My plan for today had been based on spending last night in the Mokau area, a couple of hours further down the road than we had been able to make it last night. Inevitably that put us well behind schedule but since I had (wisely) not filled in the day with planned activities there was time at the end of the day as a buffer.
It had rained while we were at the supermarket last night and there were some heavier showers later. We were early to bed (little else to do in a campervan) and slept reasonably well once we got warm under the supplied bedding. We woke a little before 7:00 am with my Fitbit recording almost 9 hours of sleep with close to an hour of wakefulness.
We ate our regular breakfast of mueslis with yoghurt and a cup of coffee. That would have been enough but Majella cooked up bacon and eggs as a special treat. She is determined that if we were camping we would do it right.
After declining to drive yesterday evening Majella opted to take the wheel this morning and held onto it all day. We were on the road about 8:30 am and heading south. Mum had asked on Facebook a couple of days ago if we had seen a kiwi. They are not easy to see but we knew of a large kiwi sculpture in Otorohanga from a previous trip with friends in 2010. That was on our way south so we headed there for a photograph and discovered that, had we had the time and inclination, Otorohanga also has a kiwi house where we might have seen the real thing. We did that in Hokitika on the South Island with Mum and the family in 2014 but had not been impressed by the little we could see in the gloom that is home to the nocturnal kiwi.
At Te Kuiti we missed the Big Shearer which we had seen on the 2010 trip and took the westerly road toward New Plymouth. On the hill just out of town we stopped for coffee. I had thought we would go to a coffee shop but Majella insisted we boil the billy and sit in the van. She had wanted a spot with a view and we did have an outlook over the town and beyond.
By that time I had worked out that the TomTom supplied with the van had a faulty power connection and stepped around that using my car power unit and a micro USB cable. I had also solved the Bluetooth connection to the car audio so we had music from my iPhone and navigation.
Even before we reached Otorohanga we had caught glimpses of the snowy tops of Tongariro and Ruapehu above distant ridges. We had been enjoying the green of the countryside and noting the running streams – foreign sights to Australians. A little further along we passed through some spectacular gorges with sandstone cliffs and eventually found a spot where we could stop and catch photographs of the green countryside and of the distant snowy mountains.
We pressed on, following the Awakino River through narrow gorges. The road was winding and included a short single lane tunnel in a very tight section of gorge. Eventually we reached the coast by the mouth of the river. As we approached that point there was a sign announcing that this was whitebait country. The river in that area was lined with small huts and piers for fishing. We had tried whitebait in 2014 and were not sufficiently impressed to bother again.
Just beyond Awakino we passed the Seaview camping ground that had been my target for last night. That was on the edge of Mokau where we caught the first glimpse of Taranaki and found our way to the seashore for a clearer view.
Further on we stopped above the estuary of the Tongaporutu River for a photograph. Then we crossed the river and saw a sign to the Three Sisters. Majella cannot resist references to sisters so we had to look. We followed the signs past a row of ‘bachs’ (NZ holiday beach houses) on the river bank and found a car park with a sign sporting a 1900 photo of three rock pillars by the river mouth. The sign told how the columns gradually eroded and new ones formed as the river, sea, and wind did their work but we could see no sign of any columns from where we stood and were not inclined to walk through the bush in hope of seeing something. Majella drove on.
Just north of New Plymouth we reached my first target for the day, Te Rewa Rewa Bridge. It is an impressive metal bridge with a massive arch formation shaped to frame Taranaki. I had seen it in a Facebook post by Bruce Stevens a couple of months ago. We were much luckier than he was with a clear view of Taranaki and just enough clouds to make it interesting.
By then it was lunch time. My original plan had been to get lunch at our next stop but that was at least 30 minutes away and we had the makings of lunch in the van. Ham and cheese sandwiches with coffee refreshed us sufficiently to carry on.
The road to Pukeiti Gardens is signed as a scenic drive and it is. It winds through the edges of New Plymouth and into the green countryside. For the first while there are views of Taranaki but eventually the foothills intervene and the mountain is hidden. The gardens were established in the 1950s by a trust but are now operated by the regional council. They are large enough to accommodate about 25 km of walking paths that take different routes through a variety of collections of plants. I was surprised to find that entrance is free. We took the Valley of the Giants walk which takes in the large rhododendrons and is estimated to take about 50 minutes to walk. There were relatively few plants blooming, not surprising for this time of year, but we enjoyed the walk and hearing and seeing several native birds. Back at the entrance we had hot chocolate (Majella) and coffee with boysenberry fudge before heading on.
The drive on from Pukeiti was just as impressive and sometimes daunting as we passed through narrow moss-lined cuttings that seemed just wide enough for one vehicle. We did not meet any others but would probably have had to back up if we did. Once we reached the lower ground on our path to Opunake we passed the foothills and had clear views of another side of Taranki. It really does dominate the regional landscape.
We found the camping ground at Opunake and checked in. It seems lightly booked but that would not be the case in warmer months. We were close enough to town to walk to the supermarket and pick up some steak and vegetables for dinner. I walked down to the black sand beach to see the sunset but Majella stayed in the relatively warm van. We enjoyed some cheese and crackers with red wine as entree before Majella cooked our steak and vegetables. I managed to get Bluetooth link from my phone to the media unit so we can enjoy our own music. We seem to be getting the hang of camping.