Thursday, 19 February 2015

White Cliffs of…..Mangaweka

We said a final farewell to Kuripapango and turned right at the gate. Next stop Mangaweka.

We cross the Ngaruroro River for the last time and start the steady and slow climb up the “Gentle Annie’. From the top of the first climb we look back down on the river and can see part of the oxbow, the camp is around the far side of centre hill. Across the valley is Mt Kuripapango where you can clearly see the track I climbed  running up the ridge.

The ‘Gentle Annie’ was a lot longer than I remember with the road winding it’s way up, down and around for about 10kms. We were a little worried about hauling the van through the range but as it turned out it was a piece of cake compared with some of the roads we’ve travelled in the South Island. Although, going by some fellow RVers we spoke to in camp,  it’s a longer & steeper haul coming the other way, from west to east.

We had a great view of the Central Plateau mountains once we’d finally finished with climbing and were passing through rolling farmland. Some of the largest high country sheep stations in the North Island are located along the Napier-Taihape Road and other than the green crop paddocks the pasture looked bone dry. A long & hot summer has parched the land.

We stopped on the side of the road where I took this panorama looking south east, the Rangitikei River valley is somewhere down there.

We stopped to check out the historic Springvale Suspension Bridge, built in 1925 as the route from Taihape to Hastings became more popular, especially with farmers getting produce to the port in Napier.

And right along side is the new Springvale Bridge, built in 1970.

The reserve beside the bridges is a freedom camping area and would be a great place to stop for a night or two especially if you were a keen trout fisherman. We only stopped to check out the bridge this time. While there this tiny retro caravan on a big road trip pulled into the reserve. I’d seen it the night before camped at Kuripapango. It wasn’t going to be the last time we saw it either.

You can see here that the north facing slopes of the hills behind are very dry.

Further on down the road we speed past a large collection of farm buildings which belong to Erewhon Station, a very large sheep station (originally spelt Erehwon, the reverse of ‘nowhere’)- there’s also another Erewhon Station in the Canterbury high country, I wonder why, is there a connection? Other than both of them being out in the middle of nowhere. In the 1870s this Erewhon Station carried around 80,000 sheep. The wool was taken to Napier by packhorses or mules and quite a few were lost while negotiating the narrow track down and up the Ngaruroro River Gorge- now known as the ‘Gentle Annie’.

Just out of Taihape, David has to screech to a halt, when, as we round a corner, I spot this cute little church on a rise ahead of us. This is Opaea Maori Church, it's beside a marae.

We stopped in Taihape to dump the tanks (which, with careful management, lasted well over the two weeks at Kuripapango) and have a coffee at a cafe. Then we continued on south, now on State Highway One which, as it happens, wasn’t very busy. But it still felt like a 10 lane highway after two weeks out in the wops!

Finally we reached Mangaweka, a small settlement the rest of the country has left behind. Abandoned buildings litter the main street which was bypassed by SH1 back in the 1970s. Adventure tourism and farming are now the mainstays. Although Mangaweka is still famous (in NZ) for two things; a DC3 plane that is now tearooms & the beautiful white cliffs that form a gorge for the Rangitikei River.

We turn off the main road and head down towards the river where there are two camping grounds, one on either side of the river, the commercial campground is across the bridge. A more rustic one with limited amenities is in a reserve just before the bridge- the commercial campground collect the fees ($7pp per night)so there is some connection there. We’ve heard from several people that this one is a great place to stay.

There are two levels to the campground and we’re keen to park up on the lower level beside the river rather than up top where it’s just another grassy patch albeit with beautiful white cliffs as a backdrop.

The road down to the lower level is very narrow and overgrown but I walk ahead and we squeeze through. Luckily it’s soft branches that rub down our sides. Take note of the river level measuring stick! We’d have been outta there quick smart had it started to rain heavily!

Behind us the bridge crosses the river, we hear a gently ‘thump, thump’ as each vehicle crosses. It’s a one way bridge with wooden boards & there’s a 10kph speed restriction.

The Rangiteiki river starts on the eastern slopes of the Kaimanawa Mountains on the Central Plateau and flows southwest for around 185km. For much of it’s course the river flows through steep gorges with high papa rock (greywacke) cliffs. The river is very popular for fishing, canoeing, jet boating and white water rafting. Like the Ngaruroro, this river is running very low,  though we can see that it has crossed the gravel in front of our van very recently as there is still damp mud.

All the photos below have people in them, hard to believe but look carefully, that will give you an indication of the sheer height of the cliffs. They are very impressive and rise near vertical from the river. A sign in the campground warns not to swim underneath the cliffs (ignored by many), due to their soft structure. And not to be too concerned if you hear crashing sounds in the night, very few slips reach the water as the soft face breaks away on a regular basis.

There’s a fly fisherman in the middle left photo, I zoomed in & that’s him on the right. David went fishing both evenings we were at the camp; he hooked one small fish & landed a beauty which he released, much to the pleasure of tourist watching him from a nearby rock. It was a surprise there were any fish in the pool, it was near where everyone went swimming.

The following day we headed inland exploring (more on that in another blog) but stopped over the other side of the river to check out the commercial campground- a nice spot too- and the river & bridge from that side. This is looking towards our camp, you can see our van peeking out of the undergrowth and people down at the river’s edge.

The Mangaweka Bridge first took traffic across the river in 1904 but was never officially opened. The community have finally planned an  ‘Opening & Pioneer Day’ for 7th March, 2015, 111 years later. Better late than never!

It was a tight squeeze getting back out of the lower level but hey, we don’t do things by halves, we do push the boundaries occasionally but that gets us into some special spots.

We had a lovely two days at Mangaweka but we were both keen to get back on the road & head further south, getting ever closer to crossing back to the Mainland.

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