Going south from Auckland? Leave the high road, take the low road

So you’re heading south from Auckland on the great road to Taupo and beyond. Why not take a road trip and enjoy the drop-dead beautiful rural landscape, an environmental success story, some history and some great photo ops for Facebook or ‘Village’?

Instead of the crowds, and boldly I say it, probably take the back roads that follow the very well-known State Highway south of Cambridge, the Waikato River, and the accompanying hydraulic lakes. Sprint down is slower than SH1, no doubt, but you’ll be rewarded for an extra 20 minutes or more.

Actually I’m lying. It will be like 45 minutes because every few kilometers you get out of the car the kind of picture that is usually seen in TV One’s weather presentation.

Arapuni translates as a fairly hidden path, and how appropriate is it? This is a road that very few people know about, let’s enjoy.

Start your search by turning on the Mangatautari Rd at SH1, 19.4 kilometers south of Cambridge.

According to the NZ Ministry of Culture and Information, your journey for the next 20 km or more will be affected by the presence of Mangautauri, translated as “Mountain of Righteous Sticks”. Anyway.

The mountain is surrounded by a 47-kilometer-long hunting-proof fence that surrounds the 3,400-hectare wildlife reserve, making it one of the largest insect-proof fenced sanctuaries in the world.

Since its inception in 2006, massive attacks on predators have wiped out all introduced mammals except rats, and they are working on those annoying hard-to-kill critics. The Manugatautari Ecological Island Trust, which manages the reserve, has since reintroduced a wide range of indigenous species.

Mrigatautari. . . But the “steep stick” seems to be missing.

A side trip to Arapuni

You will come to a T-turn at a distance of 22 km from the starting point. Turn left to see Arapuni.

You may be wondering why I am giving you such detailed instructions. Because, hopefully, you won’t get lost like me. Last at Te Awamutu, miles away of course I realized I should be zigged, not zagged. The problem is that signposts are not helpful at all.

Take a four minute side trip to Arapuni. It began life in the late 1920s as the city of Astana for the construction of the Arapuni Dam.

The bend is one of eight to harness the power of the Waikato River because it falls from Lake Taupo to Cambridge.

The village of Arapuni, now known as Top Camp, was on the wrong side of the river, so a 152-meter suspension bridge was built across the river to take construction workers to work.

There is nowhere near as scary to see the suspension bridge crossing, and the view from the middle makes it a success with a power station on one side and a deep, bushy-lined river ghat on the other.

It is good to visit. Signposted in the village.

Arapuni hanging bridge

Looking down at the river from the bridge.

During World War II, the power plant was considered a strategic asset that was painted in camouflage to hide from any rogue enemy bombers.

Arapuni Power Station – No more camouflage.

Arapuni is close to a part of the Waikato River trail, so get on your bike or take a trip.

The north road to Carapiro is classified as easy to go so if you need a little healthy exercise it can go. It is also notable for the 500-meter boardwalk through the Huihuitaha Wetlands – home to a variety of bird species.

You can rent chakras from Arapuni backpackers. http://arapuni.co.nz/cycle-hire/

And if caffeine cravings are too strong to resist, the Rhubarb Cafe in the center of the village is extremely popular.

Nearby Arapuni Landing and Balmers Landing (only in self-contained motorhomes) have independence camping.

There is a navigational care

Continuing your journey to the south, return to the intersection where you stopped for a trip to the side of Arapuni and turn left to stay on Rotnagata Road on Arapuni Road.

Take care after one kilometer of the left turn. Heading south towards Mangakino and Wakamaru, you turn left onto Rotnagata Road. If, instead, as I did, you take the obvious choice, turn around in the curve of the right hand and do not read the road signs, you will end up, as I did, in Awamutu.

(Navigator from Captain: “We seem to have a problem here”)

A quick NAV. Check if you are on the right road to the south: There is a brown-and-white signpost for Bamar Landing and Arapuni Landing right after you turn to Rotnagata Road on the left.

Visit the sanctuary mountains

Take the signposted road to the west towards Awamutur, but 6.4 km away to reach the Sanctuary Mountain Visitor Center on Tari Road. Along Tari Rd you can visit Tautari Wetland and Tuatarium to get up close and personal with survivors from the dinosaur era.

You can explore the reserve on many walking tracks. Learn more https://www.teawamutu.nz/info/attractions/maungatautari/

The trust conducts various guided tours of the sanctuary. Learn more at https://www.sanctuarymountain.co.nz

Tuatara. . . A ruin of the dinosaur era. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

I said I’m lost. Not just once. But some damage is harmful. Returning to Rotnagata Road, about 3 km from the turn, I threw a left hook there at Mangare Road.

Now, if some passengers suffer from car sickness, this is definitely not an option. It twists and curls 18 kilometers south to rejoin the road to Mangakino but it is a stunning part of the countryside with dramatic limestone rock formations. It is the one that searches the whole world like a sentinel guarding the approaches to the north.

This kind of back country road where people look at each other. As I was taking that shot, a broken, helix burst and the good bugger was running it “Are you okay, man?”

I reassured him I was. . . “I just stopped here to get pictures of old rock.”

Or just stay on the “main” street

Or of course, instead of repeating my mistake, you can just have trucks and trucks at the junction with the “main” road, Waippa Road, south of Rotnagata RD. This will take you to the junction with the SH30 at Wakamaru.

Take a quick diversion along the way to Mangakino, another hydro construction city that has found new life as a vacation destination, especially if you do fishing, water sports or mountain biking.

The Waikato River Trail runs right past the village lakefront and the Mangakino Shuttle Service https://mangakinoshuttleservice.com/ will pick you up or drop you off anywhere along its length.

Not far away is the Timber Trail which leads to the old logging tracks and tramways from Pureora to State Highway 385 km on SH4 to Ongaru. It includes some adrenaline-boosting swing bridges, such as the 141-meter-long Maramatah Suspension Bridge.

Pureora Forest was a scene from the initial environmental demonstration in 1978. Conservationists, concerned about the remnants of the last remnants of the North Island lowland podocarp forest, occupied the platform above the tree until the government of the day agreed to stop further logging.

As a result, you can now bike or travel through the world of the ancient giants, which once covered much of the northern island.

Learn more at https://www.timbertrail.nz/

The end of the journey is at Hakamaru, set on another hydro dam.

If you are one of those people who prefers to go to extremes – northern, southern, etc. – then take SH32 south from Wakamaru. Find Kakaho Road at 23.1 kilometers. This will take you to the geographical center of the North Island. It is marked 10 minutes on a level by a stone cairn. Walking down the street

From Wakamaru you can head east for Taopo, or, if destinations are in and out of Turangi, head south on SH32, West Tappo Rd, my favorite route to avoid traffic endemic on SH1.

So, why not dare where a few have gone before – make a picnic lunch from Cambridge Bakery and stop on the way to enjoy the peace of the rural hinterland instead of putting pressure on the endless traffic on SH1.

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