Destinations: Castlepoint

“I'm off on a four-wheel drive trip to Castlepoint this weekend,” I say breezily to the lady in the supermarket as she packs my groceries. “Oh, really? That's a horrible place. There is nothing there,” she responds, without taking her eye off the bag. For a second, my spirits deflate. But it's now Monday and I am pleased to say, she was wrong. I must tell her next time I see her. The frozen roar of the stag mounted on the wall at the Duke of Edinburgh Pub in Porangahau, captures my eye as I wait for a meal taking forever to arrive. Meanwhile, the other 18 travellers, from afar afield as Taranaki and Auckland, are tucking in to massive portions of fish and chips and getting to know each other. We are here to kick off a weekend of four-wheel driving with Back Country Tag Along Tours. This is a regular scenario for Kevin and Sharon Smith, the owners of this business. Their trips are particularly popular with ex- farmers: “Probably because it is a bit nostalgic for them. They tell me, “You have opened up lots of gates for us again,”“ says Kevin. At twilight we head towards the tiny coastal settlement of Herbertville in Southern Hawke's Bay. We'll bed down at Pipibank Station for two nights, travelling to Castlepoint and back, via sheep and beef stations including Akitio, Owahanga, and Mataikona. Not far up the road our convoy pulls to a halt. In the dim light we can just make out the long, skinny sign bearing the world's longest place name. It translates to 'The hilltop where Tamatea with big knees, conqueror of mountains, eater of land, traveller over land and sea, played his koauau to his beloved.' At Pipibank, half our group have lodgings in the farmhouse while, alas, we others have drawn the short straw: the shearer's quarters. “I say, this is very communal...” says one of our lot as she eyes up the ratio of five rough and ready bedrooms to one bathroom with two showers and a toilet. It is a night interrupted by a chorus of snoring. “At least they were in harmony,” says some joker. The dogs bark at four in the morning and to cap it off, an alarm clock shrills, still set to town schedule. However, the irk fades upon opening the door to see the woolshed, bathed in sunlight and beyond the farm gate, a sparkling sea. Our 4WD vehicles are neither the 'shinies' cruising the city streets, free of dirt , nor the 'tough trucks' throwing themselves at every lump and bump on the landscape. You could say we are the 'soft roaders', although we will still have our share of challenges. Janice, a sprightly 70-something, is still chirpy after two days of riding over rough tracks in her RAV4, the smallest in the fleet. At one stage we watched as she drove full speed towards a steep bank. Mud flew off the wheels as she tipped perilously sideways but recovered to reach the top. “That was the most fun I have ever had on four wheels,” she says. Akitio Beach is littered with driftwood and at the school, pet day is in full swing. Heads turn as we drive past. We park beside the beach for a cuppa and a bite to eat. Kerry, an intensive care nurse from Mangawhai, races off to investigate the pets. She returns jubilant at having scored a pony ride. Farms along this coast are massive and have a rich pastoral history. Some, such as Akitio, have been in one family for generations. While others, such as Mataikona Station, were bought by a Swiss real estate magnate in 2011. At 7300ha, Owahanga is the largest Maori-owned station in the North Island. Everywhere, plump, soon-to-be-weaned lambs run to and fro with their mothers. They seemed to enjoy playing 'chicken' as we drive past. A well-kept graveyard at Akitio Station tells the fate of some of the early settler families. In 1896 Archibald Armstrong drowned while trying to save his uncle. “That was the way you died in those days,” says Lyndon a retired farmer's wife from Taupo. 'We all do fade as a leaf,' reads another inscription. “There is history everywhere,” says Sharon, who feeds us snippets over the two-way radio as we go. For instance, a pioneer farming couple from Pipibank Station eagerly awaited the arrival of their double bed which went sailing by several times on the ship before it could land. “Castlepoint is at its best in bad weather,” the petrol pump attendant tells us, as he fills our jeep. “The reef really performs for you then. There's a cave out there and the sea gets worked up when it goes through.” Today we are happy it is calm as it makes the walk up the steps towards and past the lighthouse, a pleasant one. Surly grey clouds from the south hint it won't last. A contraption with gigantic wheels hitched to a fishing boat impresses the blokes and a local hoon chews up the sand with his trail bike. I could dawdle hours away here and earmark it for a future holiday. For now, it is time to high-tail it back to Herbertville. Late afternoon, it seems a daunting task. Our petrol pump man, when we told him where we were heading said, “I am glad you're the one doing it — it's a rough piece of road and there are some rocks the size of houses.” We make it before sundown and our breakfast hosts, Tina and John Emmet, have made us a meal that appeases our hunger and weariness. Out comes Tina's cornet (she used to be in the New Zealand Airforce Band) as she bugles, 'Come to the cookhouse door, boys.' How did they end up in Herbertville? “We came for a visit 15 years ago, saw the house for sale and bought it,” says Tina. On Sunday we drop down from the hills of Tautane Station, into Porangahau and on to visit the beaches popular with the folk of Hawke's Bay: Aramoana, Blackhead and Pourerere. It is here we make our final wheel marks in the sand before saying our goodbyes and heading home. What, where, how
  • The world's longest place name: Taumatawhakatangi- hangakoauauotamatea- turipukakapikimaunga- horonukupokaiwhenuaki- tanatahu — just before Porangahau Village, turn right into Wimbledon Road. The sign is located a few kilometres along here on the right.
  • Herbertville: a small settlement on the south-east coast of Hawke's Bay. Good for fishing camping and surfing. The large promontory just north is Cape Turnagain. Here there is a seal colony.
  • Akitio: a picturesque coastal community two hours drive from Palmerston North or 85km south east of Dannevirke. Good for fishing and surfing.
  • Castlepoint: a one hour drive from Masterton on Wairarapa's east coast. As well as the lighthouse, explore the reef and rock pools, climb Castle Rock or look out for seals, dolphins and blue penguins. Watch the fishing boats come in. The dates and times of historic Castlepoint Beach horse races are governed by the tide (and the winds).
  • Back Country Tag Along Tours: tours run every three to four weeks
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