Top 10 NZ roads: Number 2

19:15, Feb 08 2012
Gentle Annie road
EASY DOES IT: The Gentle Annie road takes its name from the descent from the Central Plateau into the Kaweka forest.

2. Taihape - Napier

Distance: 152km

This road, known historically as Gentle Annie, is now a lot gentler on travellers than it used to be.

Until recently, the route was full of sections of rough gravel. These days the surface is sealed all the way, allowing a far more comfortable drive through a spectacular part of the North Island.

If travelling the Gentle Annie from west to east, you leave Taihape and immediately climb the Central Plateau.

Here you'll find picturesque high-country sheep stations like Erewhon and Springvale - this often bleak country is particularly suited to farming the merino breed, with its high-quality, hollow-fibre wool.


Erewhon - "nowhere" backwards - takes its name from Samuel Butler's influential 1872 novel. It's an apt name for such an isolated place.

From the merino country the road swiftly plunges into a spectacular gorge of the Rangitikei River, where a weathered old suspension bridge still resides alongside the concrete and steel structure that replaced it in 1974.

On a clear day, the climb out of the gorge back onto tussock lands rewards travellers with views of the volcanoes of the Central Plateau.

The steep descent from the plateau into the Kaweka forest is the gradient that gives the Gentle Annie road its name.

It also marks the halfway point between Taihape and Napier, and the many river and lake reserves of the forest park make great locations for rest stops.

After passing the Fernbird bush reserve at Willowford, the road then begins a long ridge-running descent towards Hawkes Bay.

As the coast comes nearer, the landmarks of the region come into view: Cape Kidnappers, Te Mata peak, and the earthquake-raised outcrop of rock that the oldest parts of Napier still reside upon.

There simply isn't a more spectacular point of entry to the bacchanalian pleasures of one of New Zealand's best wine regions.