A Trip to the Bottom of the North at Cape Palliser

It’s time to travel north… or at least after we have travelled to the southernmost point of the North Island. We have a pretty big day of driving ahead of us thanks for Robin’s beautifully-crafted last-minute planning. (Sarcasm… That was sarcasm). Our destination today is River Valley for the next few days of adventures, but we can’t leave the Wellington region without visiting the stunning Cape Palliser. So fasten your seatbelts for an unnecessary 5-hour road trip!

We leave the capital city at the crack of dawn, hitting the road to Cape Palliser. In classic New Zealand style, the landscape dramatically changes from the urbanisation of the Wellington suburbs to a winding road isolated in a huge bush-clad valley. Woah! Laura sticks her arms out of the car window trying to capture what she can of this wild place made atmospheric with its low-lying clouds.

The Stunning Coastal journey to Cape Palliser

Once out of the valley, the sun starts bursting through the clouds to shine across the entire Cape Palliser area. It casts a golden glow over the already golden fields occupied by sheep and cows.

All of the above sounds pretty nice, doesn’t it? Well, yet another mind-blowing landscape moment hits us as turn down onto the coastal road. The road is wedged between the coast’s rugged rocks and towering cliffs. Those cliffs go from hard stone to a soft stone weathered away to almost create columns. In fact, you can see a much more dramatised version of this further inland at the Putangirua Pinnacles – a place used in The Lord of the Rings movies. Unfortunately for us, with all the driving we have planned today, we are going to miss these rocky beasts. Damn.

Sun rising over the Cape Palliser Road Sun rising over the Cape Palliser Road
First sight of Cape Palliser Lighthouse First sight of Cape Palliser Lighthouse
The proud seals of Cape Palliser The proud seals of Cape Palliser
Robin tries to chat with the seal Robin tries to chat with the seal

ngawi, home of the “ngaw-ly” coastal road

Nevertheless, visiting the Cape Palliser Lighthouse is a shorter activity that we can fit into this day, so we continue on the coastal road that, well, starts to no longer look like a road. Once we pass a tiny settlement of Ngawi, hilariously having more tractors per head of population than anywhere else in the world (really! – and we see them all from the roadside), the road turns into a gravel road. Ok, so that’s not too uncommon in New Zealand… Until it the road really narrows on the edge of a cliff with what seems to be rocks flattened down to make a road. At this moment, we are so thankful that we no longer have our massive campervan

Cape Palliser seal spotting

Looking out towards the ocean, we notice some of the rocks moving. Oh wait, they’re seals! Indeed, a seal colony are chilling on the rocks right next to the road. We park just off the road and get out for a closer look. (Not too close, though, it’s best to stay a few metres away from New Zealand fur seals, not only to not disturb them, but because they’ll challenge you!)

Unlike when we went swimming with seals in Kaikoura, the seals on the rock here all seem to be scratching their ears in unison. It’s pretty cute to watch. A couple of males then challenge each other to a fight. We watch how strangely agile they can move on the land, walking around on their flippers as if they were just legs with oversized feet.

Then we embraced our cheesy tourist side

So… many… steps…

Back in the car, we drive past a seal almost making his way onto the road. Robin tries to chat with it but gets an unenthusiastic response. Then we continue on the final wee stretch to Cape Palliser Lighthouse. We see it sitting all proud atop a steep cliff… and we mean steep.

We park up facing a long line of wooden steps leading right up to the base of the lighthouse. How many freakin’ steps are there?!

251 according to a sign… Ok, we didn’t really want to know. Nevertheless, we set ourselves the challenge of tackling the stairs without stopping – a challenge we take way too enthusiastically to start with, starting too fast. A fast-paced thumping rhythm quickly turns into a plod joined by heavy breathing… Oh my God, we think we’re dying.

A daunting climb. But some fun flowers! A daunting climb. But some fun flowers!
The relentless climb The relentless climb
Awesome views from the top Awesome views from the top

Made it to Cape Palliser Lighthouse!

Achieving our goal of not stopping, we collapse in a heap at the base of the Cape Palliser Lighthouse. Not the most graceful entrance, but we’re sure this lighthouse has seen it all before. As well as an impeccably painted lighthouse up-close, the views from up here are pretty sensational. It offers an awesome perspective of the coastline.

Quirky Kiwi towns and the Manawatu Gorge

We practically skip down the steps back to the car, not too daunted by the 4-hour drive ahead. It’s New Zealand, there’s stuff to look at and quirky towns to stop off in. One of which is Woodville, a town with a lot of punny shops, like a dress shop called “For Frock’s Sake”. We stop in Yummy Mummy’s for free cheesecake tastings and a coffee and admire a sign pointing to all the other Woodvilles in the world. Then it’s onto Manawatu Gorge! It’s a relatively short but stunning drive through a river gorge, which is famous for its hikes. In fact, we did do a hike in Manawatu Gorge on Day 67 of this 365 Days:365 Activities. Good times!

The Last Leg to River Valley

Eventually, it’s back onto State Highway 1 to the town of Taihape where we once did gumboot-throwing – for real! Taihape also marks the final leg of our journey to River Valley. The adventure lodge is situated alongside the Rangitikei River is way off the beaten track. We travel down this lonesome road surrounded by huge rolling hills. The only other traffic we meet is cows – a herd of them being shifted by a farmer and his dogs.

Finally, we make it to River Valley where we can settle for the night relaxing along the riverside, playing giant chess. The adventurous part comes tomorrow when we join the crew for a grade 5 white water rafting trip down the Rangitikei River. Join us then!

Laura and Robin

The rugged end of the North Island
The rugged end of the North Island Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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