Look­ing for some­where dif­fer­ent for this month’s Week­end Drive, David Coxon’s reg­u­lar trav­el­ling com­pan­ion, Ashley, sug­gested an ex­ploratory drive north of the Whanganui River.

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

Ashley had found a loop from SH3 up into the hills north­west of Whanganui and back to SH3. How­ever, ac­cord­ing to the NZ Topo maps the t wo roads from SH3 did not meet in the mid­dle. The only way to be sure was to try it for our­selves and see how far we got. With a late start, trav­el­ling time to Whanganui, and the short days of mid­win­ter, Satur­day’s ex­cur­sion was to visit the near­est end of Lake Ro­torangi, a 20 minute drive in­land from SH3 just north of Patea. This started off as a smooth, sealed and fairly straight road be­fore we hit the hills, the seal ended, and we started fol­low­ing the Patea River up its val­ley and past signs warn­ing of wan­der­ing stock.

Roam­ing the gloam­ing

With heavy clouds hang­ing over the hills and the evening gloom rapidly gath­er­ing, there was a feel­ing of ur­gency to reach the lake be­fore it got too late, so we marked a cou­ple of scenic lo­ca­tions to visit on the way back out if there was enough light. It was with some re­lief that we got to the lake be­fore dark, al­though it was also just as it started rain­ing. Al­though the weather and light­ing wasn’t do­ing us any favours, Lake Ro­torangi was cer­tainly a very scenic place, and one we will visit again in bet­ter weather. With dark­ness rapidly ap­proach­ing we were soon head­ing back and man­aged to reach the first of our scenic stops be­fore it got too dark for pho­tog­ra­phy. It was then a steady run back to Whanganui in the dark and our night’s ac­com­mo­da­tion. Sun­day was our main trip, into the hills from Kai Iwi fol­low­ing Ran­gi­tatau East Rd from Kai Iwi, all the way to the end where it split into Wa­ter­shed road and Ahu Ahu Val­ley Rd, then fol­low Wa­ter­shed Rd, which would hope­fully bring us back onto SH3 at Waito­tara. If this failed, we had other plans for our re­turn. The first part of the run on a sealed road was very pleas­ant and scenic with the sun pok­ing through the clouds oc­ca­sion­ally. Bushy Park seemed to be the ideal place for a cof­fee, but when we fi­nally got through the ‘air­lock’ style preda­tor- proof gates and to the home­stead car park we dis­cov­ered that al­though Bushy Park was open, the home­stead wasn’t. Rather than just stand­ing in the car park with our home­brewed cof­fee, we con­tin­ued our trip, look­ing for a nice pull- off area.

4WD comes into its own

As we climbed, the road turned to clay and we came into a newly logged forestry block. With the road now slushy and slip­pery, es­pe­cially on the cor­ners, we had to en­gage 4WD and keep the speed down. The denuded land­scape looked like a scene of des­o­la­tion from Lord of the Rings and not what we were look­ing for as a cof­fee stop. Luck­ily, we soon got back into un­felled for­est and found a very pleas­ant road­side clear­ing where we en­joyed a longer cof­fee break in peace­ful, grassy sur­round­ings. A short drive later we reached the in­ter­sec­tion where Kauara­paoa Rd looped back to Whanganui, which I had done be­fore ( Nov 2017 is­sue). We were now mov­ing into new ter­ri­tory, and the grow­ing level of an­tic­i­pa­tion and ex­cite­ment was only slightly damp­ened by the ‘ No Exit” sign added to the Ran­gi­tatau East Rd sign. We now knew we could not do a loop, but how far could we get? The road rapidly de­te­ri­o­rated into a nar­row, windy track with grass grow­ing in the mid­dle, but the en­vi­ron­ment im­proved from forestry to na­tive bush with fer­n­cov­ered banks where it was cut into the hill­side. There was a feel­ing of an ex­cit­ing ad­ven­ture as we pushed fur­ther into the un­known, with ‘ Keep Out’ signs plas­tered at ev­ery pos­si­ble point where you could leave the road – even if was at a locked gate into a pad­dock. We as­sumed these did not ap­ply to be­ing on the road since it looked like a pub­lic road, but the sig­nage cer­tainly added to the feel­ing of be­ing ‘out there’. Even­tu­ally we passed a sign for the Jean D’Arcy Con­ser­va­tion Area and felt a bit more se­cure about en­ti­tled to be there.

The end of the road!

Com­ing out of the con­ser­va­tion area, we found an open gate into a forestry block. The sig­nage was a some­what con­fus­ing mix of ‘no exit road’, ‘ dogs need to have been treated to come here’ and, on the side of the road, more ‘ Keep Out’ signs. Af­ter some con­sid­er­a­tion we de­cided to keep go­ing as the ‘ Keep Out’ seemed to ap­ply to leav­ing the road. There was a lot more of the same t ype of road, with some ma­jor re­pair work hav­ing been done in some places, and some fallen trees to skirt be­fore we fi­nally came to a closed gate that was clearly the end of pub­lic ac­cess. What an ad­ven­ture it had been to get there. As usual the re­turn trip felt quicker than get­ting there, al­though with the rather unattrac­tive weather we de­cided to leave the di­ver­sion down Ahu Ahu Val­ley Rd for an­other day, stop­ping for lunch at one of the grassy ar­eas on the side of the road in the con­ser­va­tion area. Al­though this was a pleas­ant, scenic place, the damp weather made for a quick lunch mainly in the cars, and not long af­ter­wards we again reached the in­ter­sec­tion where we took Kauara­paoa Rd for Whanganui.

Sting in the tail

Al­though a lit tle eas­ier than our pre­lunch ad­ven­ture this was still a very scenic and in­ter­est­ing drive in slowly im­prov­ing weather. I was re­lax­ing in the knowl­edge that this was a through road to Whanganui, when I came around a cor­ner to find a work crew and a big dig­ger block­ing the road! For­tu­nately they were happy to shift a few scoops of earth from the mid­dle of the road so we could squeeze through and not have to go all the way back to Kai Iwi. That was the last ‘ in­ter­est­ing’ part of the trip, and it was not long be­fore we were on the easy run into Whanganui and a well- earned real cof­fee. I thought Whanganui was the end of the ad­ven­tures, but ar­riv­ing back in Welling­ton just af­ter dark we got caught in a weather bomb with tor­ren­tial rain and lots of sur­face flood­ing. I was very glad of the snorkel and good light­ing as we strug­gled the last few kilo­me­tres home to end a fan­tas­tic ad­ven­ture.

Our route.

As we came out of the hills on Pa­paiti Rd, the sun broke through and we got some nice views of the Whanganui River val­ley.

The des­o­la­tion from clear felling of the for­est was es­pe­cially de­press­ing on such a murky day.

Ashley and Gil­lian’s ‘Rab­bit’ over­look­ing Lake Ro­torangi. The bar­rier is to keep lake users safely away from the Patea Dam, be­hind us.

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