Napier-Taupo landmark the Summit Kiosk is open again. Reporter Doug Laing and photographer Warren Buckland hit the road to check out a Hawke's Bay icon.
Te Haroto is typical of so many rural New Zealand highway townships – once a thriving community all but bumped off in the name of progress.
About 68km from Napier on the Napier-Taupo highway - State Highway 5, officially, and apparently part of a Thermal Explorer Highway, so road signs say - it had at it's landmark Summit Kiosk tearooms, another truckstop with petrol pumps, and for those steeped in the area jobs in forestry and the Ministry of Works, with a workers camp, and Te Haroto School, each not too far (quite literally) down the road.
Gradually, in the name of progress, they closed, the "works" in 1988, the school in 2005, and finally its iconic Summit Kiosk five years ago.
Ironically, in what must be the toughest times for starting a business in New Zealand history, locals Jim Andrew and Marie Whaiapu, proprietors of the nearby Tarawera Café (formerly the Tarawera Hotel) have reopened "the Kiosk".
It's just in time for Queen's Birthday Weekend, a traditional peak time in its history dating back about 60 years.
Extending the spread of the Te Haroto CBD, native American Minuette La Montague has opened the tiny but delightfully stocked Crimson Castles Art Design gallery next door, a mixture of her own and silver and gold craft.
Initially takeaway-only, pending further Covid-alert relaxation, with burgers, toasted sandwiches, fresh sandwiches, muffins and coffee for the road, the kiosk will focus initially on the truckers, and when allowed will provide some accommodation.
Andrew said it could possibly have opened before the lockdown, had it not been for a visit about 10 days earlier by two busloads of tourists from the cruise liner Ruby Princess.
While trucks thunder past, even when pulling over to let other traffic through, trucks also stop at both sides of the road, to take advantage of the cellphone and radio reception.
Before long, as the summer months roll around it should be able to open its garden and outdoor seated area, and children will get their icecreams while mum and dad take a quick break from the travel.
Marie Whaiapu is clearly the lady in the kitchen with apparently a global reputation. Her specialty is her cheese and red onion sandwiches, one customer's regular bike run from Hastings being for that very item.
Outside, and out of earshot, Jim Andrew, born down the road at Te Pohue and having lived in the area all his 65 years, says: "She doesn't like me talking about this, but she's known worldwide. It's her date scones. We had this Argentinean guy call in (at the Tarawera Café). He'd heard about her date scones. So, Tarawera was going to be one of his first stops in New Zealand".
Andrew has family links in the area, including the Gardener family mills, dating back at least to the 1890s, and with the Kiosk dating back to when it was on the former highway route of Turangakumu Rd, before the highway realignment was opened about 1961.
Artist La Montague arrived five years ago, having "married a Kiwi" – Cullen, whose parents ran the truckstop before it closed many years ago.
Andrew says he decided to reopen the kiosk, because the Tarawera Café 15km, in a dip 15km towards Taupo, wasn't getting the trucks, and he knew the drivers wanted a stop.
The cellphone coverage is a biggie, just as it is at Tarawera, where reception is often nil.
"There are sh**loads of accidents north of Tarawera," he said. "We get called out all times of the day and night, because people haven't got the cellphone coverage."
The safety on the 125km of State Highway 5, from its intersection with State Highway near Eskdale to Taupo, is always an issue, evident as another truck thunders by, on what otherwise is a classic late-summer (2020-style sunny day), with a priceless view towards the Titiokura Range.
He wants a reduced speed limit. "I'll be talking to Transit about that," he says, in an innocent reminder of one of the many changes.
The Government department once responsible for the highway and known as Ministry of Works has had a few names in more modern culture. It's now Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency, and hasn't been Transit for more than a decade.