It’s Saturday morning and the heavens have well and truly opened over Auckland to unleash an ocean of rain, just in time for the weekend. So instead of heading to the beach, I’m staying under my duvet, with Lola at my feet, and using this time to mostly hibernate and reminisce about sunnier times.
We’ve covered off most of the major “must-see” spots on the North Island, but there is one pocket of New Zealand that has been on our list for a while – Taranaki (one of the top places to visit in 2017 according to LP), which is known for it’s consistent waves and top surf spots. We had a camping trip planned with a big group of us over the Easter weekend to Taranaki, but disappointingly Cyclone Cook quickly put a stop to that.
The forecast for the following weekend was positively beaming so we wasted no time in booking the Monday off work as Tuesday was a public holiday for Anzac Day.
Day 1: The journey
We packed up the car on Friday after work and set our alarms for 5.30am the next morning so we could get maximum beach time over the weekend. It takes around five hours to drive down to Taranaki – or ‘the Naki’ as the locals call it – and luckily the roads were empty so it didn’t take us long to get to Hamilton.
We stopped off here to pick up my surf board which was supposed to be delivered weeks ago but had gone AWOL in the post. Anyway, to cut a long story short, we spent two hours faffing around in Hamilton and left without my surfboard. But we didn’t let that dampen our camping adventure!
Once you get past Hamilton the drive gets a whole lot prettier, particularly when you pass from the Waikato into the Taranaki region and get that first sight of the ocean after driving through dense bush. There are a few cool tunnels carved out of the mountains that you pass through and so many magnificent falcons gliding alongside you looking for their lunch. We also got lots of misty low hanging cloud, which makes you feel like you’re in some sci-fi fantasy movie set. Nothing beats a Kiwi roadtrip.
We were very excited when the monumental Mt Taranaki peaked into sight, looking every bit as majestical as it did when we had flown over it weeks earlier on our trip to Wellington. There is nothing more exciting for us than exploring new places in this mind-blowing country, and there is something so magical about seeing something new for the very first time.
We passed through the port town of New Plymouth to see if we could pick up a surf board but the surf shops were pretty small and there wasn’t much to choose from. The town itself seemed pretty well stocked, with some nice cafes, restaurants and interesting architecture, including the Len Lye Centre, which has a mirrored facade.
We arrived at Oakura Beach Holiday Park around midday, and was greeted by the friendly staff who pointed us in the right direction to our camping spot. We had a beach front non-powered site, which was $22 a night each. Our site overlooked the black sand west coast beach and sand dunes, and was backed by bright green hills with some impressive looking condos sitting atop them.
We were greeted by our neighbours in the caravan over the road who were super nice, and within about five minutes I had spotted several other dogs staying at the camp, which was good news for Lola.
I explored the campgrounds and checked out the facilities and this was easily the cleanest campsite we have ever stayed at. Although we didn’t have as much space as we have had at other campsites, it didn’t matter all that much as the beach was on our doorstep and we’d be spending most of our time there.
Matt headed out for a surf whilst I took Lola for a run around the beach after being cooped up in the car for so long. The beach goes on for miles and will take you all the way up to New Plymouth port where the giant Paritutu Rock sits protruding over the skyline.
We headed to the nearby town of Spotswood to stock up on beers and BBQ stuff at Countdown and made it back to the beach in time for the ombré sunset. Our friend Presh, who had also driven up from Auckland, joined us shortly afterwards for a BBQ feast before we crashed out for an early night. The evenings are considerably colder than Auckland and I definitely regretted not bringing some thermals and an extra blanket.
The only thing to watch our for around the camp are those tiny little black midges that bite and itch like hell! I still have them all up my legs. Bug spray = essential.
We were woken up early by Lola who was keen to start her birthday celebrations.
We walked her down to the beach for a stretch and had some breakfast overlooking the bay, which was unbelievably beautiful with the morning rays catching the sea spray on the shore. You just don’t get to see all this rad stuff when you live in a house! I wish I could be paid to be a professional camper – this life is pure relaxation and zero worries.
When the sun was in full swing I hop frogged it over to the local surf hire shop, which was minutes from our campsite, to pick up a foamie ($100 for two days). I hadn’t surfed since our Raglan trip in February so was feeling a bit rusty. We decided to stay local and surf at Oakura which is a beach break so good for all levels of surfers, plus it wasn’t that busy so you didn’t have to worry about collision with anyone else in the water. I did have a few collisions with my board which hit me in the face and clomped me on the head so not the most successful of mornings! But nethertheless, it was good to be back in the water, taking in the wondrous rural views around us.
At lunch we BBQ’d some burgers and hit the road to explore Surf Highway. We found a cool little cafe called Downtown Okato in a sleepy rural town so stopped in for coffee and cookies. It has some quirky artwork on the walls and an organic menu.
The landscape is so interesting around Taranaki as you explore the Surf Highway. There are endless grassy green mounds, which I guess must be related to volcanic activity that took place here.
We stopped off at Komene Road (above) but there wasn’t much of a swell so we ventured further along the coast to Stent Road, one of NZ’s premier surf spots according to the surf book (and one of our camping neighbours). You can’t really miss the turn off for this as there is a giant boulder with orange paint with the name of the road on it. However, it is on a stony rocky shore and is recommended for competent surfers only so we just took ten and watched the locals take on the waves here.
We drove further up the coast to check out Cape Egmont Lighthouse, which dates back to the 1800s. It wasn’t open for visitors but it makes for a cool photo – especially if there are no clouds over Mt Taranaki and you can get that in the background. We had no such luck that day! It’s worth the detour if you’re cruising around the coast. There is also a surf spot at the end of the road, but again it’s pretty rocky.
We headed back to our local beach and hit the surf for the rest of our afternoon, and finished it off with some damn good woodfire pizza at a place called Pekaren, just a stones throw from our campsite. It has outside seating overlooking the beach so we could sit out there with the dog amongst the salty sea air. We got invited over to our neighbours afterwards for a few drinks in their warm and cosy caravan, which made it all the more harder to crawl back into our own chilly tent!
Monday was a beautifully clear day and after a hearty breakfast of porridge and various exciting toppings whipped up by Presh, we got back on the road to check out some other beaches.
This was the first day that Mt Taranaki wasn’t shrouded in cloud and it looked incredible!
We headed towards the seaside town of Opunake which supposedly has a good beach break but the ocean was calm and collected when we arrived so we let Lola run around for a bit and then continued our search.
Opunake town looked pretty cool with some old heritage buildings, rad street art and some coffee shops and surf shops dotted around. It was completely dead but I imagine its a bustling holiday town in the summer.
We ended up driving through farmland to Arawhata Road but we couldn’t really find a way down from the cliffs to the ocean. Taranaki keeps its surf spots well hidden! We spotted a 4×4 heading towards us across the field and expected to be told off by farmers but it was just another couple of surfers on the search for some waves.
After spending more time than we wanted to in the car, we stopped into New Plymouth for some lunch at Catch & Co just by the harbour.
In the afternoon we returned to Oakura beach for an afternoon surf. The waves were so much fun and I even managed to ride a few of them, in between being wiped out. Cowabunga!
Once our arms were suitably sore we went to the skate park where we looked totally out of place amongst the 10 year old kids that were hanging around, but that didn’t stop Matt taking his new carver board out for a spin.
I took Lola for a sunset walk up the beach and the look on her face was absolute euphoria as she sprinted along the shore with the wind through her hair and the glow of the low sun making her coat shimmer red, playing chase with all the dogs. I turn away for one second to get some photos of the amazing coastline, and she’s rolling around in horse poop… it was all going so well.
Our last sunset of the trip is truly spectacular as the orange dips below the horizon melting into the big blue. Presh heads back to Auckland whilst me and Matt spend our last night huddled around the BBQ, listening to the waves crashing onto the shore, gazing up at the twinkling stars, reflecting on our time in Taranaki and feeling like we never want this to end. This campsite has been perfect, from the people to the setting and everything in between. I wouldn’t usually go to the same spot twice as there are so many areas to explore, but Oakura, and Taranaki in general, has definitely left it’s mark on us.
We let Lola sleep in our room in the tent as she was cold the night before, so she kindly wakes me up at 6.30am and boy I’m glad she did. I pop my head out of the tent to see the most beautiful sky, so I grab my camera and take her down to the beach before we pack up the tent and cruise back to Auckland.
We check out Fitzroy Beach on our way home, which is already pretty busy with surfers so drive further north to some other beaches. Most things are closed as it’s Anzac Day but we do find a little place called the Garden Shed in the town of Waitara to fuel up on. This was such a good find, the owners were super nice and have the cutest little cafe full of homemade goodies and wandering peacocks. They make their own chocolate so we sample some salted caramel, honey hazlenut praline, and beetroot and orange. Absolutely delicious! We also leave with some homemade beetroot chutney.
The surf books tells us that there is a local surf spot by Waitara river mouth – but to be mindful of the locals. The beach is rocky and there’s a strong rip so I sit this one out and watch Matt, who spends an hour catching some of the best waves he’s ever surfed, with no hassle from the locals.
On our way home we make a stop at Three Sisters, a bunch of cool looking rocks sticking out from the ground. You have to head out at low tide to be able to walk around the beach to the rocks. There is a giant rock which is apparently meant to look like an elephant but the trunk fell off last year so it’s just a big ass rock now!
The drive out of Taranaki is just another reminder of how magical this country is, with untouched green valleys to our right, and smooth peeling waves to our left.
Till next time Taranaki…
(In other news – I have now been reunited with my birthday present and she’s a real beauty!)