Time to move on from Bulmers Landing. Not because we had too instead, we were keen to continue exploring the area. The road map shows a couple of possible routes alongside the Waikato river one closer than the other. Deciding to hug the river on the narrower backcountry road, we found ourselves almost alone on the fabulous scenic road. I say practically alone because despite there being no other cars, there were numerous cyclists.
We did wonder where all these cyclists had appeared from and where they were all heading. It wasn’t until later on this trip, when we got to Mangakino, that we found out they were riding the 2020 Tour Aotearoa. This is a 3000-kilometre cycle ride from Cape Reinga to Bluff following most major cycle trails as well as lots of back roads. There are over 1000 cyclists taking part with the ride needing to be completed within 30 days. Start days are staggered to prevent too many cyclists on the road in one place at one time, but it still seemed like a lot to us. If you would like to find out more or maybe even take part next year, you can visit their website here.
As we progressed along the road, we arrived at the turnoff for the Arohena DOC Camp. In the back of my mind, I remembered reading about a rather narrow access road. That’s never stopped us before and wasn’t going to stop us this time either. My memory was correct, it is a rather narrow access road, but thankfully we met nothing coming the other way. What the reviews neglected to mention is that to get down to the camp, there is a reasonably steep hill to drive down. That probably wouldn’t be too much of a problem if there weren’t two hairpin bends on the hill. I was closely observing the back of the motorhome in the mirrors as we negotiated these bends. At 9 metres long we are probably the maximum length for these corners.
We made it to the bottom of the hill. Where we couldn’t quite shake the worry that we would need to make it back up the hill rounding those corners again to exit the camp. But that would be a worry for the next day when it would be time to leave. Much better to not let these things bother you when there was a charming DOC camp to enjoy.
The campground is massive with a technical limit of 50 unpowered sites. I would, however, imagine that in the height of summer quite a few more would squeeze in here. On the day we visited we had our choice of spots with only a few other campers here.
There are two primary levels to the campground, with us choosing one on the upper level affording some great views over the lake. An interesting feature of this place is way areas have been divided by massive bollards. These are quite a distance apart and would allow for multiple campers between them. We wondered if the reason for these was to prevent “boy racers” tearing up the ground when the camp was empty.
Will my usual efficiency, I neglected to take any photos of some vital infrastructure in the camp. On-site are some really modern, well maintained, clean toilets along with a decent cooking shelter for those staying in tents. There is water here but on a boil water notice and only 2 taps that we could find.
Even though I was blocking out thinking about our return journey back up the hill, Sarah was still concerned. So much so that she tried to convince me to take a walk up the hill to inspect our return journey. Thanks to my lymphoma, I have a lung condition that makes this sort of thing difficult, so I declined to accompany her. The following day I would realise what a mistake this was, more about this later. Anyway, she took several photos of the road, the corners plus this one of the motorhome looking tiny parked up at the campground.
We spent a very relaxing time here wandering around the camp and just sitting watching the world go bye. As you can see from the few photos I have published this camp has plenty of space for some decent R&R and is well worth a visit.
I decided against a swim in the river whereas Sarah was in and out 3 or 4 times cooling down on a sweltering day. She assured me that the water was “lovely”, but I remained unconvinced.
You can see in this photo that there are fireplaces here. You are allowed to use them under normal circumstances except there is currently a total fire ban. Just bring your own wood next time and away you go.
The following morning it was time to brave the steep hill and depart the camp. Not having walked the route the previous day I wanted to get up the hill, slow and steady, but not so fast that I would have difficulty getting around the first hairpin bend. We almost made it with the motorhome running out of puff only a metre or so from the top. But as they say, a miss is as good as a mile. I backed down slightly and tried to restart, but the tyres only chewed up the road surface. The big problem here is that the steepness of the road increases just before the corner. A real momentum killer.
Sarah and I had a discussion deciding that I would back down the hill, then walk back up so we could plan a better exit strategy. Huffing and puffing I walked back up where we looked at the corner. We both realised that actually, I didn’t need to get around the corner I could drive onto grass beyond. This would then enable a new start at the second corner. Sarah stayed at the top of the hill to watch for oncoming traffic.
Back at the bottom of the hill, and back in the van, I got out my lead-weighted boots and pressed the accelerator of the motorhome to the floor. Rocketing up the hill (Imagine, Bat of hell by Meatloaf at full volume in the background.) was somewhat unnerving, slightly worried about bouncing sideways and then down the cliff. In a cloud of dust, I blew past Sarah and stopped on the grass verge. Part one – Mission accomplished.
Still shaking somewhat I got out to rejoin Sarah and have a look at the next hill/corner we would have to surmount to leave the camp. We again wandered up the road to inspect the corner noting that this time there wasn’t a big run-off area. There was however a bit of swing leeway onto the grass that I hadn’t noticed the previous day.
So once again, Sarah stayed at the top, and I walked back to the motorhome. The lead-weighted boots certainly did their stuff with me rocketing around the second corner and onto the road back to civilisation. When Sarah joined me in the van, she relayed how my left front wheel became airborne as I rounded the corner. She wished she could have taken photos of her mad husband playing rally driver with the motorhome.
This story might set off a debate about the benefits of rear-wheel drive over front-drive. Maybe in this situation, they may be correct. I do, however, believe that any motorhome of 9 metres or more would struggle with these corners. The traction control on the Fiat definitely helped, especially when one of the front wheels became airborne. We have only ever been truly stuck twice in 30,000 km’s. One of those times it wouldn’t have mattered what we were driving so I don’t mind that we are driving a front-drive, in fact, I am very happy with it.
Anyway, it all add’s to the fun as well as giving me something to write about. I should also mention that it wasn’t just us with problems a few campers leaving in cars could be heard wheel spinning as they tried to leave the camp. Another camper with a trailer told me he started his run from the lake getting up enough speed to get around the corners.
I don’t know what we would have done if we hadn’t made it. With no phone signal to call anyone for help, it could have been interesting. Maybe we could just have waited for a 4WD to arrive and then asked for their assistance. Although without a tow rope in the van that could have been interesting as well. Something we now need to go out and buy.
Just one final point if like us you have a long low slung motorhome don’t try to turn right back on to the main road. The camber of the road is such that you will get stuck, we almost did. So turn left then reverse into the driveway next door and then accelerate away 😀😀😀
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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.
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