Plans change. I had planned to spend tonight at Opotiki on the Bay of Plenty coast. That was for no reason other than to break our journey before setting off on a clockwise drive around the north east corner of New Zealand, returning via Gisborne. I had thought we might go further than Opotiki thus building a buffer of time for added flexibility in coming days. When I looked at it last night I realized that going anti-clockwise on what appeared to be winding coastal roads would keep us further from any cliff edges. Our navigation aids suggested Gisborne was under 5 hours drive and doable if we decided to go further than Opotiki.

It had rained yesterday afternoon and that continued through the night with some heavy showers. It was still raining this morning. It was also warmer than recent mornings – possibly the combined effect of lower altitute, lower latitude, cloud cover, and local geothermal activity. Regardless of the reason that was a welcome change. The night was so comparatively warm that Majella woke in the small hours and switched off the heater. Needless to say, the cold was not keeping her awake for once.

We were moving soon after 7:00 am, ate breakfast, discarded the idea of stripping down to swimming gear for another turn in the thermal baths, and were tidied up and on the road by 8:30 am. It was my turn to drive and I stopped first at the service station on the highway where we had seen cheaper than usual diesel yesterday. Then we headed east and north toward Opotiki.

Most of the early part of the driving was through forestry plantation. At first the land was relatively flat but later it was hilly. That seemed to make little difference to how plantation pines were planted or harvested. Flat and steep hillside alike were stripped bare in harvested sections. Some areas that had been harvested but not yet prepared for replanting were visibly eroded. I had wondered why the rivers and streams were often running brown with soil. Although New Zealand makes much of its ethics of conservation and sustainability some of the forestry practices seem to run counter to that.

We paused at White Pine Bush to make our morning coffee. The fence there was adorned with gumboots and reminded us of a similarly decorated fence in the South Island that had been somewhat controversially covered with bras. Before driving on we walked across the footbridge and around the 250 m loop through a remaining pocket of native bush that escaped clearing for farming or forestry. It was dense and dark in the rain with a mix of tall old trees and understory including tree ferns and palms.

It was still raining when we reached Opotiki and we could see no reason to stop at a beachside town on a cold wet day. I drove on toward Gisborne. 

The first half of the 140 km follows the Waioeka River up its gorge. The road winds along the river between steep bushy hillsides with little perceptible gain in elevation for most of the way and then has a final sudden push over the watershed. We stopped briefly at a memorial to the road building effort. I walked down stairs to the riverside and read some of the material. Majella preferred to stay dry in the van.

As we drove down the other side of the range we looked for somewhere to have lunch without success. I had thought we might find a winery serving food but though we saw vines we did not see any winery offering tastings, let alone food. When we reached the edge of town I stopped and searched for a shopping mall thinking that would have food and other supplies we needed. 

Kaiti Mall was in the direction we needed to go for the camping ground I had identified so we headed there and found it was a small strip mall rather than anything major. We bought some things at the supermarket but the bakery had no bread left and there was nowhere serving food that we wanted to eat.

I searched for bakeries and we headed for those. The first we found had one loaf of bread left so Majella bought that. By then it was after 2:00 pm and Majella pronounced our chances of finding anywhere serving a decent lunch dead. It was still raining and not a good day for sightseeing in Gisborne so we headed toward the camping ground and stopped at a beachside parking area where we made and ate sandwiches in the van.

I had intended filling up with diesel on the way out of town but, expecting a service station on the outskirts, I had not stopped at one nearer the city centre than Kaiti Mall. There was not one further out so we headed back into Gisborne, filled up, and then headed back toward our campsite. The road signs indicate 324 km to Opotiki via the coast road and, whether we take two days, camping at Te Araroa, or drive straight round there will not be many opportunities to top up fuel on the way.

Beach near Gisborne, NZ

Our camping ground at Tatapouri by the Sea looks like it would be a pleasant spot on a sunny summer day. In the winter wet it is not so attractive though we have a view through the rain of the grey green sea rolling in under grey clouds. Reception was unattended but a local electrician who must have been doing some needed repair work was leaving and told me the managers were away but there were two young women who might help. We could see no sign of them but drove in, found ourselves a space with power and set up.

Majella was keen to do some laundry but I thought it would be good to shower and change first to maximize the benefits. I found the showers but no hot water so I gave up on that for the moment. We got the laundry started and I found the young women who told me the managers should be back in the morning to check us in and gave me the WiFi password – essential since the nearby hill blocks phone reception.

We are now settled for the evening. The laundry has been drying in front of that very useful fan heater. I’m enjoying a beer and Majella is planning to mix up her special ginger beer and lemon brew once her laundry is dry. We will make dinner from the supplies we bought earlier. The forecast is promising some sunshine tomorrow.