Excursion off State Highway 2 (SH2): to Ormondville, Takapau, and Waipukurau


My friend and I travel the Palmerston North–Napier State Highway (SH2) frequently, sticking to the main route so as to arrive at our destination ASAP (with only one regular stop for coffee!), but lately there have been murmurings that we should get to know a bit of the countryside that we zoom past so often. So, on the last official day of autumn, we decided to take a little impromptu excursion off SH2 into the ‘unknown’ countryside, and visit the small township of Ormondville. The day we went on our little touring adventure, the weather was perfect: the skies were cloudless blue and there wasn’t a hint of wind about. Outside the car it was a crisp autumn morning, but inside the car we were cocooned in warmth with the sunshine streaming in. Late May is the best time of the year for touring the country as autumn is making its mark on the landscape – some leaves still remain on the trees and the foliage that is left looks very picturesque and colourful in autumnal hues of browns, reds, oranges and yellows. The landscape is so photogenic that it reminds me of those pretty pastoral scenes found on chocolate boxes, and made into jigsaws. Plus to make things even better, I had a steaming cup of coffee, (after stopping off at our regular stopping place the BP service station in Dannevirke – it may be a service station, but they make darn good coffee). How perfect was this?- Very! And we spent a very enjoyable, unhurried time exploring a bit of the countryside that we normally bypass.


Map: this is a page of my basic ‘Mobil Map’ that I had with me, showing the area from Dannevirke to Waipukurau. The areas we diverted into, off SH2 are in between these towns.

Unfortunately this map is minus railway lines, which would have added a lot more information at the time.


We left SH2 in the Tararua district (at Matamau) and emerged back onto the highway very close to the boundary of the Central Hawke’s Bay District (Takapau Plains and Waipukurau).


Map: this is a map I found later on. It shows more detail of the rail-line (the line in black) running to the right of SH2 through the Tararua District and into Central Hawke’s Bay District :





Priorities first – coffee. We stopped in the large town of Dannevirke, in the Tararua District, at the BP Service Station. We made our way north, as usual, up SH2 to the small settlement of Matamau (comprising of a few houses and a truckstop/cafe). Just a few meters north of the Matamau Cafe, we located the turn-off to the Matamau-Ormondville Road. We indicated right and turned off SH2 and began our off-highway detour. The area we entered looked very peaceful and from here on our country drive was one of following lovely grassy vistas towards rolling hills, driving over narrow windy roads, and over one-way bridges. There was a real sense of relaxation, adventure, and enjoyment as we headed out into the pastoral landscape.

We went through a place called Makotuku (comprising of a few houses), and on towards our main destination of Ormondville. I had been wanting to see Ormondville for a while and was looking forward to it. I had heard a lot about the old train-station that has been restored. A modest village appeared and we went through it, then, in faded letters to my left on what could be the old train station, I caught sight of the word “Ormondville”. And we were through the town, and that was it. “I missed the town” I said, disappointed, and had to make do with looking back through the car’s rear window, until it was gone.

From here we could have turned left and gone back to SH2 through the back of Norsewood. But, since it was a lovely day and we were quite happy touring about, we headed further on out into the country, with the idea of driving through country roads and arriving from Ormondville into the back of Takapau township. My map said we would go through a place marked as Kopua, but there was absolutely no sign of this place (only a road named Kopua Road). My map said we would next pass through Whenuahou, but there was little to mark it as a town, and nothing definite, just the odd house, nothing out of the ordinary. (I did some detailed map studying later on and discovered that what does mark Whenuahou out is that it sits right on the boundary between the districts of Central Hawke’s Bay and Tararua, with Whenuahou Road marking part of the boundary.) From here on the road became spattered with cow droppings and they looked very fresh (and smelled fresh). We rounded a bend, and whoa! Our journey north into the southern end of Takapau was impeded due to a large herd of cows and a farmer herding them down the middle of the narrow road. There was no way through, so we backed off and went back through Whenuahou and ‘Kopua’ and turned right down Kopua Road. This led past a monastery (the Southern Star Abbey), over more one-way bridges, into pretty valleys, over streams, and past the largest hawk we have ever seen (it was just sitting lazily on the side of the road not bothered by our car at all). We followed Kopua Road until it joined up with SH2 just to the north of Norsewood and at the beginning of the Takapau Plains. The Takapau Plains meant that we were now into Hawke’s Bay country. SH2 carves a big sweeping bend across the Takapau Plains, then it is a straight road ahead for a few kilometers.


We may be on SH2 again, but we hadn’t finished our country drive just yet. We were determined to take a look around the decent-sized township of Takapau (since the herd of cows stopped us from getting to the town from the other side). We turned off SH2 at Sydney Street and into Takapau. We drove around a few roads in Takapau and found one of the major signposts to be misleading as it was pointing the wrong way (we ended up heading towards the “transfer station” (rubbish dump). On this road, though, we came across our friends the cows trotting down the road towards us. This meant that this was the road we would have entered Takapau on if they hadn’t stopped our progress from the other side).

Rather than leaving Takapau to join SH2 again, we took yet another detour. This one took us to the east of Takapau, on a country road past the historic homestead of Oruawharo. This is a lovely wooden homestead completed in 1879, with many outlying buildings on the property. I have heard about the wonderful nostalgic experience of the high-teas that are available here. www.oruawharo.com

We found the roads out this way to be excellent surfaces for back-roads and we followed them through farmland until we joined up with a different State Highway, SH52, to take us into the southern end of Waipukurau. We followed SH52 with Hatuma Lake to our left, and entered Waipukurau. We skirted around the town centre, found our SH2 again just before the bridge over the Tukituki River, and resumed our normal journey northwards to Napier.


I had a basic map with me on the journey (my trusty Mobil Map that has been around the country with me since I was a child), but this served as a general guide only, and fortunately the roads we travelled on were all well sign-posted. My basic map didn’t show the route the train-line took across the country, and what I didn’t realise at the time was that we had pretty much followed the old, almost disused, railway line all the way on our off-highway drive. The railway line is officially known as the Palmerston North to Gisborne Line. The Bay Express passenger rail service from Wellington to Napier that passed though all these towns, was closed in 2001. Ormondville Station, built in 1880, has since been preserved by community groups and now provides tourist accommodation. Occasional goods trains are the only trains now using the line.

The areas marked Makotuku, Kopua, Whenuahou, which from the road, show no signs of being a township, or that a township ever existed there, or even a rail-station, were once kept alive by the railway passing through. Without the railway, places like Kopua have all but gone; they are now just names on a map, remnants of what had once been. Takapau is an old railway town too and has survived better as it is bigger and is closer to SH2 than the other towns.

The very early history of the town of Dannevirke (where we stop to get coffee) is bound up with the rail-line we had just followed. In the 1870s-1880s, Dannevirke’s main purpose was to provide the sleepers for the train tracks to be laid on. The sleepers were sawn from felled native trees from around the district.


We had a very enjoyable tour and are planning another excursion – SH50, through Tikokino.


PS: Some history on the area of Ormondville.

Between Makotuku and Kopua there are two rail viaducts (I didn’t see either on the road-trip). One is the Ormondville Viaduct, which is 39 meters high and 280 meters long, completed in 1880. I’m sorry I missed seeing it.

Ormondville town is not only famous for its restored train station, but is is also the scene of some gruesome murders in 1884.



MAPS bibliography:

* My dog-eared travel companion map: Mobil New Zealand Travel Maps. A glove-box sized booklet.


* The map showing the railway line comes from: AA Road Atlas New Zealand, 3rd edition.



Extra reading:

Take a look at my blog about another autumn road-trip (funnily enough, called “Autumn Road Trip”), in which we took a detour off the State Highway. This time it was an enforced detour over the Saddle Road, as the main thoroughfare, the Manawatu Gorge, was blocked by a massive earth slip, the largest slip this country has seen.


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