Winding between Taihape on State Highway 1, and Fernhill in Hawke’s Bay, Gentle Annie is a challenging but rewarding ride across remote hill country.
Well off the beaten track and one of the North Island’s best-kept secrets, this winding road follows an historic route used by early Māori to travel around the headwaters of the Rangitikei River and its main tributaries the Moawhango and Hautapu Rivers.
The trail links northern Rangitikei District and Hawke’s Bay, two regions worlds apart in their natural heritage and landscapes. It also connects to the Hawke’s Bay Trails as well as two Heartland Rides: Route 52 through to the Wairarapa, and the OTT through to Ohakune (and therefore the Mountains to Sea).
With plenty of climbing and 136km long, this ride is best completed over two days, camping overnight along the way.
From Taihape, head north on Hautapu Street, which morphs into Spooners Hill Road. At the Kaiewe Junction, turn right onto Pangatawa Road, left at Waikakahi Road (gravel surface) and left again on to Moawhango Valley Road (mostly gravel surface). Turn right at the school in Moawhango and you’re on the Taihape–Napier Road, which is fully sealed.
Be aware that there is still a short section of unsealed road out of Taihape where knobbly tyres are recommended. If you’re a dedicated roadie and want to avoid the gravel, go straight through the Kaiewe Junction, which connects directly to the Taihape–Napier Road via Spooners Hill Road (this route is 1–2km longer and hillier than the gravel option).
You will start climbing as soon as you leave Taihape, to the high point on the Central Plateau and past Erewhon Station, before diving down into the spectacular Rangitikei River gorge. At the bottom of the descent is the historic Springvale Suspension Bridge, an atmospheric spot for a rest.
After resting up you will climb your way out of the gorge, where on a clear day you will be rewarded with fantastic views of the Central Plateau volcanoes as you continue riding through exposed tussock lands.
The ‘Gentle Annie’ road takes its name from the steep descent into the Tarauarau Valley and the Kaweka Forest. Soon after crossing the Ngaruroro River (76km from Taihape) you will reach the Department of Conservation Kuripapango Campground. This is a scenic area with toilets, but no other facilities.
From the Fernbird bush reserve at Willowford (35km before Fernhill), you will enjoy a long ridge-line descent towards the coast, where the distinctive landmarks of Cape Kidnappers and Te Mata peak will come into view.
At Fernhill, the Taihape–Napier Road ends at State Highway 50. Take care turning right here and ride 1km to cross the Ngaruroro River bridge and connect directly with the Hawke’s Bay Trails. From here you can follow the trail riding along stop banks to either Hastings or Napier.
A helpful source of information about this ride, and other Heartland Rides, is Classic New Zealand Cycle Trails by the Kennett Brothers.
Need to Know
FITNESS & SKILLS
The Gentle Annie is a lot gentler on cyclists than it used to be. Until recently, the road included a lot of rough gravel, but with the exception of a couple of short sections just out of Taihape, the surface is now sealed all the way to the Bay.
The hills, however, make this a grade 4 (advanced) ride that’s best suited to reasonably fit riders with some cycle touring experience. Riders should have good road sense and be prepared to encounter traffic at any time.
TYPE OF BIKE
Road bikes and touring bikes are suitable for the terrain, although the short gravel sections are best suited to bikes with knobbly tyres. E-bike are suitable for the terrain, although finding somewhere to charge the battery overnight may be tricky. Riders should ideally have basic mechanical skills and carry a tool kit and spares.
MAPS & NAVIGATION
The Gentle Annie route is generally well sign-posted, but a map will help prevent wrong turns, especially at the start and end of the route, and help you time your ride and identify points of interest along the way.
The trail can be ridden year round, but the best conditions are in summer and autumn (late November to early May). The route is exposed, especially between Rangitikei River and Kuripapango, and can be very windy. Riders should check the forecast before setting out; good wet-weather gear is recommended at all times.
Accommodation en route is limited to basic DOC camping at Kuripapango, where there are toilets but no showers or drinking water. There’s a variety of accommodation at both ends of the route – Taihape and the Hawke’s Bay.
FOOD & WATER
Food is available at Taihape at the western end and at the Hawke’s Bay end from Fernhill onwards. There are no shops in between so riders will need to take all of their supplies.
Water can be drawn from rivers along the route. While it’s mostly suitable for drinking, it is recommended that water be boiled, filtered or treated before drinking.
Intercity buses travel to/from Taihape, Napier or Hastings. Alternatively, this ride also links up with the OTT Trail at Taihape and Route 52 in the Hawke’s Bay.
Coverage is virtually non-existent between Taihape and Fernhill.
There are public toilets at Springvale Suspension Bridge and Blowhard Bush Reserve.