We’ll go for a drive, we said. A long drive. A road trip that might take seven or eight days, through the centre of the island. Through Te Urerewa country. From Napier to Wairoa to Waikaremoana to Murapara to Whakatane to Opotiki, around East Cape, and home again.
Never heard of half of those places? Don’t worry. This road trip was so off the beaten track I’ve never been to some of the names on the map either. Oh, I’d heard of them. And, oh, I was keen to go. The Urerewas are about as mystical as countryside can get, anywhere. And that road between Wairoa and Murapara – it’s the stuff of legend. it’s not for the faint hearted. it’s not for city cars. It’s shingle, it’s narrow, its winding, and it’s steep.
Why even our towie was impressed when we said that was where we were headed.
Wait, you say. Towie?
And yes, I have to tell you, you read it correctly.
Our plans may have been intrepid. Our intentions valiant. Our journey might even have been adventurous. It definitely would have been remote. Beautiful, heartland Te Urewera country is like that. It’s country so misty, so rugged, so green it sends tingles down your spine. If it doesn’t then you’re either not looking or you get your thrills only from shopping malls.
But I can’t show it to you. That towie? Well, we needed his help.
The first sign? A certain smell detected by the nose – that would be me – followed by the question, okay several questions rattled off fast, one after another: What’s that smell? Can you smell it? It smells hot to me. It smells like burning to me. Do you think something’s burning? What’s the temperature gauge showing?
You know the sort of questions – the nervous, worried, maybe slightly nagging sort. Questions to which we all know the answers.
Questions which meant our trusty workhorse which has taken us to all manner of out of the way places, places most people don’t even know exist, couldn’t cope with climbing the Devil’s Elbow. This road is notorious in my small part of the world. It’s narrow. It’s steep. Worse – there’s no cell-phone coverage. Anywhere.
Questions put and answers received it was very quiet. The sort of quiet that goes with crossed fingers, crossed toes, and fervent prayers, and hope against hope we’d be able to get our vehicle to the next rest stop, Lake Tutira, without frying her engine.
There are much worse places for a forced stop we said to each other. At least I packed a thermos I said – feeling old. A thermos? That’s exactly what my Mum used to produce whenever the pressure was on during long road trips.
And a sign of age or not, that cup of tea, did revitalise our problem solving skills. We ruled out hoping for the best and carrying on. We ruled out adding water to a surprisingly depleted coolant system. We ruled in calling the AA (roadside assistance for those not in the know).
Problem solved! Call the AA. If only it was that simple. Lake Tutira is on the OTHER side of the Devil’s Elbow. There are no shops. No service station. The nearest farm house is several kilometres away. Cell-phone coverage, as I’ve mentioned is non-existent. Maybe there’ll be a signal on a high point I said, eyeing the distant peaks. I didn’t tell John this at the time but I did think to myself, there are reasons I’m married to a mountain runner. Although, if he had a say in this post he’d laugh and say: A used to be mountain runner.
To which I’d reply: Needs must. Meaning we were in need and he, not I, must run to the top of those peaks if necessary.
Luckily for him, we found a patch nearby, one metre by one metre, where the signal was just powerful enough to make the phone-call.
Reassured that help was on its way we had another cup of tea. We ate the sandwiches which were supposed to be eaten somewhere in the Urerewa Mountains. We waited. And we waited. I said there are worse places to have to wait. John nodded. And a while later John said there are worse places to have to wait. I nodded.
Other cars came and went. Some people stared, some smiled. Most, no doubt, wondered why we were sitting around looking rather deflated. Curiosity got the better of one fellow traveller: All Okay? he asked.
Oh, yes, I told him. Just waiting for the AA – as if that’s something everyone does, everyday.
Ah, he said, The good old AA. And away he drove.
Our seven to eight day trip latest exactly five hours. Not really long enough to count as a road trip. At least it was an adventure – I’d never ridden in a tow truck before.
And all is not lost. While our trusty workhorse is repaired we’re back on the road. But not the same road. We have a hire car. It’s a city car. One we really can’t take through the Urerewas but it is very capable of getting us around East Cape.
Tell me, where in the world have you broken down?