Out in the western corner of Aotearoa-New Zealand’s North Island, beyond the beaten tourist track, Taranaki’s roads are far less travelled but it’s worthwhile taking time to explore them. They’ll lead you through a landscape that is breathtakingly beautiful in any season, with rich farmland, rugged hills and luxuriant bush, with a dark, dramatic coastline at its edge and mystical Taranaki Maunga (mountain) at its heart.
- Sensational scenery - the stuff of legend, literature and film (The Hobbit, Samurai, Search for the Wilderpeople)
- Mountain hikes, bush walks and epic surfing.
- Delicious local cheese, beef and seafood fresh from the Tasman.
- New Plymouth’s gorgeous gardens, eclectic architecture and edgy sculptures
- Enticing side-tracks to characterful little settlements, pristine lakes and waterfalls.
Day 1: Wanganui to New Plymouth
Cruising into South Taranaki on SH3, it’s all vivid green farmland, mountain views, historic Marae (meeting places) and small towns, each with its own story and claim to fame.
Pull up in Patea, where the waka (canoe) Aotea landed over 800 years ago and where, in 1984, the iconic Kiwi Anthem, Poi E, was launched. You can’t miss the Aotea monument but don’t miss the river mouth or Mana Bay’s black sands (complete with shipwreck) either.
Drive on, stopping for Hawera’s Tawhiti Museum, Eltham’s cheese bar, Stratford’s Glockenspiel clock and Inglewood’s Fun Ho toy museum. Grab a burger at Volcano View Grand café in Egmont Village. Get your marching orders at North Egmont Visitor Centre, then tramp through Egmont National Park, in the shadow of the mountain, across alpine grassland, into the magical Goblin Forest. Pause at lovely Lake Mangamahoe. Stop for the night at New Plymouth.
Day 2: New Plymouth to Oakura
Begin with an early-morning walk along New Plymouth’s Coastal Walkway, past the Ken Lye Wind Wand, across the Rewarewa Bridge. After breakfast, feast your eyes at Govett Brewster Art Gallery and steep yourself in Taranaki’s fascinating history at Puke Ariki Museum. Stroll among Pukekura Park’s giant rhododendrons before lunch at the Teahouse. Then stand a while on hallowed hard-core Rugby ground at Yarrow Stadium. Head to Oakura, gateway to Surf Highway 45, surfie mecca, artists’ haven, celebrity hideaway and home of the Big Surfboard. Explore the artists trail and the beach. Dine on seafood and steak at Bach on Breakwater.
Day 3: Oakura to Dawson’s Falls, near Stratford
With the restless surf on one side and the brooding mountain on the other, Highway 45 runs through a landscape pitted with volcanic rocks and dotted with quiet villages and old battlegrounds. Catch the famous right-hand surf break at the Kumara Patch or the left-hander at Stent Road. Stop at picturesque Cape Egmont lighthouse, then cross the road to tranquil Parihaka, centre of passive resistance during the Taranaki Wars and enduring symbol of peace.
After fish and chips in Opunake, fossick for artefacts at Kaupokonui and pick up a treat at Yarrows’ (world-famous) Family Bakery in Manaia. Linger with the ghosts of Maori warriors and colonial soldiers at Te Ngutu o Te Manu. Then walk through rain forest to Dawson falls and spoil yourself with a night at Dawson Falls Mountain Lodge.
Day 4: Stratford to Whangamomona, on the Forgotten World Highway 43
Fuel up in Stratford. There are no petrol stations in the Forgotten World. Following ancient Maori tracks and old bridle paths, Highway 43 meanders over mountain saddles, into shaded valleys and alongside river gorges. Road signs point away to abandoned homes, bridges, graves and the old railway, now reclaimed by the bush.
Gaze out from Strathmore saddle across folds of hills to Mount Ruapehu, Ngaruahoe and Tongariro in the east and Taranaki in the west. Cut through the heart of a hill via the Moki tunnel. Wind through Moki Forest. Hike across paddocks, to where Mount Damper falls tumble down a fern-fringed rock face. Stretch your legs in Tangarau Gorge, where the thickly-clustered trees echo with bird-song. Double back to the tiny Republic of Whangamomona. Pick up your “passport” at the pub and spend the evening with the locals, lost in tales of the Republic and the Forgotten World’s heyday.
Day 5: Whangamomona to Mokau
Follow SH3 north from New Plymouth to Waitara. Visit Manukorihi Pa’s magnificent carved meeting house and try the curious sport of bridge swinging. Curve around the North Taranaki Bight, pausing at Tongaporotu’s Three Sisters rocks and Parininihi’s white cliffs. Farewell Taranaki with a last supper of plump, juicy whitebait or succulent kahawai in the quaint little border town of Mokau.