Rebecca Stewart: The long and winding road

The road leading to Rebecca Stewart’s homestead is rocky, unpredictable, and full of stories.

Isolated and remote are words often used to describe our little piece of paradise in King Country. But while the road is long and winding, it’s only an hour from the nearest small town (Taumarunui) — or shop for that matter. So no, we’re not really remote. The term would be more appropriate for properties that are hours from ‘civilisation’ or the ones with boat-only access.

With the current state of that long and winding road, we can understand why people generally don’t get around to visiting. Or, maybe it’s just us? Hmm…

We had a long, dry summer this year and the road turned to dust. Forestry trucks, thundering up and down our small, no-exit, gravel-side road, covered everything in a fine coating of filth. Luckily, they were pretty much the only traffic on our road.

This lack of traffic can also make people a bit blasé on quiet country roads. Driving home one day David passed a ute coming towards him, followed by a thick billowing cloud of dust, out of which suddenly emerged a hidden logging truck following too close behind. Swerving, he narrowly avoided the truck, a bank and a ditch. Needless to say, we have been pretty wary of those dust clouds after that.

We told the rural postie to drop our mail at the neighbour’s mailbox to save her the constant delays and dodging trucks that forestry on small roads brings. Luckily our nearest neighbour (2.5 kms away) had just built a mail ‘whare’ (he’d underestimated just how big his mailbox was until it was erected roadside) and there was ample room for our parcels as well as his.

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Just when we thought the road couldn’t get much worse with its never-ending potholes, corrugates and chronic dust — the rains came.

Those same forestry trucks now slogged through churned mud and deep potholes. Heavy machinery churned the road even more and everyone was apologetic of the sludge. The roadworks people just seemed to avoid our road, instead concentrating on the ‘main’ road into the area. That also had a mess of potholes, corrugates, slips and washouts.

But we don’t stress about the mess, as what’s the point? It’s just part of living in the wop-wops where you carry a chainsaw in the boot after wild weather. Who knows where there’ll be a tree across the road or another slip? Just shove the bigger bits to the side and go around.

It really does pay to have a 4WD at times like these. In a valley where one side of the road is often a straight drop and the other side is cliffs straight up, we must be prepared for delays. While we might not be so bothered, our toddler/teen (intellectually disabled teenage daughter) has a bit of a grump as we wait for a logging truck to be loaded from the side of our muddy road. The truck manages to manoeuvre backwards, letting us slide on past in the foot-deep mud.

Out on the ‘main’ road we wait for the roading crew to clear a slip next to the 50-metre-high cliffs. The truck moves off it and up the narrow gravel road to dump his load of rocks and sludge. Further on past the digger and numerous potholes we see they’re starting to repair a large washout with a new culvert in place.

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We bump on up the road on the heavily corrugated surface to dodge more potholes, occasionally hitting one with a bone-jarring thump. Another washout narrows the road, and a logging truck thunders towards us as we pull over to let him pass. Driving on our road is about courtesy, giving way where you can, since no one wants to be stuck reversing cliff-side.

Another day, another trip out of the valley, the torrential rain has sludged the road again where the crews are working. They are fighting an uphill battle to keep the road drivable. Further along the neighbours’ cattle are on the road and heading to town on hoof. We try to head them off in the rain, but one scatty calf takes off along a clifftop. We backtrack to let the neighbour know their beasts are loose and carry on our journey.

Wild goats leap across the road. They are common enough, and occasionally we see deer and, once, even a wild pig. Generally, the pigs are escapees from a property which seems to be breeding an awful lot of them. But we get it because we have pigs too. They are cunning little things.

The further we drive up out of the valley, past stunning views of both Mount Ruapehu and Mount Taranaki on a fine sunny day, the road becomes more civilised, less wild and rugged. The houses are more frequent, and the traffic grows, people stop waving at us (a sure sign you’re leaving the rural back-blocks behind). It’s almost like emerging from the green depths of nature into a bustling hive.

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But after doing our town chores it’s that long, wild, winding road that calls us. For it is that road which takes us home.

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