Travelling north on State Highway 2 (SH2) to warmer weather, is a journey I have made hundreds if not thousands of times. The main objective is to get to Hawke’s Bay to see family, sticking to the main highway, and although I enjoy the sights on this road, and townships and areas of interest that we pass, I now know the order of them like the back of my hand. Ernest Hemingway said: “It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters in the end”. So, taking this to heart, and to gain a bit more insight into the surrounding areas and alternative highways that lead to our destination, we have been taking little detours on our journey to explore parts of the country we normally drive past.
On our last journey north, we had a beautifully bright, sunny winters morning. My friend and I were just about at Norsewood, when I said to him, “We must have a look at Norsewood, we haven’t been there for years”. Next thing, the car was following an easy left-turn diversion, sweeping up a hill and into Upper Norsewood. SH2 effectively cuts the Tararua District township of Norsewood in half. When travelling north, Upper Norsewood is on the left hand side of SH2, the entry road following a sweeping incline, and Lower Norsewood is in a valley on the right hand side of SH2. Norsewood is the northernmost township in the Tararua District, almost touching the boundary of Southern Hawke’s Bay District.
Our detour was a short one. We drove along the main street of Upper Norsewood, past a woollen-wear shop, the information centre, a church, a hairdressers, and past a cafe (the last time I was in Upper Norsewood was with my brother and his girlfriend and in this cafe we were treated to the largest, most generous slices of food I have ever been served in a cafe and the coffee was pretty good too). The main street through the township was quiet with no sign of any movement anywhere, no cars, or people. We followed the road down a hill on a short exit road to rejoin SH2 again. Short and sweet detour done.
Back on SH2, and not far up the road from Norsewood, we crossed the boundary from the Tararua Disrtict into Hawkes Bay territory. From here on the weather gets warmer as you head towards the sea. SH2 took us around a large sweeping bend in the road and onto the Takapau Plains. Just before Takapau township is the turn-off for SH50, the alternative highway to Hastings and Napier. When we set out from home just over an hour earlier, we had no intention of taking this deviation, and just like the little trip into Norsewood, we just decided “it’s a nice day lets do it”. So, about here is where we made a very quick decision to turn left off SH2 and onto SH50. SH50 passes through the small rural towns of Tikokino, Gwavas and later on, Maraekakaho on the outskirts of the city of Hastings.
SH50 leads us to our destination of Napier, parallel with SH2 without having to divert too far, so I’m not sure if it got us there any quicker or slower than usual. What I do know is that the views of the snow covered Ruahine Ranges were spectacular. I think we timed the detour onto this highway very well: we had a really good clear, sunny winters morning for the trip and the wintry snow covered mountains were a very picturesque backdrop to the greens of the fields and the blue of the sky. The colours were stunning in their vibrancy and graduated hues.
This winter has been very mild so far, so the amount of snow is a bit less than usual for this time of year, late July.
With the snow covered mountains on out left, we travelled up past high-fenced deer farms towards Ongaonga. I had hoped to see this town, but it was further to the right of SH50 that would have meant taking a turning off the highway – in other words a detour off our detour (taking the turning off to Ongaonga does lead eventually back to SH2 to either Waipukurau or Waipawa). We just kept to SH50 and headed on towards Tikokino, crossing the Waipawa River first. Tikokino is a small rural town situated to the left side of SH50, the streets being mainly residential, with a small hotel/pub. I haven’t been here for years. The last time was with my father to do some family research into ancestors that had milled this area. I wanted to have a look about again, so we turned off to the left into a street at the end of the town. It was a very narrow residential street of wooden houses. On the side of the road we thought we saw someone mowing their lawn, which was kind of odd since it was a steep ditch. When we got closer we recoiled a bit in horror as the person had an old rusty mower, a hoodie pulled over their head and as we went past – no face! It was a very scary, realistic dummy, like something out of a slasher horror movie. We quickly turned the next corner and drove a bit further on, through another residential street, where on the side of the road was a ride on mower with a ‘body’ draped over it, cut in two. By now we were slightly unnerved, being on a back-road in a small rural community we didn’t know, surrounded by horrorific images. I watch a lot of horror movies, and by this stage I had named a lot of movies and scenarios that this was reminiscent of. Thank goodness the time of day wasn’t on dusk, or we would really have freaked out! We left in a hurry, puzzled by what we had seen, wanting to put some distance between us and those scary images.
The next town on the road was Gwavas, which I am trying to remember, but can’t seem to picture it. I must have blinked at the time. I do remember joking that it would be funny if someone farmed guavas in Gwavas.
After Gwavas we discovered three one-way bridges, which added a bit of interest to the journey, and we crossed them easily as there wasn’t any traffic headed the other way.
At one point on the road, after Gwavas and before Maraekakaho, the car climbed a hill and at the top of the hill, rounded a 45 degree bend. As we rounded the corner we were afforded a spectacularly wide view across the land of Hawkes Bay and out towards the sea. The view was very sudden; we rounded a corner and there it was. This was the highest part of the road, and after this, the road then dropped down into brilliantly green farmland, and past paddocks of Alpacas, and newborn lambs, who looked happy to be enjoying the warmth in the winter sun.
As we neared Hastings we passed vineyard after vineyard. Lime Rock, Alpha domus, Sileni, Terra Vitae, Selaks. And then we entered the famed Bridge Pa triangle wine district, Matua Vineyard, Te Tua, Paritua, and the names are flying past the car windows thick and fast, Shepherd’s Croft, Redmetal Vineyards, Te Mata, Prospect Vineyards, Waikahu, Erin View… It was so exciting seeing all those vineyard names!
Somehow we had ended up travelling along the road to Bridge Pa instead of following the official SH50 along to Fernhill and into the back of Taradale. There are umpteen more vineyards that way too. We ended up joining SH2 again at a large roundabout and followed this usual and well-known route through the back of Hastings and across the motorway to Napier.
Overall, SH50 was a lot better than I remembered. I had remembered this road as being narrow, windy, and hilly, so I imagined it would take us longer, but I’m not sure it took us any longer than following SH2. I was very surprised at the road in general, as the road surface was excellent, and there were long stretches of wide road. Plus the views of snow covered mountains were a spectacular bonus, thanks to Winter, and the wide vista across Hawke’s Bay from the high part of the road was brief but awe-inspiring. The wineries flashing past our windows thick and fast was …well, all that subliminal messaging left me wanting some wine. And so with dinner, Mum and I had a local red wine – Squawking Magpie, Syrah.