North Island Road Trip: Surf Highway

Having made our way down the East coast, and across the middle of the North Island, we now found ourselves on the West coast heading North back toward Auckland. Surf Highway 45 is a popular road trip route, although there wasn’t any surf on our visit, with plenty to see and do along the rugged coast.

Starting out on the Surf Highway we hugged the coast line passing beaches and towns as we went. The first real town on the route is Hawera, from here we caught our first glimpses of the domineering Mt Taranaki. The huge stratovolcano is still topped with snow, even in these summer months, and is a beautiful sentinel in an otherwise flat region. Passing through Hawera we soon found ourselves at Opunake and the gorgeous wide cove there. The black sands of the beach were framed by steep cliffs covered in flowering Pōhutukawa, a bit of brightness in an otherwise monochrome scene.

Driving on, through slightly undulating hills, we visited Cape Egmont the Western point of the region. The lighthouse here is positioned inland and is a great spot to capture a picturesque shot of the lighthouse with Mt Taranaki behind it. Strangely most of the lighthouses of New Zealand were built in the UK and brought over, a little reminder of home.

After our brief stop at the lighthouse, we next visited the wreck of the SS Gairloch. The wreck has been rusting away in the sea here since 1903, luckily none lost their lives in the aftermath but it creates a haunting scene all the same. Protruding from the black sand, the sea lapping around the jagged metal as a reminder of the dangers of the wild coasts and currents around New Zealand. In the distance we could see Mt Taranaki once more, and the city of New Plymouth further round the coast.

In nearby Oakura we stayed the night at another beach front campsite, spending the evening on the sand watching the sun go down over the headland.

After beautiful views of Mt Taranaki for our first day in the region for the second, when we had planned a hike, the Mountain had disappeared behind a cloud! Such is the unpredictability of weather and travel we set out regardless to hike the Mangorei Track. A 13km return hike we managed to complete the route in just under three and a half hours, but this is a challenging track with continuous steps and ascent for the first half.

Starting with a mellow boardwalk through lush forest, past moss-covered trees and accompanied by birdsong, it’s a pleasant introduction to the mountain. Soon the steps begin and the track gets steeper, rising out from the trees to the bush. Winding around the side of the mountain, with occasional leafy glimpses of the forest below, we crossed small bridges over gulley’s and streams. In the distance we could see the Pouakai Hut, beyond that the bush turned to scrubland as we made our way across the plateau to the Pouakai Tarns. The tarns are famous for reflecting the peak of Mt Taranaki in their glassy waters, alas the mountain was still thoroughly draped in cloud so we just had to use our imagination on this occasion. Despite the lack of views, the hike was a pleasant and varied one and we enjoyed our morning on the mountain. 

Following our mornings exertions, we opted for a quieter afternoon taking a detour to Mike’s Brewery for some delicious and well-deserved craft beer, and relaxing at our campsite perched over Fitzroy Beach.

Our final day in the Taranaki region began much the same, with the mountain hiding in the cloud. This slightly detracted from our stop at Te Rewa Rewa bridge which on a clear day frames Mt Taranaki perfectly in its wave like construction. An interesting piece of architecture all the same.

Heading North towards Raglan we explored Tongaporutu and the Three Sisters Rocks. Only accessible a couple of hours either side of low tide, the rocks sit on an inky black beach at the estuary of the river. The beach is stunning, backed by steep cliffs layered with red, yellow and grey rock. Features born of erosion are dotted across the sand, including caves, arches and the huge stacks of the Three Sisters. A wild, romantic beach with a hint of atmospheric gloom about it and an impressive sight for any traveller.

Arriving in Raglan mid-afternoon, the cool little surf town was a buzz with people waiting for the New Year’s Eve celebrations to begin. We had a browse of the many surf shops here before checking in at our gorgeous Airbnb that looks out over the harbour. A nearby harbourside bar, The Wharf, was the perfect setting for an afternoon drink in the sunshine. Once back at the apartment we enjoyed some evening festivities, heading out on to the balcony deck for midnight and watching the fireworks go off all around us to welcome in 2019. A great end to the Western part of our trip, we returned to Auckland for a short break before our final Northern loop.

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