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Introducing Wairoa to Napier

The small town of Wairoa (population 7900) is trying hard to shirk its rough-edged rep. Not scintillating enough to warrant an extended stay, the town has a couple of points of interest, including an exceptional (and exceptionally early-opening) pie shop called Oslers. Non-consumable attractions include the plaque-studded River Walkway, the Wairoa Museum inside an old bank, and a couple of motels if you're caught short. The Wairoa i-SITE is the spot for local info, including advice on Lake Wakiaremoana.

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, currently only used for freight – you’ll realise what a travesty this is when you pass under the Mohaka viaduct (1937), the highest rail viaduct in Australasia (97m).

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 Scenic 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. See www.doc.govt.nz for info on all of these reserves.

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. Again, www.doc.govt.nz has the low-down on these reserves. 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.