Weekend drive
To Rotorua and return

After the usual start heading north from our Wellington home up SH1, I took SH3 and turned off just before Wanganui at the sign for Fordell. Past Fordell I followed the Whangaehu River valley through a winding network of mainly sealed roads that passed through open sections of back country farm land and deep, sheer-sided gorges clad in native forest. 

Recent rain and continuing intermittent showers made everything very green but had also caused a number of minor slips in the gorges, a common problem with the blue-grey mudstone known as papa rock common in this area. 

As I moved deeper into the back country the road turned from seal to gravel and then to slushy mud in the increasing rain.  This caused me a few challenges at one steep climb out of a gorge, with the rear wheels scrabbling for traction until I went into 4WD.  That was the one point on the trip where 4WD, while not essential, was a nice security blanket. 

As usual for me, the run through to National Park was in the pouring rain, but it did ease off a bit as I headed back along SH47, giving me the opportunity to stop and photograph some very moody scenes of the western side of the Volcanic Plateau. From Turangi I just followed the main route through to Rotorua, taking about two hours longer than normal to cover almost the same distance from Wellington but having a much more interesting trip.

With my Rotorua activities finishing at lunchtime a few days later I decided to return to Wellington via the Forgotten World Highway, giving me the chance to see the area west of Rotorua and also pick up the bit of the highway that I had never travelled.

Once I got through Taumarunui and on to SH43 following the Whanganui River I started seeing signs for the Forgotten World Highway and the area started feeling a lot more remote.  It was another very scenic run, initially following the Whanganui River before veering off to following a number of streams and lesser rivers through the ranges. 

The last day back from Stratford the next day was limited to the main roads, with continuing intermittent heavy rain making for few photographic opportunities until near Kapiti when I finally came out from under the clouds and was able to capture an impressive rainbow. 

From start to finish, taking the road less travelled had certainly given me much more diverse scenery and a far more interesting trip than the standard run up SH1.

To read the full story in the August 2016 issue of NZ4WD go to Zinio.com (July 25) or purchase your own hard copy at the Adrenalin store.

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