Introducing Wairoa to Napier
The small town of Wairoa is trying hard to shirk its rough-edged reputation, and a walk along its riverside promenade on a sunny day will leave you wondering whether those edges are smoothing off. Not scintillating enough to warrant an extended stay, the town has a couple of points of interest, including an exceptional pie shop called Oslers. Non-consumable attractions include the Wairoa Museum and the nearby Whakaki Lake wetland. The town has a couple of motels and a cracker little campsite.
The stretch of highway between Wairoa and Napier traipses through unphotogenic farmland and forestry blocks for much of its 117km. Most of it follows a railway line that is currently only used for freight – you’ll see what a travesty that is when you pass under the Mohaka viaduct (1937), the highest rail viaduct in Australasia (97m). The litter-strewn roadside rest area here does little to honour this grand construction.
Occupied by early Maori, Lake Tutira has walkways and a bird sanctuary. At Tutira village, just north of the lake, Pohokura Rd leads to the wonderful Boundary Stream Reserve, a major conservation area. Three loop tracks start from the road, ranging in length from 40 minutes to three hours. Also along this road you’ll find the Opouahi and Bellbird Bush Scenic Reserves, which both offer rewarding walks.
Off Waipatiki Rd, 34km outside Napier, Waipatiki Beach is a beaut spot boasting a low-key campsite and the 64-hectare Waipatiki Scenic Reserve. Further down the line, White Pine Bush Scenic Reserve, 29km from Napier on SH2, bristles with kahikatea and nikau palms. Tangoio Falls Scenic Reserve, 27km north of Napier, has Te Ana Falls, stands of wheki-ponga (tree ferns) and native orchids. Between White Pine and Tangoio reserves the Tangoio Walkway (three hours return) follows Kareaara Stream.
The highway surfs the coast for the last 25km, with impressive views towards Napier. Hawke’s Bay wine country starts in earnest at the mouth of the Esk River. Even the driver should safely be able to stop for a restrained tasting at one of the excellent vineyards just off SH2 (or both if you’re spitting).
Esk Valley Estate is a lovely spot to bring your picnic and enjoy some great reds. With its relaxed, rustic feel, Crab Farm Winery is a good stop for lunch and a glass of rosé (among others).