New Zealand road trips

When is a road trip not a road trip?

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.

The view from the rest stop at Lake Tutira.

The view from the rest stop at Lake Tutira.

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.

Help arrives

Help arrives

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?

26 replies »

  1. Back in the ’70s when I lived in South Africa we used to drive 1000 km to my in-laws at Christmas and had several car mishaps. Once in the VW kombi, slowly climbing a mountain pass I noticed smoke coming out of the air vents. Pulling off the road and vacating two small children from the back of the van we discovered flames beneath the engine. Cause? An oily rag, probably left by a mechanic who had just serviced the van. Another time, we limped through the desert region, stopping every so often as the air cooled engine kept overheating in 40 degree temperatures. A huge worry as petrol stations closed at 6 pm. We just made it. Running out of petrol did happen on another occasion and the husband had to walk/hitch to the nearest town (50 km away) to fill a can leaving me and children at the side of a very deserted desert road as darkness fell… breaking down in England is a breeze after that!


    • Oh, my giddy aunt!! Those are some scary breakdown stories, Jude. No cell-phones in those days, either. I wonder whether in this modern age there’d be cell-phone coverage out in the desert. Here, oddly enough, it’s best to have a breakdown in town and, yet, that never seems to be where it happens.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. We broke down in the Awakino Gorge on the way back from Auckland. Was a broken clutch cable (found our later). A good Samaritan drove our car to the Awakino pub and let me drive his (brand new) ute. We too waited for the AA but in comfort.


  3. Oh dear, Jill, sounds like a bit of a nightmare, but I’m glad the AA man turned up and recused you both. I’d hate to think scenes from some of those 1980’s horror movies had you been stuck there all night. Oh my goodness, I should not be thinking like that, but your car breaking down trip sounds just like that kind of movie.

    Great views you had whilst eating sandwiches and drinking tea, and I hope it won’t put you off making the trip again. Oh, and I hope the car repair was not too expensive. Happy motoring.


    • Ha! How did you know? As the time ticked by and the sun got lower in the sky we did have a couple of conversations (okay several) about what we’d do if it got dark – my mind filled with every horror movie I’ve ever watched!! The car is still in the garage but apparently the repair is more technical than expensive … although the proof of that will be in the size of the bill, if course!!


  4. We did that road trip back in December 1992 and the pohutukawas were in flower. Your descriptions are so perfect. I hope your old van can get you there… Incidentally is that the same vehicle you took us up the hill a few weeks ago??? I know that sinking feeling when your wheels falter on you miles from any where. The Australian outback is a big place….


  5. 😦 stink! I’ve done that trip (or a version of it); many, many years ago. Before cell phones. In my boyfriend’s mother’s Corolla. The road through Te Urerewa was just amazing. Better luck next time. 🙂


  6. Took me a while to figure out what a ‘towie’ was!
    I remember my father’s car blowing a gasket or some such when I was about 17 and driving from somewhere a little over an hour or so away to Toronto. So, this was the 70s and no cell phone then, either. my girlfriend and I had to stop and put water in the radiator every few miles using a plastic jug and stream water. And drive slowly. Along the old highway so that we could get help if needed. Must have taken us 5 hours to get home.


    • Ah – breakdowns before cellphones – they were the real challenge. You’ve reminded me of a long, slow limp home with a blown head gasket. It was the height of summer, no air conditioning in the car, and two carsick children. Ah, yes, those were the days!!


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