Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

Early morning at the campsite

Raukawa Falls

Go on, you can do it

Climbing the Pa

A view from the Pa

The Waimarie - ancient working paddle steamer

Top of the Durie Hill Elevator

Durie Hill Memorial Tower

Whanganui River mouth at Wanganui

Durie Hill - elevator and tower

A street scene in Wanganui

The black sands at Patea

The cliffs at Patea


Our YMCA outdoor adventure camp site is in a beautiful very remote area. We joined the SH4 at Raetihi almost 24 miles north of us, and this morning we will travel the same distance south down the gorge. The road follows the path of the Mangawhero River and takes us over high hills, alongside gorges, and across valleys. Soon after joining the road last evening we came across a road sign informing that ‘Washouts’ had occurred for the next 50 miles and to take care. This happens when strong rain runs down the hill sides and takes away part of the road, (which has often been cut out of the steep sides of the hill). At the washout points the road becomes a single lane with indications as to which direction has the preference of travel. The warning sign indirectly informed us we were in for a dramatic journey; and we were.

I awoke expecting a good day and remembered to wish Sylvia a ‘happy birthday’, so that was a good start. The mist on the hills would soon be burnt off and the autumn colours would burnish in the sun. Last night our host had pointed us in the right direction for a 15 minute river walk to the Raukawa Falls, and after breakfast off we went. The path was alongside the river where there were many soggy bits and fallen trees amongst undergrowth which needed to be cut back. Well it is an adventure course type of camp I suppose. Anyway, the effort was worth it and we got really close to the falls which must be magnificent when in full flood.

Back at the camp we had a good look round, especially at the adventure course. Ladders and safety ropes were tied up high so there was no chance for Sylvia to demonstrate her skills on the climbing wall, (it’s usually me she has climbing the wall), or swinging from the apparatus.

It was 11am before we let ourselves out of the camp site and re-joined the SH4 for our special journey. I had been much taken by the Whanganui River road to Pipiriki and very surprised that this road was even better. Ten miles from Whanganui the gorge widened out at the branch road to Pipiriki and we looked out for the historical sites noted on our journey two days ago. The first one was a pile of bricks protected by a roof which were the only remains of an old factory. This was not the most photogenic part of the journey. Near by was the ancient site of a ‘Pa’, and the information made interesting reading.

Our mistake was to go and inspect the ‘Pa’, which is a fortified hill top much in the manner of the Greek Acropolis, (a hill by a town, usually on or near the coast, which the townsfolk climb when marauders turn up). The Waitaha Pa was a heavily defended ridge-top pa occupied by Mouri over 200 years ago. To supplement the natural defenses of the ridge, artificial defenses (double-ditch-and-bank) were constructed at both ends of the pa. These defenses would have been topped with tiers of wooden palisades. Erosion and stock damage have contributed to the slumping of the artificial defenses. In the hey day of the pa it would not have been a good idea to attack it. Our fighting capabilities were very low by the time we had climbed to the top, and we would have been sure to have been killed whilst taking in the views.

Sylvia’s birthday treat was to be taken for a ride in the Durie Hill Elevator. After parking near the town centre of Wanganui we walked across the river bridge and down the long tunnel (672 foot) into the hillside to reach the Elevator. Completed on August 2nd 1919 the Durie Hill Elevator is unique in the Southern Hemisphere. There is only one other elevator like it and that is in the former home, (the Eerie), of Hitler. The elevator rises 217 feet through the hill taking about 1 minute to reach the summit. For the cost of 40p each we were elevated; residents of the hill buy ticket books of ten at an average cost of 32p a journey but we settled for one trip as I did not want Sylvia to get too excited.

After taking photographs from the elevator observation platform on top of the building, we walked over to a Memorial Tower built in 1925 to honour the 513 local members of the Armed Services who died in the First World War. The base of the tower is 273 ½ feet above sea level. The height of the lookout deck was 100 feet and 176 steps higher, and as you have probably guessed, as a birthday treat I took Sylvia up the narrow spiraling staircase to enjoy the view. It was a lovely fine day and we walked down the steps back to sea level; (no expense spared).

The time was now 3.15pm and the next leg of the journey is up the east coat along SH3. This road is a major travel route and our journey was much quicker. The scenery was through pasturelands and the hills, though nice, were not dramatic, and there were few views of the coast. (I think we have been spoiled by the scenery of the last three days). We caught a view in the far distance of Mount Taranaki but the sun light of the evening behind the mountain spoiled the chance for photographs.

We chose for our repose, (poetic eh!), the coastal town of Patea where the camp site was by the river mouth. There were more occupants than we expected and many had the badge of the Motorhome and Caravan Club we belong to. Whilst I was connecting the electric supply to the van Sylvia explored the amenities and spoke with the large group of people who were enjoying happy hour. We did not take much persuading to join them.

After our evening meal we met up again with our new friends in the meeting room and enjoyed a good chat and participation in the solving of many puzzles the organizer had brought with them. I was encouraged, (not much needed), to tell 4 comic monologues and it was an enjoyable time. A lovely birthday; day time treats and a night out with entertainment. What more could a girl want.

Our new friends belonged to a local caravan club who had begun to accept motorhomers and at one time even had members with tents, and this was one of their own rallies. We were invited to the final morning meeting and contributed to the club funds whilst only taking one raffle ticket each; and then winning first prize of a bag of food products. Not the best way to repay such kindness. Although this was the end of the rally we knew some were staying for a further day and we chose to do likewise. After saying goodbye to the leavers we went to explore the beach area.

This was the first truly black sand I had encountered which did not contain an oil slick. The volcanic nature of the area is the cause for the colour of the beaches. We walked about one and a half mile alongside the high cliffs before the sea prevented us walking further. It was another fine day, and we were lucky, especially as we had washed the bedding as well as a full load of clothing and the camp did not have a drying machine.

Our return to camp was by way of the river walk which had access to the site. After a late lunch followed by another happy hour we again met up at night with our remaining friends for a round the table chat. In reply to their questions Sylvia produced the map of New Zealand on which she has diligently been marking the roads we have traveled; and they were much impressed. There were several nice offers of hospitality made to us, including a driveway with electric power available for a nights stay. We had fallen in with a bunch of very nice people, which I have to say has been a common feature of the groups we have met up with on our travels.

Well armed with suggestions of what we should aim to see in this area and on our forth coming travels, we retired for the night.

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