Newspaper Article 2006 – High on the heritage trail

High on the heritage trail

Hastings and Rangitikei district councils are pushing to have the Napier-Taihape Road designated as a State Highway. LAWRENCE GULLERY and photographer STEVEN McNICHOLL spend a day travelling the road to find what people think of the plans.

Standing in a paddock is a lonely stone carving marking the entrance to a marae which has never been built.

It’s an eye-catching structure visible from the Napier-Taihape road. just a couple of kilometres from Omahu, and it marks the area where a marae stood about 50 years ago.

Master carver George Nuku created the stone figure and placed it in the paddock about five years ago, in the hope it might encourage others to rebuild the marae.

Laurie Watson’s home adjoins the paddock where the stone entrance stands. She’s aware of its existence but her whanau’s affiliations are with Runanga Marae, not far away.

“I’ve seen a lot of people stop to take photos of it,” she said.

When we met Laurie she was busy preparing the children for school. It was a big day for the kids, cross-country was on at their Pukehamoamoa School.

I spoke to Laurie about proposals to turn the Napier-Taihape road into a State Highway, while Steven attempted to photograph her children among their animals – six kittens, about four piglets, two sows and the family dog.

“This road is busy enough without the extra traffic.

“It needs a few corners fixed up but I think its good enough as it is,” she said.

Just down the road from Laurie’s place was Pukehamoamoa School, where principal Brendon White was waiting the arrival of visiting schools for the start of the cross-country.

Woodford House students were also due to arrive to put on a “healthy style” barbecue for the kids.

“I just like country schools and country atmosphere.

“We’ve got 31 pupils at the school, with children coming from Omahu and Flaxmere on the bus, ” he said.

Brendon started working at the school at the beginning of the year and said the school had been talking about the pros and cons of the State Highway plans recently.

“We were having a discussion on whether it would increase the number of subdivisions in the area and if that were the case then it’s going to increase the stability of our roll.

“But we have to weigh that up against retaining our country school atmosphere, so it’s a Catch 22 situation,” he said.

At Shereden [Sherenden] and Districts Schools, principal Vicky Lumsden was giving the pupils a pep talk before heading to the cross-country and Pukehamoamoa School also.

Our heritage trail guide of the Napier-Taihape road led us to the next port of call: Mangawhare homestead, which was built in 1879.

We found the homestead on Glenross Road, which leads to the Omahaki Valley, just off the Napier-Taihape Road.

The homestead has been owned by Grant Tolley’s family since 1947, when his great grand father lived there after World War 2.

Originally it had a ballroom, classrooms and servants’ quarters but they were pulled down during the Depression because it was too hard to maintain such a large home.

Grant is an aircraft engineer by trade and has recently returned home from overseas to begin renovations on the homestead.

He is also aware of Hastings and Rangitikei district councils’ plans to upgrade the road to a State Highway and reckons it would be a good idea.

‘It would especially be good for the logging trucks that go over it every day. It would also be good for tourism,” Grant said.

“My only concern would be the safety factor, with the increase in traffic, especially with children around,” he said.

Grant points us in the direction of Wrekin station, back on the Napier-Taihape Road, owned and managed by the Ward family.

He said David Ward would be able to tell us about the site of the Willowford Accommodation House and maybe take us to see what is left of a water wheel pump used to clean wool.

When Steven and I turn up at David’s place, he had just finished docking 100 lambs with the help of his daughter Suzanne and neighbouring farmer, Martin Jones. We were invited inside their home for smoko where David’s wife, Linda, set out biscuits and hot drinks.

David’s interested in our road trip because he was part of a group of local people which published a book, West To The Annie, a couple of years ago about the Napier-Taihape road inhabitants.

He’s adamant the road should be designated a state highway and doesn’t believe changing its status will increase traffic dramatically overnight.

“Once when the Manawatu Gorge was closed there was a lot of traffic using this road to get through. There aren’t many other options.” David said.

“It would increase the traffic in time, but it would improve the road.”

Smoko finishes and David takes us out on his four-wheel drive truck to a small waterfall on the banks of what was known as the Barricade Stream.

It is where a water wheel operated about 1873, powering a pump which in turn fed water to clean wool for transportation to Napier.

Unfortunately over the years, silt has built up around the wheel, parts if which can still be seen in the ground.

David said he can still remember the foundations of the old accommodation house which was pulled down to make way for a road.

He said he’s found “many treasures” around the old site – apparently the the longdrop toilets are the best places for such findings.

I decide to take his word for it and ask if I can keep a couple of horse shoes as a memento of our trip. They were lying in the ground, possibly on the site where a blacksmith once operated, David reckons.

Steven and I push on towards Taihape and as we enter the shingle road section of our trip we keep our eyes open for a sign which points to a strangely shaped rock form known as The Lizard.

We locate the site but fail miserably to see the lizard. We turn off our main route onto Lawrence Road and toward Blowhard Bush, which is owned by the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society.

There was already a group of walkers making their way through Blowhard Bush, no doubt analysing the various rock formation of Waitotaran limestone (or looking for the lizard).

We take another detour off the Napier-Taihape Road, this time on Kuripapango Road, toward The Lakes, a popular spot for bush walkers.

Steven informs me that nature is calling and luckily when we reach the start of the walking trails there’s a Department of Conservation longdrop on site.

Unfortunately there’s no toilet paper. To make matters worse, there’s no light either. We reach the Kuripapango bridge which marks the boundaries of the Hastings and Rangitikei district councils.

It is also the site where two hotels operated in about 1882, on each side of the Ngaruroro River.

By now we could see the peak of Mount Ruapehu as we reached the gateway of Ngamatea Station, which straddles the watershed of the central North Island.

One of the shepherd’s at the station, Trent McDonald, is just 18 years old and has been working on Ngamatea for about nine months.

We met Trent inside the shepherds’ quarters having lunch where there was an impressive collection of rum bottles and beer cans, neatly stacked on the wall in the corner of the lounge.

Trent’s from Waipukurau and came to work on the station after a stint on a dairy farm.

He plans to stay at Ngamatea for two or three years more with the aim of establishing a top working-dog team and improving his skills as a shepherd.

Trent and Stu Tolley, a casual shepherd from Dannevirke, take us out on the station while they were moving a mob of 5000 sheep.

“This is a big change from dairy farming.

“I just like being in the country and being out of town,” he said.

Trent said there are four fulltime shepherds and two casuals working on Ngamatea.

“It’s like a big family here, we are pretty close, ” Trent said.

The station’s isolation doesn’t bother Trent. It is surrounded by snow capped mountains such as the Ruahine Ranges to the east and Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe to the west.

There was, however, plenty of action when a book entitled, Ngamatea, the land and the people, was launched recently at the station.

Our final stop on the Napier-Taihape Road was at the Springvale suspension bridge, built in 1924/25, which has been preserved alongside the modern Callender-Hamilton bridge.

The two bridges cross the Rangitikei River and we parked on the river banks to take a closer look at the suspension bridge.

We weren’t alone, however, as the local resident magpie swooped Steven as he tried to get closer to the bridge to take photos.

I decided to leave him to it, took the car back up to Otupae Station to ask the manager, Garry Mead, what he thought about the road’s future as a State Highway.

Garry lives on the station and the nearest town he travels to is Taihape and that section of the road is already sealed.

“But I can see the benefits of it, obviously it would take a burden off the ratepayers and the less rate we have to pay the better,” he said.

“There still a bit of mystique about the road and if it was all sealed, I wonder if people would think differently about it?” he asked.

Garry’s from the Waikato originally but has lived and worked on Otupae for 23 years.

“This is good country to work with.

“I like the back country. It’s not as isolated as it was 60 or 70 years ago,” he said.

I drive back to the suspension bridge to see how Steven is coping with the magpie.

Luckily, the bird has shifted across the river bank and simply watches us move out of town.

On the way home we see weekend holiday makers set up camp by the Kuripapango river with fishing rods in hand and barbecues ready to go.

Nice for some, but for us the hour-long journey back across country to civilisation awaits.

Photo captions –

BIG MUSTER: Ngamatea shepherd Trent McDonald musters a mob of sheep.

PORK TALK: Paris Watson, seven, checks on a few of the sows at his home near Pukehamoamoa School.

BRIEFING: Sherenden and Districts School principal Vicky Lumsden, speaks to a school assembly before the pupils travel to Pukehamoamoa Schools for the cross-country.

FAR HORIZON: Snow-capped mountains come into view travelling toward the Kaweka Range on the Napier-Taihape Road.

SENTINEL: A stone carving makes the entrance to an old marae site, believed to have been pulled down about 50 years ago.

STRIPPED: Logging operations leave giant valleys naked near the Blowhard Bush Reserve, not far from where the Tutaekuri and Donald Rivers meet.

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Format of the original

Newspaper article

Date published

23 September 2006

Creator / Author

  • Lawrence Gullery
  • Steven McNicholl


Hawke’s Bay Today


Published with permission of Hawke's Bay Today


  • Martin Jones
  • Vicky Lumsden
  • Trent McDonald
  • Garry Mead
  • George Nuku
  • Grant Tolley
  • Stu (Stuart) Tolley
  • David Ward
  • Linda Ward
  • Suzanne Ward
  • Laurie Watson
  • Paris Watson
  • Brendon White

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