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East Cape 1: Drive to the start line

The East Cape is a pretty epic region of the North Island. I drove it over a family-themed long weekend in February, a fantastic heritage trail visiting some of my father’s places of origin. But first I had to get up there.

A full day’s drive was needed to my stop for the night and so on a beautiful clear morning I set out. It was Waitangi Day, a public holiday, and the roads were quiet. My car enjoyed being able to stretch its legs (or I did on its behalf) instead of its usual city confinement.

The traffic picked up when I reached the Desert Road. A short pause for some lunch doubled as the obligatory mountain photo op stop.

Mt Ruapehu from the Desert Rd

Army trucks on the Desert Rd

We’d just been up this way for the Rotorua trip and I was looking forward to a change of scenery. I followed the instructions of the wee Englishman inside the TomTom and bypassed Taupo, heading toward Rotorua before turning east.

Things started to get interesting, the first of many highlights on this leg. I passed a closed down business, some kind of engineering shop perhaps, not particularly rundown but in classic rubberneck fashion I noticed some graffiti art. A snap decision resulted in an abrupt (yet safe, I might add) u-turn and a few minutes walking around the site.

Closed workshop on SH38 near Wai-o-tapu

Graffiti art on an abandoned building on SH38 near Wai-o-tapu

Closed workshop on SH38 near Wai-o-tapu

The roads were again basically all mine, beautiful touring roads which took me through the Kaingaroa Forest and Te Urewera National Park.

SH38 through Kaingaroa Forest

Just shy of the forestry town Murupara I turned off onto a long winding route north, loosely following the Rangitaiki River. I kept an eye out for the awesomely derelict old Te Mahoe Motors I remembered from past travels this way. Despite this vigilance I sailed on by and had to invoke u-turn número dos.

Old Te Mahoe Motors on Galatea Rd

Old Te Mahoe Motors on Galatea Rd

Old Te Mahoe Motors on Galatea Rd

I haven’t been able to find any references about it. It’s located near the Matahina dam which during its construction in the 1960s saw the creation of the Te Mahoe township. The town still exists but is located on the other side of the river. In any case, the Motors looks like it pre-dates that era, and while it is possible that some aspect of the dam project caused its closure, it is a pretty isolated spot for a business to thrive.

The dam is just around the corner a ways.

Rangitaiki River from above the Matahina Hydro Dam

I was really excited about my next find, mainly because I had forgotten it was there. Abandoned railway lines!

Taneatua Branch closed railway line by the Pekatahi Bridge

This had been a branch extending off the East Coast Main Trunk Line to the town of Taneatua. The original plan had been to extend it to Opotiki and then Gisborne but after the Great Depression, WW2, and the increasing popularity of cars, it was scrapped. This section continued to operate but was closed in 2003. The line is still visible on Google Maps, as is its old termination point at the now ripped-up railway yards in Taneatua.

Taneatua Branch closed railway line

Nature is taking over the old Taneatua Branch railway

This row of letterboxes appealed as I turned around to get back on course.

Letterboxes near the Pekatahi Bridge

I wish I’d known about the railway beforehand as I may have gone to find the old station site when I reached Taneatua. It’s a small town with a quiet, heritage vibe and I felt compelled to stop for a couple of quick snaps anyway.


Half an hour away is Opotiki, my starting point for the East Cape, though I would be continuing for another hour beyond that today. Assuming I could keep the side-distractions to a minimum!

18 Comments Post a comment
  1. I love the photos of the old Motor shop! It reminds me of a series of derelict but beautiful signs that I shot in Montreal; I called them ‘Remnants’.. there’s a scent of nostalgia and old/other-wordliness in those relics. I so enjoy reading about your car journeys & discoveries 🙂

    15 May 2014
    • Thank you Amit! The old shop set the other theme for the weekend as the East Cape has an abundance of fabulous derelict buildings and other ‘remnants’ of past times and past lives. I love it 🙂

      16 May 2014
      • I bet I would too.. Glad to see that you also find derelict buildings to be ‘fabulous’!

        19 May 2014
  2. I love the idea of a car stretching its legs! What fun to have the road mostly to yourself 😀 Beautiful pictures, Hayley. The letter boxes is my favourite. It sounds like a real trip down memory lane, full of nostalgia and remnants of the past.

    16 May 2014
    • It was a fantastic trip, even this first day before I got to the main part of the drive. There’s so much of the ‘old stuff’ that I love around the East Cape, and to have some of it actually relate to family origins just gives it a whole other dimension. Thanks for the taking the time Lottie 🙂

      16 May 2014
  3. Your side-distractions made for a very interesting post — I particularly like the photos of the abandoned railway lines!

    16 May 2014
    • The next day, after I’d met up with family and was driving in convoy with cousins, they expected me to veer off a number of times as we passed ‘side distractions’… I must be getting a reputation! I’d love to return one day with all the time in the world. Thank you Cindi!

      16 May 2014
  4. Ali #

    Love a good road trip, especially with side distractions! And, I love an abandoned railway line, awesome photos. It’s different scenery than the pictures we normally see from NZ. I guess we mostly get seen photos of the South. Looks beautiful and peaceful.

    18 May 2014
    • Hi Ali – you’re probably right, and although it doesn’t have amazing mountain ranges and glacial lakes the North Island does have some fantastic scenery. (And actually I probably need to make sure I’ve seen it properly while I live where I do, as I’m a big big fan of the South Island and could move there one day.) This eastern part of NZ is especially rustic and relatively untouched, and hence is very interesting and unique.

      18 May 2014
  5. You’re still going strong I see!! I’ve been struggling to find the time lately (ongoing problem it seems!!!) so sorry I’ve been absent. Looks like a beautiful part of the world.

    19 May 2014
    • Hi Stranger 🙂 Yep still trucking, though it’s a struggle at times (ironically from ‘too many’ little trips away earlier in the year). You can only do what you can do eh!

      19 May 2014
  6. Great photos and observations – I love doing road trips in NZ for all the interesting things you see along the way, especially in some of the more out of the way places.

    19 May 2014
  7. Marnie #

    Did you realise Olly and Barb used to live near the Taneatua Railway Station back in the day?

    27 May 2014
    • Yes, mum has since mentioned that.

      27 May 2014
  8. Very cool road trip. You said it so nicely about driving: “My car enjoyed being able to stretch its legs (or I did on its behalf)”. Sounds nearly same kind of my driving sentence: “Driving is easy, just jump inside and let it drive You to the destination”.

    I loved very much seeing photos from letterboxes. They are very different in many countries. I have one nice letterbox photo among my About me presentation.

    Thank You presenting Your country.

    6 June 2014
    • Thanks, Matti! With trips like that one, the journey is as enjoyable as the destination, if not more so.

      6 June 2014
  9. Hauraki Greenland #

    I grew up in Te Mahoe, arriving as a baby and leaving when I was about 8 years old. I have many memories of the place, including the now derelict garage you photographed when it was operating as a business. It sold creaming soda soft drinks. Innes was the brand, no longer available but the taste of which I miss even now. We lived on the main road through Te Mahoe (Otipa Rd) and would frequent the sports grounds near to the garage most weekends to watch the local footy club games. Dad worked on the Matahina Dam, I went to the Te Mahoe School, loved the swimming pool, but also had quite poor teachers who bullied the kids with a spiteful attitude and corporal punishment. Yet for many years I would dream we were back living in Te Mahoe. We had one of the first TV’s in the village. My grandfather who lived with us believed that when the fog descended over the valley in which the village was built, the “patupairehe” or fairy people, who usually kept to the more mountainous surroundings, would visit – causing mischief or exacerbating any tensions that prevailed within the community through some sort of supernatural provocation.

    30 June 2015
    • That’s so interesting, thanks for adding that information and historical context. I’ve had another look via Google Earth / Street View to reacquaint myself and guess where the sports grounds used to be. I’ll leave the coordinates of the garage’s location should anyone else be interested to take a look: -38.098196, 176.813881.

      30 June 2015

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