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Taking a left turn

Gary Stoneley

Are you a mainstream traveler, always following the main highways or are you a diversionist, taking that chance to detour from the main route to explore and maybe encounter something new or different? On our recent trip north we decided to veer from the main flow of traffic and take a left turn.

Our journey started at Waiouru Army Museum, a favourite overnight stop over of ours on our trips up the North Island. Free for certified self-contained campers, with a security patrol and access to toilets and cafe during opening hours, its a safe stopover, even in the snow.

On this trip the morning dawned with clear blue skies and a breathtaking view of Mount Ruapehu. Instead of our usual sprint across the desert road we chose to turn left and head towards Ohakune.

First stop the site of the Tangiwai rail disaster Christmas Eve 1953. Considerable work has been put into this memorial reserve with information boards and new public toilets. We saw no signs to state you could not stop overnight.

Ohakune has made its claim to fame from mountain skiing and a giant carrot but it now offers so much more. As soon as you hit the town you see a masterful children's playground, full of life-size characters, play equipment and adjacent to a modern toilet block and dump station. Ruapehu District Council must be commended on the improvements they are making.

If travelling through Ohakune you must visit the chocolate eclair shop. What surprised us most in the town was the sheer number of cyclists. From being a winter skiing hotspot prior to Covid 19 the town has become a cycling mecca with multiple bike tour operators, cycling shops and associated adventure activities. The prime ride is the Old Coach Road suitable for all levels of riders. We have pencilled this in for our next trip.

From Ohakune we traveled to National Park and stayed overnight (free camping) in the station car park. This site has a Kiwi Camp amenities block.

This was our first time at purchasing a token (from the station cafe) and using a Kiwi Camp which included toilets, showers, laundry and basic kitchen facilities. With only a few camping vehicles during the day the site became a plethora of mingling international visitors together with kiwi travellers. Powered sites and electric vehicle charging points were also available, a sign of changing times.

Highlights for us were the steam train stopping off while we were there and getting our electric bikes out on the local tracks into the hills.

Continuing up the left side of the mountains and Lake Taupo we travelled past the Owhanga Lodge and Hotel which offers accommodation and adventure rafting activities and through Taumaranui, home of the Forgotten World Adventures to Te Kuiti.

Famous for shearing and Colin Meads we recommend taking a left turn before crossing the rail lines and walking across the amazing rail pedestrian bridge into the town centre. With everything from modern stained glass pictures portraying the regions history to a Japanese garden there is a lot to see.

Te Kuiti also has a small Kiwi Camp but we decided to carry on to Otorohanga stopping at a basic sheltered campground, with power and facilities backing onto the Otorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park. On our travels we have visited many kiwi houses but this one remains our favourite.

Te Kuiti and Otorohanga are near the Waitomo Glowworm Caves but on this trip we decided to travel the short distance to Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari ecological wildlife reserve.

The park comprises many hectares of native bush and walking tracks of varying lengths. A moderate level of fitness is recommended due to the undulating nature of the tracks. A highlight for us was coming across an abandoned kiwi burrow in the base of a large tree and an active one in a bank.

Self-contained campers can stay overnight in the outside carpark. This ensures you get to see and hear the birds at their most active early in the morning. We were more than happy to make a worthwhile donation towards the development of the reserve.

From here our adventure up the left side came to an end but we made sure we checked out some of the many camping reserves along the banks of the mighty Waikato River, got lost and were on the lookout for a red tractor.

But that is a story for another day. Turning off the main highway and taking that left turn was well worth it!

Photos ©2022 Gary Stoneley

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