Whanganui to Kinloch (Taupo, New Zealand)

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It’s Saturday morning and the Whanganui Traderd River Markets are in full swing by the time we leave the house. We both love a good market. This one is lovely with loads of home made foods and crafts. There are barbie doll dresses on doll sized coat hangers, wooden toys and lots of knitted items. There are cake stalls, coffee options galore (not that I drink coffee) and all the usual friend foods. We buy cheese, cakes and vegetables.
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Our destination today is Lake Taupo. But we focus merely on the places we are, not the destination. It’s not difficult with scenery like these endless mountains that we are driving through.
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We are passed on our way north bu about 60 Minis driving southward. The tiny low-slung cars hurtle around the twisting corners as though on tracks. Most are old classics with gaudy paint jobs that make the cars look even more fun. I suspect every Mini in New Zealand drives past us today.
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We stop at Raukawa Falls, which are visible from the road. There’s a large apple tree next to the lookout but, unfortunately, we are unable to reach the remaining apples, which are meters off the ground. So we settle for enjoying the view.
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Tiny Raetihi seems to be a sleepy town. The few shops in the main street seem to sell used goods, though there is an expensive art gallery that we browse. I get tjst artists take a lot of time to create their works, but I can’t see the value in paying $200 for a small photo mounted on canvas. AndI can’t help but wonder whether the artists or gallery actually ever make any money when they charge what Paul and I refer to as “artist prices”. We stop at the local church to take our own photos, rather than paying for someone else’s interpretation. It’s such a unique church for this part of the world and well located for photography. Even the views through the windows are pretty.
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We continue our drive until a bright red viaduct catches our eyes. This is the Makatote Viaduct, which was constructed in the first decade of the twentieth Century. Prior to this rail bridge being built, the Central Plateau of New Zealand’s North Island was isolated from development. Trains simply couldn’t cross the void to transport goods there. The viaduct has recently been renovated and restumped to provide ongoing rail access across the island.
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By the time we reach Mt Ruhapehu and Tongariro it’s late in the afternoon. Clouds block any views and drizzle is falling. There’s nothing to see so we leave Ruhapehu for another Kiwi adventure and drive to the start of the Tongariro Crossing hiking trail. Surprisingly, there are many tourists who have hiked in the bleak conditions and who are now waiting for bus transfers back to their hostels. I can’t understand hiking here in near white out conditions but each to their own. We’ll be back one day to see the volcanoes.
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And then, finally, Lake Taupo comes into view. It’s far larger than I had imagined. And it has cliffs along the edges, not just sloping shores.
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It’s a pretty drive around the lake with plenty of places to stop.
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Taupo proves to be a busy town filled to the brim with tourists and souvenir shops. We stop briefly to use some free wifi (all banks have free customer wifi during business hours), download maps to our accommodation and do a little grocery shopping. Then we drive 20km (14 miles) out of town to Kinloch where we’ve rented a bach (holiday cabin) for two nights. It’s cosy and within easy walk to the edge of the lake where we take in the final rays of sunshine.

Whanganui (Manawatu-Wanganui, New Zealand)

A sliver of sunshine filters through the clouds. It seems almost surreal after the rain and cyclonic weather that has been floating around.

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We head up to the Whanganui River Road. We’ve heard it’s beautiful and the river is the town’s biggest draw card. The tip was true and the Whanganui River Road is a classic drive. Mind you, we don’t get far before a landslide blocks our path. More experienced locals or people driving 4WDs would get through. But I don’t want to be that tourist who took the wrong risk. So we turn around.

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This isn’t a bad thing though because Whanganui has so much to offer. The Bason Gardens were created as a labour of love by a local many years ago. It’s now a large botanical garden where families are taking picnics. We sit a while in a picturesque gazebo before exploring the conservatory and house garden. This is a place to take your kids to run, play and instill a love of plants.

We follow the road down to the windswept black sand coast with it’s ever present tsunami warning signs. There’s no surfers today for the sea is brown with run off from the flooded rivers. However, there are two local men on quad bikes collecting drift wood.
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We drive back to Whanganui along country roads. We have no need to rush. We take a short walk along the beach at Castlecliff where the Whanganui River meets the sea. Green grasses blown in the increasingly strong winds. A long brown line extends across the sea about 400m  (1/4 mile) from the river mouth. Waves crash oddly where the force of the muddy river water meets the blue storm churned sea.

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Returning to Dolphin Townhouse we relax for an hour before driving to the local movie cinema. It’s cute on the outside and still in 1960s style inside. We watch Beauty and the Beast. The picture and sound quality are surprisingly good. A vocal old drunk storms out partway through the second song complaining that “there’s too much singing blergh”. Everyone giggles and settles in without his muttering. Children run around behind us, making stomping noises throughout the entire movie but that’s what little boys do when they watch a movie chosen by their sister.

And so ends our day in Whanganui.

Oaonui to Whanganui (Manawatu-Wanganui, New Zealand)

Our stay with Andrew amd Suzie has been so relaxing. The past two nights have felt like we were staying with relatives, not strangers who opened their home and lives to us. We’ve played with their big boofy dog, petted their cats, shared meals, swapped storied and watched some tele.  I’m almost sad our stay has to end yet excited about what lies ahead.
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Andrew recommends Dawson Falls on the slopes of Mt Taronake. He also gives us a tip about where to park to reduce the distance to the falls given my injury and the wet weather.
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Te Rere o Noke (as the Maori refer to Dawson Falls) drop 18m off a cliff formed by volcanic activity thousands of years ago. The path leads through an almosy fantasy like forest with gnarled trees, glossy green moss and black soil. I definitely must come back to New Zealand to hike some more. The falls are equally magnificent. They are loud and rough.
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We continue our drive through the farmlands between Mt Taranaki and the sea. There are odd mounds everywhere that look like the remnants of an eruption. I’ve never seen this kind of landscape before so it intrugues me.
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New Zealand is far more rural and isolated than I had anticipated. Red tin sheds and old houses dot the landscape.

Stratford appears as if from nowhere. There are no distance signs in New Zealand to announce the approach of towns. An art gallery is the main attraction for the town. It’s a groovy place with some gorgeous pieces. We buy two pottery monks.
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Eltham is a short drive away. The art gallery is closed when we arrive so we walk through a nearby garden.  There’s a wall of toys accompanied by a faerie chapel and castle. It’s adorable. The toy wall and garden was created after a local found a toy on her garden and placed it on a wall in the garden. The toy garden grew as more people placed toys there. Today, the founder’s ashes are housed in the faerie chapel. The art gallery is open after our walk. It’s a lovely collection and we buy some prints.

Our next stop is Hawera where there is another gallery and also an art school. The art world is in safe hands. We buy some paintings and the artist happens to be onsite. She signs the works.

It’s raining now and Cyclone Cook is racing towards Whanganui where we will stay tonight.  We’re not concerned though. Checking into Dolphin Townhouse we are greeted by our friendly Air BnB host. She has left us a wealth of local information, including the timetable for the local cinema. We have the townhouse to ourselves so can cook a meal, relax and sit out the storm.