The Gentle Annie is a remote, multi-day ride that traverses picturesque high country sheep stations, untouched rugged river valleys and vineyards between the Central North Island and the East Coast.
These two regions are worlds apart in their natural heritage and landscapes, offering a challenging but exhilarating ride that is not for the faint hearted.
The route also follows the Inland Patea Heritage Trail, one of the North Island’s best kept secrets, retracing an ancient Māori route between Hawke’s Bay and the Inland Patea district, around the headwaters of the Rangitikei River and its main tributaries the Moawhango and Hautapu Rivers.
Photo: Kennett Brothers
RIDING THE TRAIL
The Gentle Annie is a lot gentler on cyclists that 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. This 136km ride takes cyclists from Taihape, the northern gateway to the Rangitikei District, across the Gentle Annie to Fernhill in the Hawke’s Bay.
Starting 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, where you can stop for a rest or overnight at the nearby campground.
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 Hawke’s Bay Trails. From here you can follow the trail riding along stop banks to either Hastings or Napier.
Hawke’s Bay and Taihape are well served by buses. Being on the main trunk line, the Overlander Train also stops in Taihape, by arrangement.
Shuttle transfers for up to 4 cyclists and/or luggage to or from Palmerston North, Wanganui and other areas within the Rangitikei region can be pre-arranged by contacting Rachel at The Hub Café in Mangaweka, phone (06) 382 5747 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Gentle Annie cycle route is graded Advanced due to a number of steep gradients. A reasonable level of fitness is required.
There is minimal traffic along this route at any time of the day, but cyclists should be prepared to meet stock and logging trucks.
This route is exposed and travels through remote high country with limited places to shelter. So go well prepared for all weather conditions, no matter what time of the year you ride. Take clothing sufficient to cope with a range of temperatures. Food and camping equipment will also be required.
During winter there is a strong possibility of snow and ice on the road. However the scenic rewards for the more adventurous cyclist on a clear winter’s day are truly magnificent.
SERVICES & ACCOMMODATION
Taihape and Napier, at each end of the trail, offer heritage attractions for visitors and a range of quality accommodation, restaurants and local retailers to cater for all your cycling needs.
However there are no shops in between on the Gentle Annie, so you will need to carry all your supplies.
Two campgrounds and a farmstay provide the only accommodation along the route. The Rangitikei District Council’s Springlands Suspension Bridge Campground approximately 40km from Taihape and the Department of Conservation-managed Kuripapango Campground a further 36km along are basic campgrounds with toilets and good swimming holes – but no showers or drinking water.
If you’re after a comfortable night’s sleep, the Willowford Farmstay (signposted on Willowford Road) is located 35km from Fernhill.
In case of inclement weather there is basic shelter provided by a barn at Otupae Station (60km from Taihape) and a long shelter belt of pines at Ngatoma Station a bit further on.
A shelter, drinking water and toilets are also available at the Blowhard Bush Reserve (50km from Fernhill). Note this reserve is located about 600m down Lawrence Road.
DRINKING WATER: Water can be drawn from the river. While it is mostly suitable for drinking, it is recommended that water be boiled (3 min), filtered or treated before drinking.
MOBILE PHONE COVERAGE: There is virtually no mobile reception outside of Taihape or Fernhill.
BEST TIME TO RIDE: The Gentle Annie can be cycled year round, although cyclists should be wary of weather conditions during winter and go well prepared. Cold winds, snow and ice are potential hazards.