Thursday 14th February
A lateish start on another glorious New Zealand summers day. As an aside this has been one of the best summers (warm and sunny) for years.
We only make it a few kilometers to Waihi before lunch and so we are able to stop at our favorite cafe in Waihi, the "historic" Ti-Tree. This cafe has it all, indoor and outdoor, excellent food and coffee with the bonus of friendly service. Hard to ask for more really but I do wonder about the history that makes it historic.
Whakatane is deceptive. Coming into town there are a dozen - or more - motels but they are all well out of town. No problem if you have a car but if you're thinking of a stroll for dinner not so good. The Tuscan Villas however is an easy walk and seems to have everything that you'd want (including air conditioning) although a little higher price but we'll get that back by not needing a taxi to get home after dinner.
Valentines Day in Whakatane is a difficult day, not for hotels but certainly for good restaurants, they are all booked, apparently weeks in advance. This is clearly foreseeable but unforeseen by us.
Sadly the Wharf restaurant I liked so much last time has closed and in it's place is Matou, a Chinese restaurant with no reviews in tripadvisor.com. Looks like we'll be the first to report on it as, disturbingly, they have tables available tonight.
Matou is extremely good with good service and excellent food, pretty reasonably priced too. Chinese is perhaps not everyones dining choice but we were very favorably impressed. Well worth a visit.
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Friday 15th February
Breakfast at L'Epicerie, French Deli is spot on. There is only a limited range on offer but what there is is excellent. Great coffee too.
Another warm and sunny day takes us to Opotiki for a brief lunch stop via the Ohiwa Coastal Loop road (a very picturesque detour around the harbour).
Highway 2 meanders though various gorges to Gisborne, a nice trip with surprisingly little traffic going our way this afternoon. The roads are mixed in surface and quite a few roadworks but nothing of consequence except for a warning about cement splashes and an admonishion to "wash car today". Thanks.
With a few stops we arrive late afternoon and will be within striking distance of Napier for tomorrow.
We've stayed at the Pacific Harbour Motor Inn and are quickly installed in a pleasant room overlooking the water.
For the last several years, our favorite restaurant in Gisborne has been "the Works", an old brick place on the other side of the port. Last time I recorded it as disappointing with the meals rather overcooked and this time it let us down again.
Despite a comprehensive make over (we were told taking 11 months) the place has dropped several notches. We found both the service and food disappointing compared to the previous high standard and at the price it's just not quite good enough.
Interestingly, the Tripadvisor reviews are very ambiguous with a full range from 'excellent's through to 'terrible's. One reviewer suggests the place is somewhat schitzo. We thought it more likely that it depends on the reviewers expectations
Anyway we'll look elsewhere next time we are in Gisborne.
A wine afterwards at the Gisborne Wine Centre was very nice and the two chaps playing blues there were really very good and made up for the expensive but mediocre dinner.
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Saturday 16th February
Once again we were very pleased with the Pacific Harbour Motor Inn and had a very comfortable night there.
Breakfast at the Zest Cafe is first rate, the rather nearer Cafe Ruba where we have eaten before was empty and according the the reviews I read not worth going to.
The back road from Gisborne to Wairoa known, according to our map, as the "Gentle Annie" Gisbourne District, is both empty and just lots of fun. Pretty much one of the best biking roads in the country.
No need to work about the police as it would be very hard to actually break the speed limit and survive.
Wairoa onwards is much busier but still a good run.
This weekend is the Napier Art Deco festival so there isn't a room to be had. Luckily we are staying with friends.
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Monday 18th February
The Gentle Annie takes us though the heart of the North Island from Napier to Taihape and is a spectacular albeit very twisty road. It's only recently been tar sealed and this is our first opportunity to "give it a go".
Today it's pretty quiet but there's the odd truck that makes for some excitement on the narrower stretches. Be particularly aware of hazards such as horses and sheep.
The actual Annie hill is very steep and rugged but rewards with the most spectacular views. This is one not to be missed.
The Aspen Motor Court in Taihape is still (apparently) the best in town but we can hear the trains struggling up the hill out the back of the motel after we check in. We've gotten a room at the front though to try to get as far away as possible from them.
The only open restaurant in town is the Cafe Telephonic which, perhaps not co-incidentally is Tripadvisors No 1 ranking. A booking for 7pm is readily made and on arrival things seem to go very well with a splendid looking Franglais menu and prompt service.
Unfortunately for us a party of 12 completely disrupts proceedings. Our mains are in part cold (my duck is very sad although my wife's steak is good) and the service deteriorates pretty much as soon as the 12 are seated. This is the most expensive meal of our trip so far and by far the slowest service. Taihape on a Monday however offers no other options.
The other issue here is the number of truck and trailer units grinding through the Taihape main street. We have quite a chat about why this should be but essentially if you want your goods at the other end of the North Island overnight then trucks are the only option. The Government owned rail service just does not compare, sadly we the people have brought it - at a very high price.
Give Cafe Telephonic an "average" at best.
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Tuesday 19th February
Just a tedious trip home via Rotorua where we had thought to stay but frankly the place has been built out to such an extent that it's really become unattractive for a night stop. Our lunch stop at Turangi was as uninspiring as usual.
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