(Part of) The Gentle Annie
Whilst I love planning trips and figuring out (at least roughly) where we're going before we leave home, the times we set off with no real destination in mind sometimes turn out to be some of the best trips.
One Friday evening we were sitting at home after work and decided "you know what? Let's go away". We chucked everything we'd need for a quick trip in the back of the Prado and headed north out of Wellington on State Highway 2.
After cruising for a few hours through the night (and the super thick fog) we pulled into a little campsite (Kumeti Camping Area) and jumped into bed, ready for the adventures of the next day!
In the morning after some rather decent coffee (I swear our camping stove is better than our home one), we climbed into the truck and had a look at the maps to see where we should head for the weekend. We had discussed exploring the Kaweka Forest area which included one of my bucket list roads - the Gentle Annie - so it was pretty hard to say no to that, plus the maps showed a few cool looking gravel roads through the hills.
North Block Road
I had been doing quite a bit of Googling and "topo mapping" over the last while and North Block Road looked like it might head somewhere cool. After opening many, many gates we arrived at a final gate that wasn't to be opened. Bugger.
There are quite a few hikes off of North Block Road though, so if you're into walking, it is definitely worth a look. If you're after an exciting drive, possibly best to give this one a miss.
The Gentle Annie
After North Block road we jumped back on SH50 and headed up to the beginning of the Napier to Taihape, otherwise known as the Gentle Annie. Over the last 5 years or so they have sealed the whole thing, so it's a tad more gentle than it used to be - but there are still some epic climbs and subsequent descents that are enough to test any vehicle.
The first turn off we took was Lawrence Road, a forestry track that leads out to a small campsite. Around 500m after you turn off, there's car park for the Blowhard Reserve. From there you can do a short 20 minute walk through the chasms that is well worth the stop - the natural bridge is pretty awesome! Sadly we didn't get any decent photos of it as it was pretty dark down there! A sunny day would be pretty magical for that walk.
Chloe filming with the Osmo
It was now getting late in the day and night comes quickly at this time of year so we thought it was best to head off and find somewhere to sleep for the night. I prefer not to be driving into campsites when it's pitch black if at all possible as I know headlights can be super annoying - it can be difficult when the sun is gone by 6pm though!
The campsite at Kuripapango is pretty amazing - all the camping spots are grass and most of them are pretty private with trees surrounding you. We had the whole place to ourselves that evening which was pretty cool. Add the view of the hills surrounding the site and it's a pretty special place to wake up.
And the best part? It's completely free - though I encourage you to leave a donation to keep places like this open for all to enjoy.
Leaving Kuripapango we headed further inland to check out Comet Road, a small gravel track that leads up into the Kaweka Ranges and a basic hut for trampers and hunters to base their trips from.
The road itself was in pretty good condition right to the very top where there was a small rutted climb. It weirdly became more and more similar to Takapari Road the further we climbed into the hills - both the colour of the dirt and the trees were pretty much the same despite being much lower in altitude.
Annoyingly there were piles of rubbish around the hut! We picked up as much as we could fit, but it always makes me sad to see people leaving their rubbish where they shouldn't... It's not that hard to take it with you.
Castle Rock Road and Twin Lakes walk
As the day went on the cloud finally lifted and the sun came to play! We decided to squeeze in one more cool road and short walk before we started the trip back to Wellington.
As you head down Castle Rock Road you'll see a few car parking areas with different length walks to slightly different areas of the lakes. We knew we only had a few hours, so parked up at the closest car park we could, brewed up a quick coffee and set off.
The walk took us through native New Zealand bush and was an easy 20 minutes each way with amazing views out over the lakes from the peak of the hill. Sadly you can't get to both lakes from the track we took, but getting right down to the water level was worth it.
The Kaweka Forest area is one of those hidden spots in the hills that is well worth checking out - there's something for everyone, whether you're into hiking, hunting or even a (tiny bit) of off roading. We'll definitely be heading back there again to explore more!