the hills, it was still cold and windy, mean­ing lunch was eaten shel­ter­ing in the car. Our fi­nal run for the day was to re­turn to our planned route and take a few back roads par­al­lel to SH3 for the fi­nal run into Whanganui, end­ing up back on Sommes Pa­rade and the end of an­other mem­o­rable ad­ven­ture.

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