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