Day 9: SOUND OF MUSIC
Our clothes were still wet due to the miniscule laundry facilities the neighboring sister motel (of the Gwendoline Court, Rotorua) had. Consequently, they started to stink. Oh well, can’t worry about that now. We had to jet.
After spending a stormy day in the thermal wonderland of Roturua yesterday, it was time to make the adventurous drive to Wairoa. When I planned out this trip, the one part that concerned me the most was the 120km stretch of unsealed road between Rotorua and Wairoa. Any number of things could go wrong when you’re driving that deep into nature. Besides, I had read somewhere that this road tended to break up marriages as couples would argue after finding out it wasn’t the shortcut one of them hoped it would be. Since Julie and I just married a week ago, I prayed this would not be our fate.
It was 4:45am when we left the Gwendoline Court Motel in Rotorua and took SH38 towards Murupara. It was still heavily overcast with showers dumping on us on and off. The road was quite straight as we got closer to Murupara.
It was only 5:45am when we passed through Murupara. Good thing we pumped up fully at Rotorua because it didn’t look like anything was open. It wasn’t long before the road became unsealed and quickly the driving slowed down and became a winding affair.
After about 45 minutes of unsealed driving, we saw a sign that said “Totarapapa Falls and Stream.” I hadn’t planned on seeing this since I had never read about it before, but I pulled the car over and decided to have a look. Just then it was raining cats and dogs. I got drenched as I was photographing the seemingly hidden waterfall as it was covered by a thick layer of foliage. Julie stayed in the car wanting no part of the inclement weather.
And so we continued along the rugged gravel road as it twisted and turned its way through the native and unspoiled forest of Te Urewera National Park.
…and not just any ordinary lake. It was Lake Waikaremoana.
Formed by a landslide that blocked the flow of the Waikaretaheke River, this lake now lies in the middle of some of the largest tract of native forest in the North Island.
It was a welcome sight as it signaled to us that we were getting close to the waterfalls we were after…
Even though the skies were starting to clear up, the wind was blowing very hard. Even as I got out of the car to take photos of the lake, the car was rocking, which was a little unnerving that the wind could be so powerful that it could do this. So we didn’t stay away from the car for long before we got back in and kept moving.
Finally at 8am we reached a pullout where the 37m Mokau Falls tumbled beneath us.
At last a major waterfall!
Next, we proceeded to the bridge that stood above Mokau Falls. When we looked back towards the spot that we saw the falls from, we noticed another white column tumbling its way through the dense forested cliff. It was Tauwhare Falls. While not as impressive as Mokau Falls, it was worth a stop and a look.
In another 30 minutes, we finally started to see some civilization as the Aniwaniwa Visitor Center stood near the Aniwaniwa River. We parked the car and finally had a chance to spend some time away from it.
We paid a visit to the nicely built center, where we bought some maps and some literature on the region. Soon thereafter, we headed straight into the Hinerau Track in search of the three Aniwaniwa Waterfalls.
First up was the Bridal Veil Falls. This waterfall flowed down a slope in a sheet of water before settling in a quiet plunge pool surrounded by native forest.
A few minutes later, a signed turnoff led to a precarious overlook through foliage of
Momahaki Falls and Te Tangi-o-Hinerau. These falls fell one after another, but getting a closer look required scrambling down a nearly vertical drop-off, which we opted not to do.
After getting our fill of these waterfalls, we returned to the car and proceeded to drive to Papakorito Falls. The weather continued to improve as we made the short drive to its open car park. The walk to get closer to the falls was just a couple minutes away. The 20m waterfall was quite satisfying and provided a nice way to end the waterfall hunting along SH38.
While we didn’t stop anymore, we didn’t arrive in Wairoa until 11:30am.
Julie and I were hungry and opted to try out some of the town’s award-winning meat pies. It was a pleasant way to unwind while the Wairoa River flowed before the row of restaurants and shops.
On our now-satisfied stomachs, we drove the Tiniroto Road in search of Te Reinga Falls. The car park was well signed and positioned on the opposite side of a long and sturdy bridge over the Ruakituri River.
We took the short trail out to its end where an overlook provided views of the falls…
…from above and behind it!
Needless to say, this was a rather disappointing view as we couldn’t see the falls. We only saw the mist rising from its crashing waters at the base. The only consolation prize was the presence of faint rainbows in the mist.
I had seen other photos of the falls before and I knew there had to be a better view than this! On the way back to the car, I had noticed a faint trail leading down a vegetated gully. While Julie went straight back to the car, I decided to explore this off-track path.
So I opted to try it out. The dropoff was probably about 7 or 8ft tall. It was tall enough that your feet won’t touch the ground right away. I saw there were branches and trunks I could climb on to get back up, but I wondered if those would be there for the next person who wanted a decent view later on.
When I made it to the bottom of the drop, I was on a slippery but wide outcrop. From here, I could see the profile of one of the Te Reinga Falls. It was certainly more satisfying than the official one, but it was still far away. I decided I had to settle for this view rather than risking life and limb finding another way.
At 2pm, I made it back to the car where Julie sat inside waiting for me. We proceed to head back the other way towards Wairoa and ultimately in the direction of Napier. However, we were going to make one final stop for the day at Shine Falls.
The drive to Shine Falls was a bit of a tedious and lengthy drive on rough unsealed road through strangely scenic yet remote tracts of farmland. We could sense the isolation of the area, but the farmland assured us that civilization was still present.
Finally at 4pm, we made it to the car park for the falls. A ranger just so happened to be in the area so we engaged in a little chatter before we started the two-hour return hike.
Initially, the trail went over a stile and into a large grassy paddock area. Sheep were scattered through this open grassy area backed by scenic wind-swept cliffs. Even though we weren’t in the Austrian Alps, I couldn’t help but think of the opening scene from the Sound of Music.
So we passed through the area as the sheep kept their distance from us. Maybe they though we were ranchers. Anyhow, it wasn’t long before we crossed into a lightly forested area and then another stile.
At this point, a Boundary Stream Scenic Reserve sign greeted us. Apparently, the authorities have set up traps hidden along the trail in the hopes of killing the pests threatening to kill off the native plant and animal life in the area. It was all part of a so-called Mainland Island project that sought to restore the conditions of yesteryear. Needless to say it was a tall order given all the possum roadkill we had been seeing throughout the country.
At 4:45pm, we finally saw Shine Falls. The tall waterfall towered over the foliage below and beckoned us to come closer. So that we did.
After going up and down a few hills and crossing over a bridge, we made it to a lone picnic table with a nice view of the falls. The strange shape of the falls almost had a contour of a hooded figure. And so Julie and I took a few photos here. We had the falls all to ourselves as well as the entire trail it turned out.
We regained the car at 5:30pm. To our surprise, the doors weren’t locked…
That was worrisome. So we checked our belongings and didn’t see anything get ripped off.
Whew! Must have forgotten to lock the door…
Anyhow, we ultimately made it to the McLean Park Motor Lodge in the art-deco town of Napier at 6:30pm. When we checked in to our motel, even the rooms had an art deco feel to it – with loud colors on the walls and interestingly-shaped furniture.
We went back to the Marine Parade area in search of a good place to eat. The town seemed kind of dead for a place that somehow reminded me of the touristy parts of Santa Monica. Nonetheless, we managed to find decent food at the Masonic Establishment and soaked in the environment.
And so we returned to McLean Park Motor Lodge. Exhausted from a very long day of sightseeing, we had no trouble falling asleep.
No drama resulted from today, which was a relief considering the ominous reputation of that “shortcut” that we took earlier in the day. And so our life as newlyweds on a honeymoon could continue unabated…