We had an unexpectedly long drive from Ohakune. A sign for the Army museum at Waiouru made me laugh. It simply said, ‘Tanks and Guns. What more could you want. Army Museum.’ We hit Palmerston North at lunchtime and taking advantage of it’s reputation for having a café culture ate at a very nice place, Moxies. Out of town heading east we passed the beautiful Manawatu Gorge. A railway line straddled the side of the gorge, occasionally dipping into tunnels through the rock. We had planned to stay somewhere in the region of Palmerston, but didn’t really like the look of the small towns along the highway and so motored on to Hastings in the Hawkes Bay region.We found the Top 10 park, which is in a lovely spot within a large inner city park.
The morning found us taking a drive to the ‘village’ of Havelock North, a short way south of Hastings. We’d forgotten that it was labour day weekend and so a good proportion of everything was shut and those cafés and things that were still open were adding a 15% surcharge because of the public holiday. Hawkes Bay is one of New Zealand’s most important wine growing areas. Although we passed several wineries I didn’t much fancy doing the rounds tasting. Sometimes the places are a little posh for scruff-bag like me and a bit intimidating. I felt like the day was going to be one where I felt like that. Instead we drove out to Ocean Beach, reached by a rutted dirt track. What a lovely spot. Families were scattered playing on the beach, or walking dogs. Kids were swimming in the creek and surfies were driving their cars down the beach.
Also nearby is Te Mata Peak. This is a large hill that has a road right the way to the top. We drove up, feeling guilty, as dog walkers and ridiculous looking power walkers trudged up on foot. The view from the top was magnificent. The main developments are on a flat plain amongst farmland and bordered by rolling green hills, which are themselves bordered by mountains. Our minimal driving for the day took us through this pretty pastoral landscape, all the way the stereo pumping out old school hardcore (courtesy of another 2 quid warehouse bargain, ‘Ravin...’)
Afterwards we drove into Napier, booked into the, massive, Top 10 park there and spent the afternoon on a blanket in the sunshine. A couple of bottles of wine and our books had us set for a thoroughly pleasant afternoon. The sun was shining again when we awoke the next morning so we went into Napier centre for a quick look. The town is famed as being the Art Deco capital of the world, due to a 1930’s earthquake destroying much of the town. The subsequent hurried rebuilding was in the prevailing style of the day.
After having our fill of looking at buildings we made once again for the countryside. Travelling north we made excursions from the highway at Tangoio and Waipatiki beaches, both lovely spots with crumbly old baches (pronounced batches), the traditional New Zealand beach holiday home. Apparently land prices, foreign ownership and other pressures are causing the bach tradition to die out. A shame. We took a walk at White Pine Bush Reserve, a little forest reserve with a nice track. Our final stop of the day was Lake Tutira and it’s Department of Conservation camp ground. It looked like a good many families were taking advantage of Labour Day weekend, with tents and cars sprawling all over the lakeside camp sites. We parked up for the day and chilled out, although the severe amount of sheep poo and our lack of picnic chairs put paid to our sunburn ambitions. As the day wore on a fierce wind picked up. This rather cleared out the camp ground, most of the people in tents deciding to pack up and go.
The next morning the sound of sheep bleating woke us up at 05:00, not my best time of the day. The wind hadn’t managed to topple the van in the night, despite it’s best efforts and so we made an early start away from Lake Tutira. The town of Wairoa was a bit scary. We stopped only briefly to get supplies but the place seemed to me to have a bit of a backward, ‘I married my cousin’, hick kind of feel to it. We didn’t have our customary mid-morning coffee. I should have realised at that point that the day wouldn’t be a good one. The weather was looking pretty nasty, and in the newspaper there were warnings about severe weather to come. We had decided to make a 120 km round trip from the main highway to check out Lake Waikaremoana in the Te Urewera National Park. Given the weather we probably ought not to have bothered, but we are optimistic souls and so ploughed on. The road up there was terrible. Despite being shown as sealed on my map, large sections were unsealed and in fairly bad condition. I’m sure someone somewhere has a plan, but I couldn’t make it out. All of a sudden a small stretch of gravel would present itself, followed by a reasonably large stretch of tar and then a massive section of gravel again.
The weather hadn’t changed when we reached the visitors centre. Despite the drizzle and the threat of a real downpour from the black clouds above we tried to do a short walk. We made it about 100m down the track to be confronted by a tape blocking access. Dejected, we turned round and took the crap road back to the highway.
Morere was the first place we came across with a van site so we stopped there. Although quite old school it was in a nice spot, by a stream. As tends to happen for some reason on Sundays I ended up spending most of the day lazily reading the newspaper with a beer.