Well off the beaten track and one of the North Island’s best-kept secrets, this winding road follows a historic route used by early Māori to travel around the headwaters of the Rangitikei River and its main tributaries the Moawhango and Hautapu Rivers.
The trail links northern Rangitikei District and Hawke’s Bay, two regions worlds apart in their natural heritage and landscapes. It also connects to the Hawke’s Bay Trails as well as two Heartland Rides: Route 52 through to the Wairarapa, and the OTT through to Ohakune (and therefore the Mountains to Sea).
With plenty of climbing and 136km long, this ride is best completed over two days, camping overnight along the way.
From Taihape, head north on Hautapu Street, which morphs into Spooners Hill Road. At the Kaiewe Junction, turn right onto Pangatawa Road, left at Waikakahi Road (gravel surface) and left again on to Moawhango Valley Road (mostly gravel surface). Turn right at the school in Moawhango and you’re on the Taihape–Napier Road, which is fully sealed.
Be aware that there is still a short section of unsealed road out of Taihape where knobbly tyres are recommended. If you’re a dedicated roadie and want to avoid the gravel, go straight through the Kaiewe Junction, which connects directly to the Taihape–Napier Road via Spooners Hill Road (this route is 1–2km longer and hillier than the gravel option).
You will start climbing as soon as you leave Taihape, to the high point on the Central Plateau and past Erewhon Station, before diving down into the spectacular Rangitikei River gorge. At the bottom of the descent is the historic Springvale Suspension Bridge, an atmospheric spot for a rest.
After resting up you will climb your way out of the gorge, where on a clear day you will be rewarded with fantastic views of the Central Plateau volcanoes as you continue riding through exposed tussock lands.
The ‘Gentle Annie’ road takes its name from the steep descent into the Tarauarau Valley and the Kaweka Forest. Soon after crossing the Ngaruroro River (76km from Taihape) you will reach the Department of Conservation Kuripapango Campground. This is a scenic area with toilets, but no other facilities.
From the Fernbird bush reserve at Willowford (35km before Fernhill), you will enjoy a long ridge-line descent towards the coast, where the distinctive landmarks of Cape Kidnappers and Te Mata peak will come into view.
At Fernhill, the Taihape–Napier Road ends at State Highway 50. Take care turning right here and ride 1km to cross the Ngaruroro River bridge and connect directly with the Hawke’s Bay Trails. From here you can follow the trail riding along stop banks to either Hastings or Napier.
A helpful source of information about this ride, and other Heartland Rides, is Classic New Zealand Cycle Trails by the Kennett Brothers.
Source: The New Zealand Cycle Trail