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May 29, 2022 … Waikato road trip (part III) … homebound

This is the third and final in a three part series describing our road trip to the Waikato and back.
Part I covered the trip from Wellington to Mangakino
Part II covered our trip from Mangakino to Wingspan and now we cover the journey from Mangakino to Horopito, to Whanganui and home.

In one sense, our spontaneous adventure away from home was a trip to nowhere. With all due respect to its 1,200 inhabitants, Mangakino is scarcely a tourist destination. On the other hand, having spent six years as a single man in nearby Tokoroa back in the late 1960s, I was familiar with the region. I knew and loved the rhythms of life in the area at this time of year. Sharp frosts, river mists, clear days and dark brittle starlit nights characterised the early yeas of my working life. The smell of logs burning in open fireplaces so familiar back then was still familiar now, though no longer acceptable in most other places.

Our last two days in Mangakino after our memorable trip to Wingspan were characterised by soft but steady rain. That was OK by me. I had lots if image processing to do and Mary seemed happy reading or knitting when she wasn’t managing the fire or organising excellent meals for us.

There was a break in the weather on Sunday, our last day in the region, so I made one last expedition back upriver to Atiamuri and thence to Lake Ohakuri. This was new territory to me. I don’t know how I had never been to Lake Ohakuri before, but like the other lakes on the river, it seems to enjoy a sheltered situation and its surface was glassy calm. No one else was visible. I had this vast beauty all to myself. However, we were due to leave for Whanganui the next morning and there was packing to be done, so it was back to Mangakino to enjoy one last log fire.

We left Mangakino in drizzle conditions and headed Westward on SH30 towards Benneydale and Taumarunui. My love of the South Waikato landscape has been expressed several time in recent blogs. Even in these soggy conditions I find it attractive. Pouakani is not a place I have previously heard of. Nor, as we pass through it, is it a place I am likely to remember. However, according to Google Maps, the picture above was made there.

Maniaiti/Benneydale is a town in the Waitomo district that is home to about 180 people. When I lived and worked in Tokoroa in the mid 1960s, we thought of it as a frontier town on the Western edge of forestry country. It was in fact a coal mining town between the years of 1931 and the early 1990s. That has now ended. Until 2018 Benneydale was the only town in the King Country that did not have a Maori name. Local iwi applied to the Geographic Board to remedy that and it is now Maniati/Benneydale despite considerable local opposition. I photographed this same derelict house last time I came this way in 2016. Back then the green tree was just beginning to appear through the roof.

The King Country is an interesting area. While you can draw it on a map, it has no existence as a governance entity. For that, it falls partly within Waikato, and partly within Manawatu/Whanganui region. All of this is merely of passing interest, as we headed down a backroad from Benneydale to join SH4 at Ongarue. The region is heavily forested and very hilly. The only clue I have about where I made the image above through the windscreen is that it is somewhere North of Taumarunui.

We made a rest stop and had an excellent morning tea in Taumarunui. Then it was Southwards through Raurimu and National Park, heading purposefully for Horopito, home to Horopito Motors. This place is known globally as “Smash Palace” and was the setting for the 1981 Roger Donaldson film of the same name.

The last time I was there was in 2013. Back then in return for a gold coin donation, they allowed photographers and tourists to enter the 5 or so hectares and wander at will among the thousands of rusting cars.

On that occasion, we arrived early in the morning and there was no one in the office. The gate was open so I made the expected donation and began wandering about and making pictures. Mary sat in the car and knitted while I was in photography heaven. After I was done, I started to thread my way out of the maze only to be confronted by a man with a rifle and a bunch of distinctly unfriendly dogs. Awkward. He had been hunting and was a bit late back and was startled to find a wandering photographer on the premises. We resolved our differences peaceably.

This time things were done properly, and I paid the now required $10 admission fee at the office and spent a blissful hour looking at rusty textures and the shapes of cars as they used to be in my youth. There may be a pattern or system to the way in which cars are placed when they come in, but if so I could not work it out. It definitely is not brand, year, nor even the era from which the car was made. I am told that if you need a part for your old car, the staff can nevertheless tell you whether they that or a similar model.

At first I was a bit disconcerted that, near the front gate, there were many cars of recent manufacture that still had visible full-coloured paint and chrome work. I presume they were recent crashes or simple mechanical failures. They were not what I had come for, so I avoided them as much as possible.

There are estimated to be about 5,000 cars on site. As I wandered about I saw many that I have not laid eyes on for years. Mostly these would be British cars that are rarely on our roads any more. There were a few continental models , but by far, most were from Dagenham, Cowley, Solihull or the like.

“Austin of England” was the brand emblazoned on the boot of cars with that grill. There are very few bearers of that brand still running in New Zealand. And yet they remind of of a sunny childhood and I retain a certain affection for them. We once even owned a lovely three litre A110 Austin Westminster.

It was fun testing my ability to identify some of these old wrecks Across the back, a Ford Zephyr, a Ford Prefect sitting on a Standard Vanguard, a Hillman or Singer wagon. In the front row, I suspect the one on the left might be a Renault, and then a Fiat Bambina in front of who knows what.

I said there was no apparent organisation to the placement of cars. This pile seems to be an exception as there are at least three Morris Minors here. I struggle to imagine that there are many useful parts in these cars, or what economic model makes them worth keeping. I imagine that these were once someone’s pride and joy, and were probably washed and polished weekly. Now there are few if any body panels that would be of any use.

If you have seen enough rust by now, I would not hold it against you should you choose to skip this and the following two images and go straight to Whanganui. For my part, I see interest in the different patterns and textures in each image. And I wonder at the story behind each vehicle. A quote from Casablanca comes to mind: “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in the world, she walks into mine”. There is no way that all these vehicles belonged to families or businesses in the nearby towns. So how did each car come to be here, so far from any significant centres of population?

Not only the individual vehicles, but the way in which they are scattered around the vast property is fascinating. Occasionally you can see that an attempt has been made to group like vehicles together. It never seems to have lasted though. Three or four Morris Minors together might be the start of something and then a Ford Consul Classic 315, a Trekka, a Wolseley 6/110, a Vauxhall Velox, a few Holdens, a Bradford and an Alfa Romeo throws the pattern into confusion.

Always, the harsh climate, rain, snow and sun are breaking down the once polished paint, and red rust becomes the dominant colour. The odd car puts up a longer resistance. Or perhaps it came into that part of the plot at a different time to its neighbours. Why is that Ford Prefect in the shot above still blue? Why is the paint on the back corner of that car the only bit that hung on?

The land on which the cars are stored is uneven and though there are many flat areas, there are gulleys and small hills. Cars are strewn close together over almost all of it. The tracks left clear for access form a maze of sorts, and often you come to a dead end. Though you can see the home buildings on the other side of the stack, there is no way to get there without risking an avalanche of sharp rusting steel. And so you retrace your steps, dodging the deep puddles in the soggy ground.

Every path you take reveals a different view and models you hadn’t noticed when you came the other way. A person of my vintage keeps seeing models familiar in my younger days but not seen on the roads for many a year. The Armstrong Siddley Star Sapphire, the Vauxhall Cresta, The Ford Pilot, the Morris Oxford, the Triumph Mayflower, the Rover 3500, the Lanchester. It’s not the cars themselves that arouse the emotion, but rather the way they trigger recollection of happy times, youth, friends and family members long gone.

Enough wallowing in maudlin sentimentality. To my photographic eye, the place is a delight in any weather. Regardless of the memories, the stacks of rusting remains provide fascinating set of opportunities to capture shapes and colours, though rust is dominant. After an hour of photography, I decided that though the cars in front of me were different, I was making the same image over and over again, just with different cars. Time to resume our Southward journey.

We had an excellent picnic lunch beside the Makotuku River in Raetihi during a break in the drizzle. Then it was down the winding 95km of the Parapara. In case you didn’t know it, SH4 runs parallel to the Whanganui River from Raetihi to Whanganui and is known as the Parapara. It is notorious for its treacherous greywacke landscape. It is magnificent to look at but prone to crumbling landslips and washouts, potholes and floods. When the Parapara is closed as it is at least a few times in most winters, then it is a very long detour down SH1 to Bulls, or even around Egmont and through New Plymouth. I think I dozed off on this part of the trip.

Fortunately I wasn’t driving, and soon enough we were crossing the Dublin St bridge in Whanganui on our way to our Airbnb in Castlecliff.

The owner of our Airbnb advertised it as “quirky”. I must remember to avoid any described as such in future. Fortunately we were there for just two nights. Whanganui, along with most of the North Island was fairly wet during our brief stay. Peat Park was looking more like Park Lake. We drove up to Waverley to visit my brother and sister-in-law and that trip was even wetter. And then it was time for the journey home.

Wetness persisted all the way to Wellington. We broke the 190 km trip home with morning coffee and a magnificent cheese scone at the excellent Riverstone Cafe at the South end of Otaki. Then the final leg home is much quicker than it ever was in the past. The expressway starts at Pekapeka just North of Waikanae and from there it’s motorway all the way home. I asked Mary to drive the last bit because I wanted to snatch an image of the bush near the summit of Transmission Gully.

Just before the Southbound summit on Transmission Gully there is a forested valley on the left side. Each time I have crossed that road, I have wanted to catch it. Most of the surrounding hills are covered in pines, but here is a remnant of the native bush landscape as it once was. Not possible to photograph if you are driving, of course.

And here at last we are at the foot of the Haywards Hill, emerging into the sunshine of the Hutt Valley and Wellington and home. The distant hills are the Miramar peninsula and the prominent tower block is the former TV studios at Avalon.

I hope you have enjoyed my rambling and the images related to our trip. Now it is done. I continue to post photo-blogs on this site on random topics every two or three weeks. I advertise infrequently so if you care to, you could check back every few weeks to check for the latest. Or you can subscribe to have it emailed to you. Thanks for keeping me company, and special thanks to all who sent kind comments which warmed my soul.

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March 10, 2019 … out into the provinces

Restlessness is not a good sign. I find myself wanting to do something, but not sure exactly what. Perhaps it is a signal or trigger that I should change directions for a while, or do something different.  Sometimes I follow the signs, and sometimes not. I can feel a change in the images I make, and to some degree, in the images I choose to show.

The Hutt River, drifting down towards the Melling Bridge

My week began at home, with a mild dose of cabin fever. The weather has been somewhat dismal, neither fully fair nor fully foul. Sooner or later, something snaps and I have to get out looking for images. At the beginning of the week I went as far as Waikanae, but returned empty-handed . Then just as I pulled into Block Road at the entrance to Normandale, the state of the Hutt River caught my eye. Not a masterpiece, but it rescued my trip from being a total loss. That’s the Melling Bridge just downstream.  Then Mary decided we needed to spend a few days away, so we booked an Airbnb in Whanganui.

Lovely land forms near Turakina in the Manawatu/Whanganui district

I have always loved the gentle undulating landscape between Bulls and Whanganui. These trees just North of Turakina and South of Ratana  invited my attention. I really must revisit that area at dawn or sunset to catch those long shadows and distant mountains in the golden hours.

Sunset (1)
Spectacular sunset off the beach at Castlecliff

We reached Whanganui and found our quirky Airbnb accommodation in the far reaches of Castlecliff. I mean no offence when I say the Castlecliff is perhaps the last bastion of the 1950s working-class houses. Many of them have that home-constructed look, but they always assert their identity as someone’s home. Anyway, working-class or not, it is but a few minutes’ walk to a sea view that anyone would be glad to see.

Paddle steamer
Waimarie – Whanganui

The next day, Mary and I went on the two-hour return cruise up the river to Upokongaro aboard the paddle steamer Waimarie. As we were waiting for time to board, I caught the swirling exhaust and some wisps of steam from her funnel.

The whole engine room is run by one man, and all commands from the wheelhouse are just yelled down through the opening above the boiler. That’s a very good fire.

If you are sufficiently agile, and willing to take the risk upon yourself, the Waimarie’s engineer will let you climb down the vertical steel ladder to the engine-room floor. The chief engineer is also the stoker and cleaner and he does a superb job of keeping an evenly spread fire in the firebox. His deft flicks of the shovel scatter the coal where it most needs to be.

This 74 year-old beauty ZK-AWP belonging to Air Chathams still snarls as the throttles are opened, Isn’t she a beauty?

While we were aboard Waimarie, we discovered that there was a party of twelve Australians participating in a luxury tour of the North Island by DC3, stopping at various places for side-trips of interest. Their immediate side-trip was the Waimarie. Mine instantly switched out to the North end of Whanganui airport to enjoy a picnic lunch, and to watch their fabulous old plane depart. There was a  time when  they were the common-place air transport. Now the snarl of those two R1830 Twin Wasps is increasingly  a memory to be treasured.

Sunset (2)
Another sunset, this time from beside the North Mole at the river mouth. The young lady walked into my field of view so I waited until she was in the sun’s path

Later that night, there was another sunset. Who knew? It wasn’t as spectacular as the one the previous night, but I sat on a piece of driftwood at the North Mole and enjoyed the changing light.

Kowhai Park
Kowhai Park is one of the jewels in Whanganui’s crown

The next day reminded me of Jane Morgan (1958) singing “Le jour où la pluie viendra” … or perhaps in the words of Sister Rosetta Thorpe, “Oh didn’t it rain“. Eventually it eased, and so I went wandering into Kowhai Park. All five of our kids knew and loved the park for its playground, but on this trip, I was staying in the arboretum.

I have no idea whether the decor is officially sanctioned on this utility cabinet, but I like it

Whanganui has the same graffiti and vandalism issues as most other towns. but I liked the way they approached utility cabinets, covering them with whimsical art. At the very least, it seems to discourage the mindless tagging.

Eastern sky after the rain has passed

As the day cleared up after its many downpours, I enjoyed the view to the North East, and knowing that if I went over to that ridge I would probably get a good view of Ruapehu.

In Virginia Lake, or Rotokawau, is the Higginbottom fountain, gift of a local philanthropist. At night it is illuminated as it plays.

On our last morning in the river city, I went up St John’s Hill to Virginia Lake. The water was not quite flat calm, nor yet fully ruffled. It’s a very pretty spot.

Te Anau
The hulk of the Te Anau sitting on the sandbar.

My final shot this week stirs me. I have said before that I have a passion for ships and the sea. As we were leaving Castlecliff, I noticed a side road down to the river and poked my nose in. There was a boat ramp and a view of the commercial wharf, but most interestingly, a rusting hulk on the sandbar in the middle of the stream. I asked some local boaties about its history and was told it was just some old barge of no particular significance, just dumped there to straighten the river flow. I did some searching and found that she was the Te Anau, once a proud express liner of the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand Ltd. She was launched in 1879, and carried passengers across the Tasman 204 at a time. She served 45 years until 1924 when she was sold to serve as a breakwater. It is amazing to me how such an old ship in such a hostile environment still keeps the form of her hull after 140 years.

Back to normal next week.

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August 24, 2018 … nice to be home again

Mary and I spent a few days at the tiny settlement of Mowhanau (also known as Kai Iwi Beach) just North of Whanganui. It was a delightful break, though the lack of promised wi-fi caused me some withdrawal symptoms. Anyway, here we go.

Whitebaiters in the Mowhanau stream at Kai Iwi beach

Despite a somewhat gloomy forecast we drove up SH1 to Bulls and then SH3 to Whanganui, and through some back roads to Mowhanau. As soon as we unloaded the car, we walked the few minutes down to the beach where the whitebait season had just opened. There are blue skies in the image but believe me when I say there was a nasty bleak wind and the thermometer was reading 8°C. These guys were standing in water of varying depth for hours and getting meagre rewards in terms of the whitebait harvest. It seems the whitebait are critically endangered and near to extinction so time to re-evaluate.

Looking Northward along the Whanganui River near Pungarehu

The next day was surprisingly fine and we set out to travel the road beside the Whanganui River to Hiruharama (Jerusalem). This view is from the ridge soon after leaving the main road at Upokongaro. The road traverses some wild and beautiful country, but after some recent floods is in a very mixed state of repair.  Mary wanted to walk and enjoyed about 12 km leading up to the little settlement of Atene (Athens) while I played with landscape shots. When we reconnected we drove on through the even smaller settlements of Koroniti (Corinth)  and Matahiwi. We navigated the slippery grey mud of the road works and arrived at Hiruharama where we had a look at the historic church of St Joseph. From there it was on to Pipiriki where we enjoyed lunch by the river with no sound but singing birds and the fast flowing river.

Waverley Beach
Waverley Beach blocked off by driftwood

The next day was grey and a bit dull, but we drove up to Waverley to visit my brother and sister-in-law, and from there went down to Waverley Beach. When I first went there, some fifty years ago, this was a popular swimming beach with a well-known sandstone arch at the mouth of the river. The arch collapsed long ago (2012), and the beach is currently clogged with thousands of tonnes of driftwood.

Patea River
Patea River near Hurleyville

On day three, we explored the road to the Patea hydro scheme, some forty km by road from Patea through some of the wildest and loneliest countryside in the North Island. Like most of these West Coast North Island rivers, the water is brown with silt and often carries big logs out to sea. Lake Rotorangi, was formed by the dam completed in 1984 and meanders Northward for some 46 km towards Eltham. It is a magnificent land.

Terns and Piles in the Patea River

We came back to Patea for lunch, eating our sandwiches down by the river mouth. A set of piles near the Mole provided a resting place and launch-pad for a group of white-fronted terns.

Petone Beach
Southerly drama at Petone

Home once more, and yesterday was interesting in the morning. The harbour was calm at Petone beach, but the clouds in the South suggested a change was on its way.

Petone wharf and the incoming front

Looking for a different viewpoint I moved to the West and the clouds became more intense.

Cloudburst leads the way

From there I went up Ngauranga Gorge to Newlands and as I reached a new subdivision, the front was moving up the harbour dropping an intense burst of rain on the way.

It’s always nice to go away, but even better to come home.

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October 20, 2013 … it never sleeps

Having slept well after our mountain adventure, we set out for home.

The weather was more settled than the previous day, though there were tendrils of mist in the bush and the gulleys as we drove down SH4 on the Western side of Ruapehu. I might have paused to capture that in the gully near the Makatote viaduct, but there are few places to stop safely and I had some loon tailgating me.

A little down the road, we came to Horopito, and Mary spotted some of the derelict cars in the famed Horopito Car Yard, setting for the fondly remembered (in New Zealand) movie, “Smash Palace”.  I had heard from others that visitors were welcome, and the place was unlocked, so I wandered through a tiny fraction of the many acres of decaying vehicles. mary stayed in the car and got on with her knitting … “for her price is far above rubies” (Proverbs, 31:10)

Great opportunity for a home handyman
A Holden EH wagon of about 1964

Despite the advanced state of ruin, and the seemingly anarchic layout and methods of storage, I was absolutely enchanted with the place. I loved every inch of it.

Red rust everywhere
Lots of old friends here

Of course the predominant colour was red rust, though faded paint of days gone by shone through in some cases.

The arrangement seems haphazard
Look just to left of centre in the foreground … a wheel with wooden spokes

For me this place was about memories of  boyhood. When our family came to New Zealand in 1954, many of the vehicles here were in their prime. There were makes and models I have not thought of for years.

In those long ago days, most of the vehicles on our roads were British, with names like Austin, Morris, Singer, Triumph, Humber, Hillman, Vauxhall, Ford (the British variants), Bradford, Jowett, Jaguar and Armstrong-Siddely. Of course there were some American cars a Studebaker, a Chevrolet and a few Fords or Mercury sedans. There were a few Europeans as well, including Renault, Simca, Fiat, Mercedes-Benz, and Citroen, and even some early Skoda.


Suddenly I had memories of downtown Auckland in the mid-fifties. There were still trams, and some of the older vehicles from the late 1920s with their wooden-spoked wheels were not unusual. These were the fami;iar vehicles of that era.

I took about fifty images, and unusually for me, have not discarded any of them. It’s not that they are all great pictures, but rather that they are the last visual link with a time that I remember well.

A Standard Vanguard
That car had a four-cylinder engine that would make the vehicle climb walls. It was the same engine as that used in the Massey Ferguson tractors. Is that a touch of blue on her bonnet (US = hood)

I could go to Horopito every day for a month, spend all day there each day, and not run out of things that interest me. You are lucky that you are seeing just five of them.

Then it was down “the Parapara”, the winding and often treacherous section of SH4 between Raetihi and Upokongaro near Whanganui. This road winds its way through steep  hillsides, following the course of various rivers including the Whanganui River. The road is prone to slips and washouts because most of the green landscape through which it passes sits on soft soapy grey rock and it just lets go after heavy rain.  Road crews had done a good job of clearing recent blockages, but there was still plenty of grey mud on the road, and thus, by transference, thickly coated all over my car.

Raukawa falls
They are not where they used to be but you can see that grey rock I referred to

We came to the Raukawa falls on the Mangawhero River. I remember these as thunderous falls which were spectacular. Now, due to collapses in the same kind of rock discussed above, the waterfall has retreated upstream quite a way, and the lookout platform has been left behind.

Bar-tailed godwits at Foxton Beach
To far for anything other than proving I saw them

Back on SH1, I turned off to see what was happening in the Manawatu estuary at Foxton Beach. A bunch of bar-tailed godwits was present on the sandbar, but too far away at high tide to make much of.

That’s it. We are back home now.