Given Piopio as a destination for Sunday lunch with friends – it was more than just an early start – rather an unexpected journey. Like any destination – it should always be about the journey. Although this one almost didn’t happen – thanks to Cyclone Debbie’s blistering bite. After lashing Queensland, her tail cut a vicious swathe through the North Island to postpone things by several days.
It was also a double whammy for one of the women. Blasted by wind and rain in her apartment on the Sunshine Coast; Debbie was swift and didn’t thwart the flight to Auckland and subsequently New Plymouth. So why Piopio? Between New Plymouth and Hamilton, it was middle for diddle. As it turns out; middle earth – after
discovering Piopio featured in ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’. With two women travelling from New Plymouth, one from Taupo and me from Papamoa – Piopio was deemed fair for all; albeit some map reading required on my part.
7.30am Sunday starts demand a coffee stop en route. Putaruru didn’t appear awake passing through. However, driving through ‘blink-of-an-eye’ Arapuni; Rhubarb Cafe stuck out its hand. Best bathroom ever; charming table settings and genial owner. Suggesting I take five to check the Arapuni swing bridge; it made sense. Mere minutes off the main road, and 152 metres long, the bridge is impressive. Possibly not appealing if you can’t handle heights; but brilliant if you enjoy including it as part of a walk along Waikato River Trails.
Signage makes interesting reading. The powerhouse is hailed as the dam that disappeared – camouflaged in WWII to prevent it being targeted during possible Japanese air strike. Now boasting a Category 2 listing on the Historic Places Trust, Arapuni is one of the few generating power stations in New Zealand listed on the register.
Driving South Waikato is picturesque – easy in this rolling landscape of pasture, dairy and stops. Given more time; there’s the Kiwi House at Otorohanga and Waitomo Caves – just not during a single day’s outing for lunch – at Piopio.
Arriving early in this village named after New Zealand’s now extinct, native thrush –
there’s the usual need to drive to the end of town to tick the ‘been there’ list. Thank goodness for brown and white signature signs. Upon reading a marker to Hairy Feet Tours and Waitanguru Falls; the sidetrack was tempting. Driving into the Mangaotaki Valley; the landscape changes – rocky formations soon revealing why this untapped location was selected to feature in Peter Jackson’s movie. With eight months of secretive planning – hard in village of this size – 500 people and a week filming; the Mangaotaki segment lasted about 20 minutes. It’s long by movie standards; and yet another example of how Jackson’s films fuel New Zealand tourism. Tours sprinkled throughout the country lure people from around the world and build business opportunities for locals – in Piopio of all places. Who would have thought?
Waitanguru Falls are nine kilometres on from Hairy Feet – 23 in total from Piopio. The 10-minute trek down to the look-out is worth it. The noise greets you first. No doubt, Cyclone Debbie influenced the amount of water surging over the 15-metre cliff face this day as well. If you’re into falls; this is a beauty. It might take 10 minutes down; but the 147-step hike back up the steep incline certainly takes a little longer.
All of which, made relaxing over lunch at the Fat Pigeon Cafe in Piopio worth everything – not simply catching up with good friends; but a reminder that on trips anywhere; expect the unexpected and relish the journey.
The highway between New Plymouth and Hamilton
Rhubarb Cafe, Arapuni
Fat Pigeon Cafe, Piopio