In today’s post I’ll be talking about a part of New Zealand that isn’t on the usual route of many travellers heading through NZ, a route that often starts in Auckland, passes through the Coromandel Peninsula, then turns south via volcanic Rotorua and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing towards Wellington and the ferry to the South Island.
If you do have more time though, it is really worth the side trip to the Taranaki region, not only for the surf coast highway, but also for the Lost World Highway and of course the stunning Mount Taranaki which dominates this entire region.
Cruising the surf coast highway on New Zealand’s north island felt very much like blasting back in time around thirty years, and cruising around California, watching board riders mastering the waves and gently rippling their perfectly toned bodies. VW beetles would have been meeting up and having a relaxing time under some swaying palm trees as their owners did the same. You know the sort of thing I’m talking about.
I suspect that this nostalgic feeling largely arose due to the fact that the radio station we were listening to as we cruised was solely belting out classic rock hits from the sixties – a veritable gold mine of the Beach Boys was being thrown our way – but the glorious sunshine and crashing surf did nothing to dampen the mood.
Our road trip around the Taranaki region – which started off on the Lost World Highway and was followed by a climb up the epically steep Mount Taranaki – continued for a couple of days with a trip around the surf coast highway.
Interestingly for us, and despite its name, this road doesn’t spend too much time by the beach, or looking at much surf. Instead we drove through gloriously rolling green fields and decaying villages, which looked like perhaps they had had their hey day at least forty years prior to our arrival. Peeling paint and dilapidated signs were the order of the day. This all added wonderfully to the nostalgic feeling.
The start of the highway for us was by the sea, in the town of New Plymouth. Like the old Plymouth, this is a major port (those settlers weren’t hugely imaginative with the naming, personally I would have called it Town Bob or something), as well as being home to all manner of attractions.
We ate fish and chips, wandered the immeasurably impressive gardens, and watched the sun set over the harbour and improbably shaped volcanic rocks on the beach.
Then it was off down the coast and onto the surf highway proper. We took in the world’s largest surf board and had a brief stop off at a forlorn bit of rusting metal which claimed to be a shipwreck. Then we took in the Cape Egmont lighthouse – built in the UK and shipped out here over a hundred years ago – the most westerly point of New Zealand’s north island.
Just near the lighthouse was the focal point of key Maori resistance to the settlers at the end of the 19th century. These guys had the notion of non-violent resistance going way before Gandhi came up with it and spent a lot of time distressing the British who were busily trying to build said lighthouse. Lighthouse and Maori resisters acknowledged, it was down to the beautiful black sanded sand beaches near Hawera, the town at the southern end of the highway.
The sand dunes were probably the highlight of our surf coast trip – 6000 year old black sand dunes on a wild and untamed coastline, surrounded by broken driftwood and lonely seagulls.
Our camp for the night was a stones throw from these sandy behemoths, and a glass of fine New Zealand chilled white wine was consumed with the sunset. A pretty magical evening.
Our trip was completed with a stop off at Hawera, where we climbed the water tower for splendid views of the surroundings. We also dropped in to the Pioneer Village – a recreation of a 19th century village with all original houses brought from around New Zealand, and placed just south of Stratford. This was an interesting wander, and worth the stop and ten dollar entry fee.
Finally the nose of our van was turned inland, and we headed across winding and hilly country to the town of Rotorua, which all things being well, is going to be home for the next few months, as we see out the winter months in a rather lovely establishment. This is going to be a fun chapter of the adventure, meeting loads of new people and gaining all sorts of interesting experiences, which I’m looking forward to sharing with you. In the meantime, keep on smiling…!