Camping At The National Army Museum

This post is a little out of order from the route of our trip, but with today being ANZAC day I felt it was appropriate to publish this post ahead of some of the other posts that should come before it.

Dave and Nita

We had spent the night back at the NZMCA Park in Napier catching up with our friends Dave and Nita who despite being regular visitors to Napier had never stayed at the Park as they have family in the area. The following morning Dave and Nita headed off to do their thing while we had decided to tackle a road we had never driven before, the Gentle Annie which takes you from Napier to Taihape.

It always feels good to head towards a road that you haven’t driven before knowing that new adventures await. Having read the postings about this road on Facebook we knew it was steep and winding with some magnificent scenery as well as a couple of DOC camps along the way.

As the road heads inland, it starts to climb. With the farmland slowly giving way to forestry as the trees get closer and closer to the side of the road you really do get the sense of being on your own especially with almost no traffic coming towards you and nothing behind us.

Surprisingly the road only crosses a couple of rivers with this one-lane bridge over quite the gully below. This bridge is just before the start of one of the steepest windiest bits of road we have driven in a while. The road these days is sealed, but it’s still narrow without a centreline, and thankfully the only logging truck we did meet coming the other way was when we had tons of room to pull over. Given the twists in the road, it could have been quite interesting to have met him elsewhere.


We didn’t come across this sign till slightly later in the journey. I had to laugh, with the picture rotated the slope looked almost as steep as the one we had driven up and down. I actually think we drove this road the wrong way I think that had we driven from Taihape the views down over the sea as we descended the hills would have been quite spectacular. Especially on such a clear blue sky day, but I could be wrong about that.

We weren’t much further down the road when as we came around the corner we spotted this stag at the side of the road. It’s hard to know who got the more significant fright. Thankfully we had the camera at the ready and Sarah was able to snap a couple of shots as it headed to safety.

When we stayed at Whakaipo Bay in Taupo, we spoke with Phil and Annie who mentioned the freedom camping area at the site of the old Springvale Suspension Bridge. While we thought about staying here alongside the Rangitikei River with no other campers, we decided to move on and spend the night at the Army Museum. As a place to stay, it looked ok with plenty of space, but with no one else there we were a little hesitant.

It’s hard to miss the Army museum as you pass by on SH1 especially with the tanks outside the building ready to repel any unwanted invaders. There is apparently a new method of ensuring you pay your entrance fee with the tanks taking aim of those who don’t and using their vehicles for target practice. Imagine that! You can see the smaller tank lining up the red ute.

The museum charges an admission fee of $15 per adult which I think is reasonable as it’s actually free to camp here around the back of the museum so if you factor in the usual cost of staying somewhere it’s a reasonable deal. Sadly the display cases aren’t fitted with non-reflective glass so getting a decent shot of some of the displays was rather tricky.

The museum is set up so that as you wander around, you start with the oldest conflicts and finish the tour with the most recent encounters with good storyboards and displays to cover almost every show.

From the Maori land wars, it was onto the horrors of WW1 and the use of chemical and poison gasses to maim and kill. Thankfully since then the use of chemical weapons has been outlawed but seeing the masks and treading the storyboard makes you aware of how bad it would have been.

It’s impossible to believe but with the display moving from the Western front to what happened in Gallipoli and the main reason for publishing this post today that neither Sarah nor I took a single useable photo of what was shown here. (we actually made this visit a couple of weeks prior and had I thought about it at the time I would have ensured I had decent photos.)

Then downstairs to the WW2 display which appears more extensive than the others and certainly has more equipment to view. Although it only looks and don’t touch with no access inside any of the vehicles. I thought this was a real shame and would loved to have had the chance to sit inside the tank or if that wasn’t possible at least somehow to be able to see inside. I think if you could do this especially with a video display running, it would really bring home the feeling of what it would have been like.

I am not grumbling (Oh all right maybe a little) it’s just something I think that would take the museum to another level if it were a little more interactive. At one point I got too close to one of the displays, and a booming voice came over the nearby speaker telling me to “step back from the display you are being watched” all rather big brother, but I guess after the thefts here back in 2007 has made them extra cautious.


Talking about medal thefts bring me to the display of medals here which is extensive. On display are medals of all sizes and shapes for all sorts of events that New Zealanders have been involved in. Of particular interest to me was seeing the Victoria Cross and Bar (far left in photo) awarded to Charles Upham one of only three people in history to have been awarded it twice. I read with interest after our visit that these medals are worth around $400,000 if they came to auction and this one worth even more due to its rarity.

I know that these medals weren’t awarded in the Gallipoli campaign, in fact, they were given out in WW2, but they are still an important part of New Zealand’s history and something that we came to learn about by visiting here.

For those that don’t know several medals including 9 Victoria Crosses were stolen from the museum in a burglary. They were recovered the next year on payment of a reward which it turned out was actually paid to the burglars. One of whom returned it with the other keeping it even after being convicted.

After we had finished our museum tour, we returned to the motorhome parked securely at the rear of the museum. It’s a vast area here with both the carpark and grassed area being available for freedom camping although a donation is requested it’s not expected. During the night, there are security patrols around the camping area, making us feel very safe. Talking about this, there are very bright lights on the building that are on all night so make sure you take this into consideration when parking otherwise it’s like daylight.


That evening we were treated to a magnificent sunset which I thought outlined the guns on the parade ground with that special glow you get at that time of the day.

The following morning our black and white alarm clock decided he wanted an early morning explore howling to be let out of the door at around 6am. (I took these photos later when the sun had actually risen.) Since he wouldn’t take no for an answer I was elected to accompany him outside to say it was brisk was rather an understatement with a good frost outside. Thankfully common sense prevailed with Mr Blobby deciding that returning to the warmth of the motorhome was the best option. That morning was the first time this year we have turned on the heater.

Overall we enjoyed the night at the museum, and it would serve as a handy place to break the journey or wait out a road closure during winter. If you are here, take the time to go inside to view the museum. Once again, it’s hard to believe that we have driven past time after time without stopping in the past.

To view the places we have visited click here to see them on Google maps. You can click the links to read the blog about that area.

To view the Ratings, we have done for places we have stayed click here 

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