Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

Our first view of Mt Taranaki

John at the farmers market

The sea front at New Plymouth

The sea front at New Plymouth

Mt Taranaki

Mt Taranaki

Cape Egmont Lighthouse

A view from Surf Beach Lookout

Ski lift base at Ohakune

Mountain road waterfall where Smeagol caught his fish

Another mountain road waterfall


I heard the slight sound of a car leaving at 7.30am and knew John, our host, had left to promote his business, ‘Cottage Wines’, at the local Farmers Market. We left at 10am after thanking our hostess Denise for a very nice overnight stay. As we drove towards the town centre Sylvia exclaimed, “Wow, look at that”. “Where”, said I glancing around. “Right ahead of us”, was the reply. Infront was a wonderful view of Mount Taranaki resplendent with its mantle of first snow of the winter and a backdrop of lovely blue sky. I had begun to doubt if we were destined to see this mountain, and now we would be able to take as many photographic memories as we wished.

Our first visit was to a town garage where we knew we could discharge our ‘grey water’ and then we sought out the Farmers Market. Most of the fresh vegetables had already been bought but we managed to get the food we wanted, and we bought a big bag of freshly picked Feijoa, a new fruit to us which I have yet to try. It was not a big market but the stall holders were friendly and it seems to be an asset to the area. After speaking with John at his ‘Cottage Wines’ stall, and thanking him once again for his helpful suggestions for our future travels, we said our good byes and went to inspect the sea front.

New Plymouth has almost 4 miles of recreational pathway alongside the sea front. As we walked along we observed many walkers, joggers, some on skateboards, and the fastest was a man with no legs propelling his three wheel tricycle by hand. I don’t know if he is a racer but I wouldn’t mind a bet on him if he does race. This summer seems to have been extended by several weeks and we were enjoying a beautiful day. By the time we were ready to leave New Plymouth it was lunchtime so we drove south along SH45 in search of a nice spot where we had a good view of the mountain whilst we ate.

Along this road, which is known as the surf highway, are many ‘no exit’ roads, (known as no through roads back home), leading to the sea front and the surfing beaches. We investigated one of the roads but there was little action on the surf today. About half way round ‘surf highway’ we visited Cape Egmont Lighthouse and took even more photographs of Mount Taranaki, (also known as Mount Egmont). It is going to be hard to decide which photographs of the mountain to delete from our records but we have far more than we need.

A visit inwards towards the mountain took us along through farming areas but we didn’t find the historical Maori site that we were looking for, and so we took another road back to surf highway. Our last attempt to gain an exciting moment was to visit a sea lookout point, which proved to be a short climb to a wooden deck by the waves in a desolate and windy spot. It was time to drive away south.

After checking out a Park Over Property for the night at Manaia, which transpired to be on some spare land, we decided this one wasn’t for us and drove onwards to Howera to spend the night on an official camp site.

Our ultimate destination is the Tongariro National Park and Mount Ruapehu, the highest mountain in the North Island. There is no direct route to the Tongariro and we have chosen to back track to Wanganui and then take the SH4 northwards for 61 miles to Raethi where we branch right to the town of Ohakune. The map on our blog site will show us as having gone in a direct line from New Plymouth, and you know this is untrue.

The road back to Whanganui was as enjoyable as we had expected it to be and the road north up the SH4 was as spectacular in reverse, as it had been when we drove south along the road on the eleventh and twelfth of April. On arrival at Ohakune we checked into the camp site at 4.15pm and walked into the town centre. We had again been blessed with nice weather for our journey but rain is expected sometime tomorrow.

Ohakune is the town at the southern gateway to the Tongariro National Park World Heritage Site. It is known as the après ski capital of the North Island. It is also a forestry centre, a farming centre, and home to around 1,400 people. During the summer Ohakune is a base for numerous outdoor activities and in the winter it becomes a lively snow sports centre. We thought the first buildings we saw were a bit tacky but behind the façade the town seemed to be ok.

It has been settled since around the 1600’s. Later, railway surveyors arrived looking for a way through the Central North Island. Once the area opened up, saw-millers arrived, then Chinese market gardeners and then farmers. In the 1950’s and 60’s the Ohakune people built the Ohakune Mountain Road, providing access to the southern slopes of Mt Ruapehu. They attracted a commercial operator for the ski fields of Turoa and the town and the ski industry has thrived since that time.

The 11 mile Ohakune mountain road starts 1,967 feet above sea level, and rises to 5,310 feet. As the road goes up the lower forest gives way to mountain cedar and beech, before changing to specialised alpine shrubs and at the top even the mountain herbs are subdued.

We awoke on Tuesday 22nd to rain and the mountain walks we had planned no longer seemed such a good idea. After visiting the Park Rangers Office we drove to the top of the mountain road. Once above the tree line we entered thin cloud and found there were areas of road where clay type rock had rolled down onto the road. A steep drop was to our left hand side and I was glad when we reached the parking area for the ski lifts and knew we would be driving on the inside of the road on our descent. The café at the very top, and the ski lift to reach it, was not open today. Just as well as Sylvia would have refused to go up on the ski lift through the cloud; we started back down.

At one point of the road there was a short walk to view a waterfall and whilst Sylvia braved the cold and rain I sacrificed my enjoyment by staying in the van and making the coffee. Further down the road was the opportunity to view another waterfall from the van. The main waterfall walk was a 50 minute round trip away from the road and we decided to give this one a miss. Once down the mountain road visibility became much better.

Surprising as it may seem, there is another side to Mount Ruapehu. We decided there was little point in staying at Ohakune today and so we set off on a 25 mile drive around the mountain to Whakapapa.

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