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|Touring New Zealand 2017 - part 3|
It is too far to drive from Napier to Stratford in one day, and there are several options for accommodation en route. The best place to stop for lunch is to picnic at the Springvale Suspension Bridge, originally christened in 1925 as Rangitikei River Bridge 75. It is about 3 hours drive from Napier and is often used by fishermen who camp on the banks of the river. Our final destination was Ohakune, so on reaching the outskirts of Taihape we turned towards the central mountains. The information boards which mark the Tangiwai train disaster in 1953 have been updated and it was easy to walk to the sites where the three carriages had finally rested. Ohakune is a mountain winter resort and in the summer is quiet with a range of cheaper accommodation. We stayed in a lodge - a two storey house divided into several double bedrooms with shared bathroom and a large communal kitchen and lounge area. The supermarket is usefu to replenish supplies and then the next morning we continued north along the main railway line.
The main trunk line was first explored and located by J Rochfort in 1870-71 and there were several viaducts built. The Makatote viaduct was built in 1905-08 and has recently been restored, hence the nice new red paintwork. It is 77m high and 262m long and was the last structure on the line between Auckland and Wellington to be completed. The line passes through National Park and further north is the famous Raurimu spiral, which we had travelled both ways on a daytrip from Taumarunui by changing trains at National Park where they arrive simultaneously from both directions. Now there is only one passenger train on the line, not two, and the daytrip is not feasible. The cakes and champagne scones at the railway cafe at National Park are worth making a special journey. Sometime we must get there later and try their lunches. The main line continues to Taumaranui where we joined the Forgotten Highway, SH43. This road was first suggested to us by Berta and Keith Anderson at the Startford Mountain House, and Keith painted many excellent oil paintings of the four saddles on the road. From Taumaranui the small town of Whangamomana is half way, and most people stop to eat at the Hotel. We needed to continue in order to reach Stratford although we stopped at the Strathmore Saddle to admire Keith's favourite views.
There are new owners at the Stratford Top Town Holiday Park and the previous owner, an elderly lady, had sold and gone back to the UK where she had subsequently died. The site was different, with a new swimming pool complex and the long term chaps who lived in the cabins have been moved on. We had one of their kitchen cabins which had been nicely upgraded. They hoped to become a Kiwi Holiday Park later in the year.
Our first full day in Statford was a beautiful sunny morning with blue skies so drove the 23 kms from Stratford to Dawson Falls. There was plenty of space in the small main car park by the Visitors Centre although the car park by the Konini Lodge was full of campervans. Maybe there is now parking for vans which are self-contained. The Visitors Centre was closed and is only open Thursday to Sunday. Fortunately our cabin included walking maps – our collection are still in Waiheke. After climbing through the light cloud we were rewarded with a clear view of the majestic Mount Egmont. Also known as Mount Taranaki, it is 2,518m high and is the central point of the 34,170 ha Egmont National Park. On a clear day it can be seen from the Strathmore Saddle on the SH43. Dawson Falls road end is home to the Dawson Falls waterfall and the Dawson Falls Mountain Lodge. The 18m waterfall is named after Thomas Dawson, the first European to discover it in 1885.
The walk began from the Visitors Centre to Wilkies Pools. The track winds through ‘goblin forest’ on a wind and flat path, described as buggy/wheelchair friendly. There has been a lot of work on this part of the path since our last visit, including reinforced mesh on the path and a brand new bridge, 10 people limit, which was installed in 2016. It is no longer necessary to scramble over wet rocks to cross the stream. It is still possible, with care, to climb up along the right hand side of the stream, and some of the original concrete steps are there. It is much harder to climb down. Water in the pools is always cold so we don’t bother to bring swimming togs. The pools were named after the Wilkies brothers who farmed locally. The climb up from Wilkies Pools to the Ridge Track is always wet and although there are proper steps it can be muddy too. The walk is solidly uphill and then it continues upwards along the Ridge Track. At the next junction the Waingongoro Track descends to the turning for the Waingongoro Hut, just before the swingbridge. Another 10 minutes descent and there is the hut, with its benches and an excellent view of the mountain. We were very lucky that the weather is much better than forecast. The disadvantage of downhill paths is that the return is uphill.
Back at the Waingongoro/Ridge junction the path was signposted for the Dawson Falls Visitor Centre and ran alongside the river. We emerged on the main road, near to the Dawson Falls Power Station which was built in 1899. We had completed this walk in well under 4 hours. The weather was still good and another walk beckoned. After leaving our rucksacks in the van it was an easy 45 mins stroll around the Kapuni Loop Track which had a short side track to the base of Dawson Falls. We met a friendly pied tomtit, a plump white and black bird smaller than a sparrow, but it flew away when it saw a camera. Tomorrow we hope to go to East Egmont for a few short walks from the Stratford Mountain House.
When we stayed at the Stratford Mountain House in previous years we had explored the walking tracks from East Egmont, and our favourite walk was from the Mountain House to Dawson Falls, which included going down the Enchanted Walk - going up is usually too difficult because of water damage to the path and the need to climb on rough ground where the steps have slipped. Pauline needs to grow longer legs for some of the steps. Thhis year it was not good weather so we planned short walks. Reaching the Stratford Plateau, from where we have in the past done parts of the Round the Mountain circuit, it was raining and the low cloud meant we could barely see across the car park. Definitely the day for only a short walk. There are several options. The first was to go to the Waingongoro Hut, only 50 minutes from the Plateau but 90 minutes from the Mountain House, which used the Waingongoro Track and avoided the Enchanted Track. There is a shorter walk, the Patea track, which we chose but then found it was too difficult so turned back. It was still a pleasant mrning but we decided the weather and conditions were only good enough for the much shorter Kamahi Loop Track which only goes around the local area of the Stratford Mountain House. By lunchtime we were back at the Stratford Mountain House and decided to try their lunches, and also have the chance to look at the changes since we had last stayed there when Keith and Berta Anderson owned the hotel and restaurant. Lunch options generally included chips but that is OK occasionally and the portions of spare ribs and the fish burger were good.
That evening we decanted and drank the Clearview 2000 Merlot Malbec.
The next part will continue with the Coromandel, Sandspit, Warkworth and Bay of Islands