Our next destination is Akitio Beach but before turning onto Route 52 we took a short detour up the road to Weber so I could photograph the church. Weber is another small farming community similar to many that we've passed through on our way south; a handful of houses, a rugby field & hall, a school, a war memorial and a church and that's life in a small country settlement. There's also what looks to have once been the hotel that's now a private residence.
We turn around and head back to Route 52. Route 52, once a state highway (SH52), is a meandering 200km rural country road that links Waipukurau to Masterton. It is the only road access to many of the large hill country farms along the east coast. Nowadays it is also 'sold' as one of the cycling routes on the NZ Cycle Trails.
There are many farm ponds and dams along the road and as we pass I'm always scanning for waterfowl- various species of ducks, NZ scaups, black swans, pukekos, the ever present turkeys, pied stilts and spur-wing plovers are common. On a few occasions I've also spied a pair of tiny NZ Dabchicks/Weweia- these are also known as NZ Grebe and are a relative to my favourite Australasian Crested Grebes which are only found in the South Island. Dabchicks also carry their chicks on their backs like the Crested Grebe (see the link above for my photos from last summer).
This pond was close to the road and I managed to sneak up the Dabchicks before they saw me and took off.
We're now in the Wairarapa where the pea weevil was discovered back in July. All commercial and home gardeners are banned from growing peas or moving pea plant material out of the area for the next two years in a bid to rid the area of the nasty pest that's threatening the livelihood of many NZ pea crop farmers.
Commercial crops, worth about $15 million to the local economy, were grown by around 120 pea farms in the area so it will be a huge loss to the Wairarapa region. Not dissimilar to the PSA threat which kiwifruit growers had to contend with. I wondered if Sweet Peas were part of the ban, but apparently not.
The weather was fast deteriorating on our way south and we tossed up whether to head out to Akitio Beach or carry on further down the coast. It's 30km to Akitio from Route 52 and while there is a loop road, part of that was gravel which usually wouldn't be an issue, but as David had just cleaned the vehicles he wasn't keen on getting them dirty again that quick. So it was going to be there and back on the same road.
Akitio was deserted with not a soul in sight other than one lonely fisherman way out on the sand bar beside the river mouth.
We drove to the campground (there's no freedom camping beach side), it was quite a small camp and with the weather as it was and just starting to rain, it didn't look too inviting. We turned around and drove back along the beachfront, parking on the reserve in front of the baches to have lunch and decide what to do.
I loved this busy cottage we parked near, with all it's plants, pots, knick-knacks and flotsam, it looks like permanent residents live here.
There's no shortage of driftwood at Akitio.
Even the huge sand bar separating the river from the sea was covered in wood. There must be some very rough seas along this coast and many logs and trees washed down the river.
After lunch we decided to head back to Route 52 and stop in Pongaroa for the night. I'm sure if the sun was shining and the weather was more conducive we'd have stopped for a night but we were both happy to keep moving.
On the way out we stopped near the bridge over the river so I could take a photo of this gorgeous homestead. This belongs to Marainanga Station, and it's for sale if anyone is interested.
I'd visited Akitio with some friends as a teenager, we'd stayed with the brother of one friend on Akitio Station (he was a shepherd). All I have is the memory of driving forever (from Napier) to get to Akitio, so I was keen to see if I could recall anything of the beach. Nope. Nothing. I also have a girlfriend whose parents farmed near Pongaroa and she tells me we visited Akitio too. It still didn't ring any bells.
Close to the river bridge there were three large homesteads and one woolshed on view, the other sheds were tucked down the back of the drives. I'm not too sure which station the woolshed and the homestead on the left belong to but the one of the right is Akitio Station Homestead.
We stop for a photo beside the very impressive sculpture, made from railway sleepers, at the entrance to Akitio Station.
And then carry on back along the same road, winding our way through the same scenery and farms, passing the same sheep and same farmers still in their yards docking and sorting their flocks. Farmers who must be thinking "I'm sure we just saw that going the other way an hour or so ago". A sixty kilometre detour is nothing to us tiki-tourers.
There's a lovely dump-station in Pongaroa (can you have a lovely dump-station?) - it's not something you expect to find out in the back-blocks but very much appreciated all the same. We empty all our tanks and fill with fresh water and then head to...
...the Pongaroa Domain, where it's just us and the birds for the night.
A small donation is required if you are staying and it's $10 extra a night for power and access to the toilets & a shower- there's a small ensuite beside the club rooms. The camping area overlooks the Pongaroa Domain and rugby field where I'm sure there has been many a great match over the years- today there are only sheep & their lambs. I was told by one of the residents, that back when he was a lad (and I'd say he was pushing 90), Pongaroa had four rugby teams made up of mainly station hands. And that one of the farm stations reached from here to the coast!
We decided to plug into the power and give the van a boost, the only problem being the slope we had to park on to reach the power plug. I think it's the first time ever I've been able to walk beneath the nose without ducking! We did look a little strange bow high but I'm sure the only person who noticed was David.
On the other side of the row of pine trees behind us were more sheep and their lambs- I found these two little cuties keeping warm in their wooly jumpers and nibbling on the grasses. Their mum nowhere in sight when they spotted me, they took off over the brow looking for her.
I thoroughly enjoyed our short stay at the Domain, I'd have to say that the variety of birds in the tiny area was amazing. A number of tui were visiting, and chasing each other out of the small kowhai tree beside the van...
...half a dozen hefty Kereru/NZ Woodpigeons were defying gravity and doing acrobatics in the nearby tree lucerne...
...a Scared Kingfisher/Kotere was using the fence posts as a launching pad to collect grasshoppers and other bugs out of the grass beside the carpark. A Spur-wing Plover pair and their two chicks were feeding on the rugby field and letting everyone know of my whereabouts as I crept about trying to get a few good shots.
Half a dozen rooks roosted in the pines nearby and a dozen swallows swooped and dived around the clubrooms. I also saw a pair of reasonably rare kakariki/NZ Parakeet fly by. And the best sighting of all was a first for the season; a Shining Cuckoo/pīpīwharauroa who most people only hear but never see (super zoom shot on the bottom right, but evidence all the same!). They have only just flown back in from the Pacific Islands for the breeding season- watch out Grey Warblers, your nests will be invaded very soon.
It has been lovely to see how many Kowhai trees there are scattered about the farmland, along streambeds and through the bush on our travels south. And they're all flowering at the moment so there are brilliant splashes of yellow across the landscape. It's unusual to have such a bright NZ native tree and of course they're supplying lots of food to our nectar loving native birds and honey bees.
Before we left Pongaroa later the next morning, I shot out in the ute to take my church photos and check the little village out. This church is now a pre-school and as I maneuvered to get a better shot these two pet lambs gave me away by baaing loudly and racing up and down the fence line looking for a feed.
It was while I was taking photos of some of the historic buildings around the village that I met my 90 year old local man and his huge, big fat cat; they came out to the gate across the road from the Our Lady of the Rosary church. He told me he'd lived in Pongaroa all his life and things just weren't the same anymore. And did I know that the railway was once coming to Pongaroa from Masterton and if it had, it would be a bustling country town similar to and replacing Pahiatua.
He followed me down the road, chatting away, as I took a photo of the Puketoi Lodge, for the Historic Places Trust...
...and then told me not to miss the memorial to Pongaroa's most famous son and Nobel prize winner, Maurice Wilkins. I had wondered what on earth the unusual sculpture of three stones on the corner of the main street were for (click photo to enlarge).
He also didn't forget to tell me that the big pile of burnt rubble and timber on the corner opposite the three stones used to be the general store and had only recently been razed to the ground under very suspicious circumstances. It was also rumoured there was $10,000 of jewels lost in the ashes. Small town talk is still alive and kicking.
Other than the pub the rest of these Pongaroa buildings were empty. The grand concrete entrance is to some long forgotten park.
Our next stop is Masterton 90kms away, to fuel up and buy a few groceries before we head to our next beach Castlepoint. There are no fuel pumps in Pongaroa and we haven't seen many since leaving Napier. When David asks the rural postie, who is checking his phone beside the dump station, he tells David a local farmer will happily 'see you right' if you're in a jam. We'll be fine, but what a friendly bunch of people we're meeting on our travels.
The map is getting very cluttered- you can access the actual map by clicking on the little square box on the right at the top- hover over it and it will say 'View larger map', then click to open.