A trip for work for a one-day workshop on the other side of the North Island evolved into a little road-trip due to the places we planned to stop on the route. I say a little road-trip as it was only nine-hundred-odd kilometres over three days. That doesn’t really give a picture of how difficult and slow the driving was in places as we took in four significantly windy and steep roads: the Gentle Annie (Napier to Taihape), the Paraparas (Raetihi to Whanganui), the Forgotten Highway (Stratford to Taumaranui) and the Napier-Taupo highway. I’d think a case could be made for those being among the most tortuous long roads in the North Island – each crossing some very hilly and rugged country.
Somehow I ended driving all those, which was fine but tiring. I was exciting to be driving the Gentle Annie for the first time I remember – I know this rough road was mentioned every so often when I was young, but I have no recollection of having traveled it. Mostly I was interested to see it firsthand as I think bikepacking it one summer will be great as it opens so much more country to explore. It’s no longer a gravel road, but with hilliness of the road is well-known and spoken of in hushed tones if bicycles are part of the same conversation. It was stunning country and I look forward to exploring it more slowly by bike.
I relived a very small part of my Tour Aotearoa driving into Whanganui for lunch before distant memories of university summer holiday work flooded back as we went through South Taranaki. Work things done for the day, there was just enough time to pull bikes out of the car ride the famed Coastal Path in New Plymouth before dark. It was all very pleasant and nice to be out in the fresh sea air after a day mostly in the car.
So many choices; I want to know if Colin’s cat is still in the same place.
Fortunately we had some dim lights to do a bit of urban mountain-biking through a couple of reserves and parks as night fell. That could even be the first time I’ve been to Pukekura Park, shocking.
The WorkSafe workshop proved useful – but Taranaki sure was a long way to go for it. But it did enable a plan to be hatched for the drive home in what was now the weekend. That plan took us through the twisty Forgotten World Highway into another extremely hilly area. Thankfully we made the Whangamomona Hotel just before nightfall as it meant we could take in the spectacular views across this remote area. That there is even a road, let alone a rail line, through here beggars belief. Some of the rail tunnels are over a kilometre long – which is very unusual for NZ.
Much to our surprise, the Whangamomona Hotel – seemingly in the middle of nothing but a lot of hills – was absolutely packed. Just as well we’d booked rooms; a birthday party had really swelled the crowd, I’m unsure if the group on a collection of classic motorbikes was separate or not. We enjoyed the history of the place as we waited for dinner – the kitchen was understandably very busy. The history is rather quirky – not just because it’s in the backblocks and has a proud pioneering & frontier history, but also because the town seceded from NZ in 1989 and declared itself a republic when they were unhappy with new regional council boundaries.
I had a bit of time to wander the town before we left Saturday morning for the rest of the adventure – it didn’t take long.