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|Touring New Zealand 2006 - Part 6|
Our return journey across the Cook Strait was on the Kaitaki, the same large ferry which we had used when we came south a month earlier. Our check-in time was 12.15, for a 13.15 departure and we were surprised to see a few cars waiting when we came down the hill at 11.00 towards Picton. We were even more surprised when we got to the Passenger Terminal and found that the 10.00 sailing had not arrived, and looked like it would be 2 hours late. We asked whether we could change our ticket but there was no space so we spent an hour exploring the shops. Pete was looking for a new boat rod to replace our old one which had detached its handle, and Pauline was looking for a loaf. We were parked in a 60 minute parking slot, so had to move in order to go and look at the Edwin Fox and its Museum. It was our supposed checkin time and we did not have time to go round the Museum but we did purchase ice creams and chatted to the staff. By now the delayed 10.00 ferry had arrived, and of course our ferry had to wait until it had gone before it could come in. So we were over an hour late, and this meant we arrived in Wellington at 17.45, which was later than we had expected. The Kaitaki was still based out of the old Lynx Terminal which is closer to town than the InterIslander Terminal, so we managed to reach our friends John, Blyth and Isaac in plenty of time to get changed and out to our dinner reservation.
We always go out for a meal with them when we stay in Wellington, and we try and visit at the weekend because we can see more of them. This year they suggested an italian restaurant Il Casino and we looked at the menu from the Internet. It claims to be the only genuine italian restaurant in Wellington and the staff were italian, as was the decor. Inside we recognised a painting of the church of Santa Maria de la Salute, in Venice, as well as other famous landmarks. It was the sort of place where your serviette was placed on your lap, and when Blyth left the table for a few moments her serviette was folded into a neat sculpture with just a flurry of the wrist of the waiter. It was all reminiscent of serviettes on the QE 2. But there the similarity ended. Service was very very slow, and the food was not that special for its price. It may be nice to take 3 hours for a serious business dinner, with lots of courses and several bottles of wine, but we really wanted to be away by 10 pm, having arrived at 19.30. The wine list was spectacular, but mostly outside our budget, although John spotted a familiar italian red wine which we enjoyed. There was not a great choice under the $50 mark.
John and Blyth were busy on the Saturday so they gave us a lift down to the Botanical Gardens, which is walking distance from the centre. Wellington is a delightful city - the most pleasant capital we know. It has a small central area and round it many of the houses almost hang on the hillsides with decks and even carports cantilevered alarmingly from the steep slopes. It is a clean tidy city and not overwhelmed with tourists - most people seem to have a purpose and it is one of the few places in New Zealand where one would only feel slightly out of place in a suit and tie. John and Blyth's house is perched on a hillside overlooking the town with unbelievable views. Their parking space is up an impossible looking slope with part of the drive cantilevered out on a wooden structure. We just make it up in the vans, we have tried reversing up in the past but the wheels just spin - Blyth said it is quite difficult when it gets icey!
We had forgotten how much Wellington depends on the people who work in town Monday to Friday. Many interesting shops did not open at all on Saturday and Sunday, and those which did were only open Saturday morning. We had planned to have lunch out but then discovered that today there was going to be the celebration of the Chinese New Year, including a food and arts festival and a procession of floats through the city. It was a beautiful sunny morning and we quickly identified the large building which contained the food stalls, and joined the orderly queues to buy a selection of various homemade chinese delicacies for an early lunch. We bought some books and a music CD then went to look for the procession.
It was not easy. We knew it started from Courteney Place but we saw no sign of any road closures, and then we saw people in fluorescent jackets stopping the traffic in the distance, and a number of cars started to do U-turns. The procession was in sight. We had already seen the film of the 2005 celebration on the big screen while sitting with our lunch so we expected it to be led by a dragon. We just reached the road junction as the dragon stopped and did a short dance, before moving on. We walked with the procession as far as Frank Pitts (check name) Park, chatting to volunteers working on the old vintage steam crane as we passed by. Then it was just a gentle stroll along the deserted streets to the Cable Car up to the Botanical Gardens, from where we only had a short walk. This evening we joined them for a meal with friends from work. John cooked his speciality - Lasagne.
On Sunday we all went off to see a special photographic exhibition at the Museum at Porirua, some 20 kms north of Wellington just off SH1. Blyth is a serious photographer and we all enjoy visiting museums anyway. As part of the normal exhibits there were some black and white portrait photos of Maori people which were spectacular. The old style of black and white photography can give very special results. We were less enthusiastic about the modern exhibition. Then we looked for a suitable spot to have a picnic. Our first spot was at Titahi Bay, looking down on Mana Island but it was too windy and we drove around the peninsula for some time, searching for a better spot, and eventually parked just opposite Plimmerton. We found a sheltered hollow and could watch the windsurfers falling off as the wind gusted. Finally we drove back to Wellington via Paremata and the road through Upper and Lower Hutt. It was a very pleasant day out, and gave us an appetite for our smoked salmon from Mapua for dinner.
The next morning we left Wellington early and set out for Mountain House at Taranaki, this meant that Archway books was closed which probably saved us a lot of money. We stopped at Wanganui to talk to Dave at the Whanganui Riverboat Centre and find out what progress had been made with the Wairua and see the Ongarue, one of the tunnel drive boats used on the upper reaches. The Ongarue had been on display in the open at Pipiriki for many years and had got into a very poor state and has recently been moved is now being restored. She was designed for the upper reaches from Pipiriki to the Houseboat and on to Taumarunui and was built by Yarrow of Poplar, London and sent out in sections to be assembled at Wanganui. She entered service in 1903 and was the last of the riverboats still in service in 1958. She only had a draft of 12 inches although 60 feet long and carrying 45 people at an average of 7.5 mph. Designed for use in very shallow water, she has a single screw hidden in a tunnel with twin long rudders either side hanging out the back and the winch at the front to pull her up the worst rapids.
The restoration of the Wairua is reaching completion, a task which has taken over a decade since she was rescued from under the river mud in 1987. Dave, one of the four carrying out the restoration, was behind the desk in his other role of manager of the Riverboat Museum which includes the magnificently restored Waimarie. He told us that they were hoping to have her back in the water shortly and suggested we check with him before our return to the UK. He and the others involved with the Wairua also did much of the work on the Waimarie, one reason why the work on the Wairua has taken so long.
The Wairua was one of two identical boats built by Yarrow and Co of Poplar, London in 1904 and shipped out together in parts to be assembled in Wanganui. The twins, the Wairua and the Waiora, were steam driven with a compound engines by Simpson, Strickland and Co of Dartmouth providing 66 horsepower. Steam was from a Thorneycroft water tube boiler and propulsion was from a single screw mounted in a tunnel with a novel lifting flap arrangement which allowed efficient use at low and high power. The vessels were 65 feet long and 8 foot beam with a maximum draught of only 15 inches They were mainly used on the Pipiriki to the Houseboat section. The steam power plant on the Warua was replaced by a Thorneycroft oil engine of 70 horsepower in 1914. She was laid up in 1937 and used as a fender at Hatrick's Wharf where she sunk into the mud in the 1950s
She was rescued from the mud in 1987 and since then a dedicated group of 4 people (David McDermid, Ian McMurray, Kevin Clark and Mark Campbell) have been gradually restoring her. Dave was already there when we had our first visit in 2003 with Cameron to look over the work and another of the owners Mark Campbell turned up shortly after. We were surprised how close to completion she was, only engine controls, some wiring and the fitting of a new hydraulic drive and winch were outstanding in major work, at the time they were estimating perhaps only 250 hours work left to get her into the water. It had been a major effort to get so far, especially as the owners were diverted into doing much of the restoration of the Waimarie and by their work as trustees.
Almost the whole hull has had to be re-plated. The original plating was only 3 mm or less thick and heavily galvanised. It was then riveted in place with sealant between the plates - when they were removed the metals was still shiny and galvanised in the overlaps and on the frames. The original plating and structure was designed to give and dent if necessary in the rapids - repairs were easy and special bolts were carried to replace any 'popped' rivets. They have been forced to use thicker plating to satisfy the new marine standards with the bottom now being 5 mm steel and the sides similarly beefed up. Time will tell if this will lead to troubles as they hope to take her on trips through at least the lower rapids. She will also, of course, be considerably heavier and the addition plating thickness will increase her draught by over 10%. In the old days the boats were designed to be re-plated every 25 years so the replacing of plating would otherwise be counted as routine maintenance.
They have fitted a Gardner Diesel of an appropriate horsepower (80) - although built in the 1950s, it is to a 1932 design compatible with the operating life of the Wairua - Gardner diesels were fitted to other riverboats in the mid 1930s so it is an excellent and appropriate choice for a replacement engine. The standard of the work and the attention to detail is incredible with even the rope fenders being 'woven' as close as possible to the original designs using early photographs and drawings and sets of hardwood chairs and tables, all individually made, were waiting for the day when she starts operation. We took far too much of Dave and Marks valuable time talking and we learned a lot more about the riverboats, their restoration and their operation.
We then had the long drive to Mountain House, only broken for a stop for icecream at Stratford at the Northern Dairy, one of our favourite dairies, where we were seduced into huge ice-creams - they have been some of the best value ice-creams we know. The girl put two enormous carefully consolidated and shaped scoops on each cone and charged us $1.50 each and answered our query about the size with the comment "a single is two scoops and a double is three scoops here". We took the pictures last year and got a fascinating picture with a juxtaposition of the two cones, one the typical but sadly less common one on dairies and the cone of Egmont.
Mountain House is sited at 845 metres not far below Stratford Plateau, on one of the only three road entry points to Mt Egmont. We have been to Mountain House several times before - it is small but serves some of the best food we know in New Zealand. The rooms at Mountain House are simple but adequate and the price is moderate at circa $125 for a chalet with full kitchen facilities, and slightly less for a double hotel room. Berta, a skilled chef trained in her native Switzerland, takes great pride in the service provided. She and her recently deceased husband Keith have run hotels in the area for thirty years.
Keith, who was local, was killed in an unfortunate car accident involving tourists driving on the wrong side of the road, just before we came three years ago.Keith was also an artist and there are many of his pictures on the walls. Last year Berta held an exhibition of his work and launched a book which contains many of his paintings. This year we bought a set of coasters made from six of his paintings. The set up is very much a family affair and one very much feels a guest in their home - the lounge has their photo albums on the tables and their scrap books going back twenty years.
The food cooked by Berta is excellent and several previous visits we have negotiated an extra days stay when we ate the first evenings meal. Spcialities include Creamed Paua and Scallops as starters - Paua is a local seafood like a Black Abalone - it needs to be beaten into flat sheets to soften it and then left to marinade in its own juices in the fridge for three to four days after which it is tender enough to eat. At the Mountain House it is then served minced in a cream sauce which is probably not the classical way of serving. It is quite expensive as a starter, $30 this year. The Paua shells are also very beautiful and are used for a lot of local jewellery. The main courses are a mixture of local specialities and Swiss dishes - one of our favourites is Rabbit in Mustard Sauce. Rabbit has been a huge problem in New Zealand since it was introduced for hunting and food although not in the class of Possums at present. We sometimes make it to dessert and have their excellent homemade cheesecake often compromising and having one with two spoons. The wine list is largely NZ - there were several of our favourites on the list. They also have a special extra list which often includes wines such as our favourite Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc.
Mountain House is right in the middle of the walking areas in the Taranaki National Park and the walks from Mountain House cover a variety of different forests as one works up through the tree line. Perhaps the most interesting is the Goblin forest which is primarily Kamahi which began life perched on the trunks of other trees, developing distinctive gnarled, intertwined trunks as they grew around the branches of existing trees which have now been stifled. The Kamahi trunks and branches are covered in mosses, liverworts and ferns while other trees and shrubs grow perched on the Kamahi forming compound trees.
It is difficult to give a proper impression of these walks through these spectacular rain forest which surrounds Mountain House, hopefully the pictures will convey something of the extra-ordinary atmosphere. The 15 minute circular Kamahi walk enables one to sample the goblin forests. The Patea Loop Track is a good introductory walk which takes one through the Goblin Forest past incredible moss draped fuchsias as you walk across the deeply dissected flanks of the volcanic cone. It takes a little over an hour. The Enchanted Track is a third round trip walk but one that involves considerable height gain unless you can get a lift to the Plateau and just walk down it. It drops 300 metres with spectacular views of the mountain terrain and The Dawson Falls area as well as the sea and the Tongariro mountains on a clear day. It also gives an excellent opportunity to observe how the sub-alpine scrub changes into the goblin forest as one descends. We normally do it as part of our round trip walks to Dawson Falls.
The Taranaki forests have less bird life than many forests - this is largely because of the height and low temperatures which dramatically reduces the insect population and hence reduces the number of birds. There are however plenty of Tui and Bellbirds which contribute to the outstanding dawn chorus, the Rifleman which is the almost as small as a Wren, the almost as small Silvereye and the Plump New Zealand Pigeons. The lack of insects does however mean that birds tend to follow one in the hope you disturb the insects.
This year we had booked our chalet for 3 nights so that we had two full days to enjoy tramping the area. We knew that there was a pleasant walk across to Dawson Falls for one day, and we discussed with Berta what was involved in climbing up to the Summit for the other. It is a day trip, but a long day. We had already seen her photos from when the family did the walk, and it was later in the year, with snow. The first step is to get to the Plateau, and we decided to drive there. It is a long day to climb to the summit, and the time saved in driving to the Plateau seemed worthwile. The weather forecast was not promising for a serious summit attempt but we deided to reconouter the first stretch round the mountain and up the first section, the fabled 1000 steps.
The walk uses the Upper Round The Mountain track and is well signposted. The first part goes up past a flying fox which is used to get supplies across to the Manganui private Hut on the other side of the valley. On foot, we walked through an avalanche tunnel, and then carefully walked up to the end of the valley and turned back along the other side to reach the Hut. It is an area where there have been avalanches, hence the tunnel, and the advice is to keep walking not loiter. Certainly in the winter it would be much more dangerous. To our surprise, we found a public shelter and toilets next to the Hut. This is the area of the Manganui skifield, and while it was deserted in summer it must be a very different sight in the ski season. We walked under the cable for a ski T-bar lift which went up the mountain. Higher up there is a ski tow. Neither were in use.
Our path then continued around the mountain, heading north. Although narrow it is a well formed path and gave good views until we reached the Tahurangi Lodge. Here we saw other walkers; we had joined the recommended track to the Summit which starts from the DOC office at North Egmont. The stretch up from North Egmont is called the Puffer because it is a steep and relentless climb. We were overtaken by young people wearing walking sandals and trainers, and rushing upwards. The next stage towards the summit involves a serious climb up the steps - these were built in the 1980s to prevent erosion of the sensitive surface. There are said to be 1000 steps and we completed over 700 before halting at about 2100 metres, not because we could go no further but because we could see there was weather approaching, as the forecast had indicated the cloudbase already falling and the rain was starting. We knew that the next part of the ascent involved a long tramp across the scoria and is unmarked, not a very good idea when there is reduced visibility. Then you reach the crater which often has ice, followed by a rock scramble to the summit. We turned and retraced our steps, looking over our shoulder as the cloud level reduced, and the rain started, fortunately it tailed off as we worked our way back round the mountain. Next year we do some workups and have a shot at the full ascent if the weather is suitable, perhaps with an overnight in the hut to give a head start.
The next day we did an excellent round trip walk along the Waingongoro Track to Dawson Falls, up to Wilkies Pools before returning on the High Level Round the Mountain Track then dropping down the Enchanted Walk back to Mountain House where we returned to our room on the Kamahi track. The first part of the Waingongoro Track is common to several of the walks from Mountain House but after 25 minutes one passes the turn off for the Enchanted walk. After that the stretch to Dawson Falls involves several river crossings which need some care as they can be slippery. We diverted to look at the Waingongoro hut. It is one of a series of huts spaced along the two 'Round the Mountain Tracks' each taking 16 - 24 people on communal sleeping platforms and bunks. DOC have about 900 such basic huts for Trampers in New Zealand.
The most memorable part of the Waingongoro Track is crossing the swing bridge, a flimsy contraption of wires holding up a series of cross bars forming a walkway with only a bit of wire mesh to add confidence. You look straight down to a rocky stream bed far below as you careful inch your way across. Fortunately there was little wind otherwise they do not so much swing but sway and writhe like two drunken snakes hung across the river. This swing bridge is certainly not the longest at 26.5m but supposed to one of the highest at 29m. It certainly looked a long way down as one carefully placed ones boots on the 8 inch wide strips and clutched the two waist high suspension wires and inched across. Not surprisingly there is a faded notice suggesting only one person crosses at a time. After that the remaining river crossings were tame and we seemed to soon be back on familiar tracks from Dawson Falls.
We had a look round the Dawson Falls Visitor Centre which is memorable for having some of the worst presentation of information I have ever seen - some examples are white print on a background of tussock grass and other low contrast combinations and information displayed at 45 degree angles to the horizontal so you have turn your head on its side to read it. The maps are without scales and in random orientations so the two maps of the local walks bear no obvious relation two each other. The original information, probably written by the staff, is fine but it is almost impossible to interpret. It was probably some misguided attempt to employ contractors to Jazz Up the displays at vast cost. I took pictures last time as example for my customers of what not do! Perhaps the point of most concern is that there is no information, such as times or distances or difficulty, in the area which would allow visitors to plan even local walks when the desk is closed, presumably there is a policy that you have buy the information. At least they have added a good display case of stuffed birds - the girl from DOC was very helpful and understood our comments on the other displays fully and we note that they now have a lot of additional and legible information and a display case of some the more common animals and birds.
It was then time for the next stage, the climb up to Wilkies pools where the water has sculptured the rock into marvellous shapes. After scrambling up past the pools and taking a few more pictures of the smoothly sculptured rocks forming the falls from pool to pool we stopped for a muesli bar before we returned to join the Upper Round the Mountain Track following signs for the Stratford Plateau. This section ends with some excellent views out over the valley. We did not go as far as the Plateau as that would have meant a road walk to get back to Mountain House - instead we went down the Enchanted Track to rejoin the Waingongoro Track about half an hour away from Mountain house. The Enchanted Track had some excellent views from the Trig point before dropping steeply down what seemed like thousands of steps back to the Waingongoro Track. In actual fact the descent is 300 metres. The total time was just over 6 hours including the time for short and long stops.
We then set out on one of our favourite scenic roads from Taumarunui to Stratford, the SH43. This is a superb scenic road which was the subject of the first of the Heritage trails in 1990. It has more recently been labelled the 'The Forgotten Highway' on many of the boards. We have the original Heritage Trail booklet 'Taranaki and SH43' covering the SH43 and a few other less memorable trails. They should be available at Information Offices but have often been in short supply possibly due to the renaming. There are however big introductory boards at either end and signs to further comprehensive boards at most of the main points of interest. It was a fascinating trip on one of the early roads and cut across the grain of the countryside over a number of saddles giving commanding views. It is a road which is only 150 kms from end to end, some of it still unsealed, which merits (and takes) plenty of time. We have previously done the journey a couple of times from both ends but we never tire of it. This time we mainly looked for things we had missed last time round and have written them up to augment the existing information on the web site from previous trips.
The first suggested stop is at an old Douglas Brick Kiln which is listed by he New Zealand Historic Places Trust. It is situated a couple of hundred metres off the main road then down a gated farmers track. It is in poor condition and protected by an external roof.
One next passes over the series of saddles. The first Saddle, the Strathmore Saddle can give superb views and on a clear day gives a vantage of the four main North Island mountains, Taranaki (Egmont), Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. It was a favourite site for Keith's paintings. The Pohokura Saddle is named after a Maori chief from when it was settled first in 1880 - in those days the road was so bad it took three days to pack in supplies. As with many other points on the trip there are interpretation boards at the viewpoints.
The Whangamomona Saddle has a walk leading off from the viewpoint which looks sufficiently interesting we will schedule it for a future trip. Then comes a highlight of the trip, Whangamomona Village. We had first been recommended the trip and the village whilst in the Catlins by some people we met (Anne and Mike) and it had been reinforced by another suggestion from a chance meeting in Auckland with someone whose father had worked in the village. Whangamomona, the Valley of Plenty, was first settled in 1885 and quickly reached its full size of about 200. It has always been controversial and had difficult access - in 1903 the Prime Minister, Richard Seddon was tipped into a pothole by the inhabitants as a protest at the road conditions and eventually improvements came.
The community spirit still survives, although to some it now looks little more than a ghost town. In 1989 the village declared itself an independent state in protest at changes in the regional boundaries which removed it from its home in Taranaki. Independence Day celebrations are held every year on the Saturday closest to November 1st. There is a signposted walking trail round the village which we followed part of - much of the village is like a time warp which has led to it being used for several films.
The next high point is the Tahora Saddle where we found the Kaieto cafe and "camp site" perched on the peak - a wooden platform on the peak doubles as a view point and helipad. The cafe looks as if the meals are good and there is accommodation and slots for camper vans. The sheltered camping area is relative only to the exposure of the remainder of the hill top! It is somewhere to return to stay but in a cabin. The cafe is full of old pictures and information despite being only a few years old and we in previous years we had an interesting talk to the lady who runs it who was Russian. Then the family had three qualified helicopter pilots and they were trying to sell the cafe. We didn't visit this year to check whether they had moved on.
Another side trip we like to carry out is down a gravel road to see the Mt Damper Falls, which are one of the highest inland falls in New Zealand at 76 meters. It is well worth the 20 minute walk and the falls are a narrow stream cut deeply into the side of a huge "bowl" eroded into the mudstone - quite unlike anything we have seen before. It is worth the slow trip down the gravel road. Part way down the road is a large picnic and parking area for the Moki forest tracks with a few old steam boilers from the logging days. They have now added a small caravan site just down the road - there seems to be no good place for a tent but there are three or four slots for caravans or campers. The Moki forest is the home of the endangered Kokako bird but we have never had the time to go in search.
The last of our recommended explorations off the main route is the Te Maire Reserve - we took a 10 minute walk, with a nice river crossing on a small suspension bridge, to reach a loop walk which takes a further one hour forty minutes to complete. The initial section is in very good condition and makes an excellent forest walk through Podocarps but with so much undergrowth growing on and up all the trees it is reminiscent of the 'goblin forest' round Mountain House at Mt Egmont (Taranaki). We have made a note to allow time for the full walk on a future visit.
There was then a 130 km section of normal roads before we could rejoin the more interesting backroad road out of Taihape towards Napier which is a 140 km Heritage Trail, partially gravel, going over Gentle Annie. We first heard about it several years ago from some other campers at Lake Tutira who sent some information sheets to us in England. It is now one of a network of Heritage Trails which are sponsored by the New Zealand Visitor Network and the local District Councils. They all have information sheets and the main features are numbered and often have display boards on the ground giving something of the history etc. Their markers use cream/pale yellow letters on a, usually very faded, teal green background so are easy to recognise as are their information sheets which have a similar colour scheme.
The route which we know as "Gentle Annie" is officially known as the Inland Patea Heritage Trail and crosses the Dividing Range through an area of great natural beauty and historic interest where earth movements have created unusual mountains with limestone scarps with natural forest. It started as the route of an old Maori Trail from the East coast to the centre of North Island. In the 15th century one of the most famous Maori leaders Tamatea Pokai Whenui (Tamatea means he who explored the land) arrived in NZ on the Takitumu canoe and travelled the trail with his son Kanungunu. Many of the place names near the trail are called after the animals he carried in his basket.
Later Patea, a Maori living at Manawarakau, travelled the trail. Legend says he went on a hunting expedition for a long time and returned with a poor bag to find his woman had filled his storehouse. Her incessant nagging on how poor a hunter he was led him to take her for a walk off a cliff. Rather than face her relatives he fled into the wild country west of the ranges where he remained in what came to be called Patea's Country, a huge tract bounded by the dividing Ranges, Mount Ruapehu and Taihape. The Name gained the Inland to avoid confusion with the town of Patea. For 50 years the Inland Patea's main port was Napier and everything was packed on horses over the ranges. By the 1870s the Inland Patea had vast Stations with Merino sheep and transport was a tremendous undertaking - typical stations could be sheering up to 75,000 sheep and packing the wool over the ranges. on strings of pack horses. The strings were hundreds strong with one man to each string of ten. Mules were also used and one in five animals carried provisions and fodder for the trip. Each pack animal carried 200 pounds (91 kgs) and riding ahead were hunters with dogs providing fresh food.
It was a dangerous job and it was not unknown for animals to lose their footing on the narrow rocky path over the precipitous "Gentle Annie" and plunge to their end in the Ngaruroro Gorge a hundred metres below. Panic could easily spread with the rest of the team following. They eventually returned with mail and supplies. This used to be the busiest and longest trail in New Zealand and remained so until Gold Fever struck and eventually in 1908 the railway was opened up to Wellington.
The day was clear and hot and the views all across were stunning. Our first pause was to look at the old Springvale Suspension Bridge over the Rangitikea river which had informal camping for anglers at the rivers edge beneath it. The bridge was built by William Salt in 1923 and traffic is now carried by by a modern replacement which takes traffic over the historic ford. We stopped for the night on Gentle Annie in one of the unpublished free DOC camp sites close to Kuripapango on the banks of the Ngaruroro River. Kuripapango is named after a Wanganui Maori warrior who was killed and eaten whilst trying to invade Hawke's Bay in the 17th century. There are several camping sites, the main one is down by the river and was fairly deserted but the track down was very broken up and we had fears we would not get back up the track if there was any overnight rain. We stopped at Cameron Flat a few hundred metres up stream. This year we heard the Possums growling in the distance but no worse - last year our night was disturbed by a shaking of the tent in the early hours by Pete's head followed by a more major disturbance above our heads - Pauline beat Pete out in time to see a Possum sitting right on the top of the tent glaring back at her in the light of the torch - they are completely fearless but it took off shortly before Pete could arrive with a camera. There are still claw marks on the fabric. The delights of camping in the Bush.
We did not have time to take all the side trips we have done in the past but found time to followed signs down Lawrence Road to the Blowhard Bush Reserve, an area owned by the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society which has a network of tracks through an interesting remnant of podocard-broadleaf forest which has escaped most of the fires which have decimated most of such forests. Intriguing rock formations of waitotaran limestone nestle among the trees - the huge rocks and boulders are weathered into fascinating shapes and there is a maze of narrow passages, tunnels and caves between them many so straight that they hardly look as if they could be natural. We have only done the short Troglodyte walk but there are many others taking 2 - 3 hours round trip. If we had continued down the road it would have taken us 8 kms to a picnic spot with a short walk down to the Tutaekuri river and swing bridge.
The road afforded more excellent views as we dropped down towards the plains and Napier. We stopped on route to visit Gary and Sally in their new Motel near Hastings. They were busy with a wedding and we had booked many months back to stay at the City Close motel, a favourite of ours which is right in the centre of Napier and ideal for the Art Deco Festival which will be covered in Part 7