WEEK­END DRIVE

This month David Coxon takes the ‘long way back’ from Gis­borne to Welling­ton via Lake Waikare­moana and the For­got­ten World High­way.

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

Hav­ing a bit of time in Gis­borne on Sun­day af­ter­noon af­ter the con­fer­ence, we took the op­por­tu­nity to visit the Ruru Falls and nearby Ruru slide. The falls were eas­ily ac­cessed from a good sealed main road, with even the track down the carpark be­ing of 2WD stan­dard. The Falls them­selves were a scenic pic­nic des­ti­na­tion and pro­vided me with plenty of op­por­tu­nity for cre­ative wa­ter­fall pho­tog­ra­phy, but could not be classed as re­mote or dif­fi­cult to ac­cess. How­ever the slide, a few kilo­me­tres fur­ther along the main road, was ac­cessed by a steep and rut­ted track. This was one of the few times on the trip I was glad of a more ca­pa­ble ve­hi­cle. Here the river flowed over a flat slab of rock that had been tilted slightly mak­ing a nat­u­ral wa­ter slide. Tack­ling this with a boogie board would be a load of fun, but un­for­tu­nately we all left our boogie boards at home.

Return jour­ney

Our return trip started the next morn­ing with a run down to Wairoa be­fore tack­ling SH38, the Waikare­moana road. The first sec­tion, climb­ing gen­tly towards the ranges, is an easy sealed road, turn­ing to gravel as it starts to climb more steeply up to the lake. The climb was quite cut up and rough in places, but much smoother in other places where work had been done on the road. By the time we reached the top, we were back into low cloud and rain, keep­ing down the dust and mak­ing for moody views across the lake. Pick­ing a break in the rain, we stopped at Ani­waniwa to look at the old trailer on dis­play, orig­i­nally drawn by trac­tion en­gine dur­ing the early days of log­ging, then de­toured up Ani­waniwa Rd to Pa­pako­rito Falls rather than do­ing my usual walk down the side of the Ani­waniwa Falls on the other side of the road. Pa­pako­rito Falls are a cou­ple of min­utes’ level walk from the road end rather than the longer and steep walk to the Ani­waniwa Falls. Press­ing on round the lake and through the ranges, I was sur­prised to find that a few of the steeper sec­tions had been re­cently sealed, mak­ing for some smoother climbs. How­ever, to keep the ad­ven­ture alive, there was still plenty of un­sealed road and cor­ru­ga­tions to make it feel like ‘real’ ex­plor­ing. Round­ing one cor­ner we spot­ted a mob of horses lunch­ing on the side of the road. The lead stal­lion watched us closely, while the oth­ers were cau­tious but not jumpy. They looked quite wild, es­pe­cially see­ing the ease with which some of them re­treated into the un­der­growth as we ap­proached, and the en­counter made for a very mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence.

Time for lunch

With the weather im­prov­ing we found a clear­ing on the side of the road and stopped for lunch. It was beau­ti­fully peace­ful sit­ting in the sun in the mid­dle of the for­est with not a soul around but us. We didn’t even see another ve­hi­cle the whole time. Mov­ing on af­ter lunch our next ex­pe­ri­ence was a lit­tle more adrenalin-fu­elled. Driv­ing through a ru­ral set­tle­ment three horses we had pre­vi­ously seen run­ning down a hill­side pad­dock sud­denly charged onto the road from be­hind a tree.

I re­acted in­stinc­tively to swerve and brake, and re­mem­ber watch­ing the lead horse’s rib cage get­ting closer and closer to the bull bar. The gap was down to a few cen­time­tres be­fore the horse turned enough to start pulling away from me. The horses were pretty spooked by the near miss, and so were we. Luck­ily we were trav­el­ling quite slowly but the in­ci­dent showed the need to ex­pect the un­ex­pected – like a gate onto the road left open. Af­ter that ex­cite­ment is was a re­lief to get out of the ranges and to our overnight ac­com­mo­da­tion in Ro­torua with no more in­ci­dents.

For­got­ten World High­way

Our fi­nal day was to return to Welling­ton via the For­got­ten World High­way (SH43), stop­ping for lunch at Whang­amomona, so that my pas­sen­gers could say they had been there. The route through from Ro­torua to Tau­marunui largely fol­lowed the route we took on the way up and was a pleas­ant, traf­fic free run on good main roads. At Tau­marunui we turned off onto SH43 for a very pleas­ant run through ru­ral New Zealand be­fore reach­ing the Waitaanga For­est and the start of the more chal­leng­ing sec­tion. Be­fore long the road nar­rowed and turned to very dusty gravel with lots of blind corners. Luck­ily it was at one of the straighter sec­tions that we met an on­com­ing army truck. We pulled in to let it pass in a cloud of dust then, know­ing the army ve­hi­cles of­ten travel in con­voy, waited for the dust to set­tle. Sure enough as sec­ond truck ar­rived, then a third, then a fourth fol­lowed by a long gap. Were there any more? There weren’t, but it would have been nice if one of the driv­ers had stopped to tell me how many ve­hi­cles were in the con­voy. All this dust did, how­ever make me re­alise that this area is bet­ter seen on a damp day when the for­est is a rich, cool green rather than tired, hot and dusty. We paused at Mor­gan’s grave and then, back on the seal, at the hand-dug tun­nel which is un­lit and def­i­nitely one way. The tun­nel was orig­i­nally dug for horse-drawn traf­fic and small farm trucks and more re­cently low­ered to al­low mod­ern taller trucks to use the route.

Sad­dle sore

Lunch was in the gar­den at the Whang­amomona Ho­tel – a very pleas­ant and re­lax­ing break in the trip be­fore the fi­nal run over a cou­ple of sad­dles to Strat­ford. This was the one part of the trip that I had only pre­vi­ously done in the dark, so it was good to see the route in day­light. Strat­ford marked the end of the road less trav­elled as we set­tled in for the long trip back to Welling­ton and the end of a very mem­o­rable tour.

Lake Waikare­moana in a misty mood.

Mary and Carol at the tun­nel on the For­got­ten World High­way. It was very dif­fer­ent from the mo­tor­way tun­nels I am used to.

We couldn’t not stop here for lunch.

A sub­stan­tial old trailer from the days of trac­tion en­gines.

These horses just past Lake Waikare­moana didn’t seem to mind the car, but were ner­vous about cam­eras be­ing stuck out the win­dow, and were happy to see us move on.

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