Discovering the Rangitikei

SADIE BECKMAN
Last updated 14:23 25/10/2012
Rangitikei tourism

On the chairlift at Whakapapa, Reikorangi's Sadie Beckman and children Otis Beckman (8), and Lily Beckman (5).

Rangitikei tourism 2
Family adventure: Quad biking through deserted railway tunnels near Cairnmuir Cottage, Sadie Beckman, husband Nathan, and children Otis, 8, and Lily, 5.

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We've all heard the old adage "a change is as good as a holiday," but after several particularly unsatisfying sessions of rearranging the furniture, attempting to cook ambitious meals and briefly considering being a brunette, I decided it's a load of rubbish so loaded my family into the car and set off to seek adventure.

Living in New Zealand means a diverse range of options for holidays are on our doorstep, and being a tourist in your own country actually has a lot going for it. From the Kapiti and Horowhenua regions we are in easy reach of many interesting places, one of which is Rangitikei.

The region stretches from south Taranaki to the North Island Volcanic Plateau, forming a trapezium shape and covering some 4500 square kilometres. Its towns are Taihape, Bulls, Marton, Mangaweka and Hunterville.

Travelling on State Highway 1 means passing through most of these places, but in the past I had viewed them just as coffee stops. I now know they have a lot more going for them.

Between Mangaweka and Taihape lies Mokai Rd, a spectacular rural drive that takes you on bridges over ravines of a stomach- dropping height. Perched on the edge of one of these cliffs is Gravity Canyon, an adrenalin-junkie's mecca, where those of a strong disposition can throw themselves from a monstrously high bridge while attached to various ropes and harnesses.

The centre is staffed by friendly people who assure you it's fine and they've not had a single death. Reassuring I suppose, but I sent my husband to be the guinea-pig.

Options include New Zealand's highest bridge bungy (80 metres) over the canyon, a swing with a 50m freefall and a flying fox that reaches speeds of 160kmh. Gravity Canyon also has what the staff claim to be the world's only hydrolift, a vertical double-seated contraption that uses a large bucket of water as a counter-balance. Great for the kids, and me, although I did try the flying fox, and enjoyed it.

The centre is 15 minutes from SH1 and also serves as an information centre for the Rangitikei, as well as showcasing some beautiful scenery for those less keen to test their mettle. Our first night's accommodation was also on the same road. Tarata Lodge's Treehouse is a clean, modern, self- contained second-storey apartment with views over the river, the prehistoric looking cliffs and waterfalls, and an outdoor spa boasting the same views.

The hosts' daughter took us for a hairy ride down a steep hill track to the river in a four-wheel- drive buggy. There were lambs for the kids to feed and a novel golf attraction - an old mini in the middle of a paddock which you try to hit. Get it in three balls and a bottle of wine is the prize.

The lodge also offers trout fishing, possum hunting and river rafting with qualified instructors.

From here we travelled to Cairnmuir Cottage, just north of Mangaweka. The cottage is actually a self-contained five-bedroom Lockwood, with a cosy woodburner, books, toys and a homely feel.

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It is perched on a ridge overlooking the Kawhatau Valley and Ruahine Ranges, a magnificent panorama with beautiful quality of light. Wendy and Peter Buchanan have been farming for many years and are the epitome of good Kiwi folk. Wendy's homemade muesli and preserves and other goodies stocked the kitchen, and she went out of her way to look after us, taking us for a quad-bike ride through an old railway tunnel on the property, and inviting us in for a wine with the family.

A great day-trip from Cairnmuir is the Waiouru Army Museum.

The final night of our trip was a luxurious one at Whakapapa's Chateau Tongariro.

The stately hotel was built in 1929, and has had a varied history since. Friendly Kiwi service adds the touch of informality needed to avoid stuffiness, and you would be hard pushed to find a more relaxing moment than lounging on the grand couches in front of the magnificent arched Ngauruhoe window having high tea.

A hot pool and cinema are free to guests and there are plenty of dining options nearby, meaning it is actually possible to stay there if you're not loaded. Before heading home we took a sightseeing ride up the chairlifts on Whakapapa's skifield to the rebuilt and refurbished Knoll Ridge cafe. Spectacular picture windows show how high up the mountain you are, and is a reminder of how small we are in contrast with nature.

- Kapiti Observer

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