Great kiwi driving routes: Surf Highway 45

Did you know that New Zealand is a road trippers’ paradise? If you’re visiting New Zealand and have the time to rent or buy a car depending on the length of your stay, I strongly recommend you do, at least for part of your visit. Surf Highway 45 is one of those places you really want to explore by car. And here’s why.

Surf Highway 45, Taranaki. Photo by GeAlex_Kiwiland @ flickr.

Surf Highway 45, Taranaki. Photo by GeAlex_Kiwiland @ flickr.

New Zealand boasts various themed highways around both North and South Islands, such as the Southern Scenic Route, The Forgotten World Highway, or the Thermal Explorer Highway. Whilst all are amazing in the variety of landscapes travellers may admire and all of them have visitors memories sound like the famous dog diary (โ€œMount Egmont! My favourite thing! Oakura beach! My favourite thing!), the surf highway differs in that it offers more than enough in one category: fantastic surf beaches, and tons of them, on a 105km route around the Taranaki peninsula.

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The moniker Surf Highway 45 refers to the stretch of coastal road between Hawera in the south of the Taranaki Peninsula and New Plymouth in the north, the region’s main centre. No matter whether you start out at Hawera in the south or up in New Plymouth, the route will take you through the best bits of Taranaki.

There are plenty of things to do and see in Taranaki!

Mount Taranaki, aka Mount Egmont, is an active but dormant conical volcano that last erupted in the mid-19th century and is a constant presence no matter where you are on the Surf Highway, a quiet, omnipresent cone towering over the peninsula’s many wild beaches. This touring route is not only for the avid surfer, though. As the Surf Highway follows Taranaki’s coast, there is ample opportunity to access its many beaches through side roads leading west to the Tasman Sea, or east into Egmont National Park.

Taranaki / Mt Egmont, North Island, New Zealand

Taranaki / Mt Egmont, North Island, New Zealand

For the hiker, there are plenty of hiking trails in Egmont National Park. You can also climb the summit (2518m) and wander through the ever-changing vegetation until you reach the top. The botanical enthusiast will enjoy observing a diverse range of vegetation, including swamps, native conifer forest, rata trees, kamahi rainforests, and subalpine and alpine shurbs, just to mention a few varieties. And let’s not forget the waterfalls on the way! But be warned, climbing the summit requires a certain level of fitness – it takes 5 hours to ascend, and 3 hours to descend, and taking a guide is strongly recommended as weather conditions can change very fast. Sadly, out of all New Zealand mountains, Taranaki has the most casualties annually.

Surfer in Taranaki. Photo by hellendor @ flickr

Surfer in Taranaki. Photo by hellendor @ flickr

Surfers are spoilt for choice along Taranaki’s Surf Highway. Raglan in Waikato, west of Hamilton, is New Zealand’s most famous go-to spot for surfing, but Taranaki boasts a multitude of great surfing beaches, and surf competitions. The surfing novice will find it easy to catch a wave in Taranaki; due to the many surf beaches there are a few surf schools around where you can rent a board, a wet suit, and a teacher (New Plymouth, Oakura)! You can even tandem surf if you want. If you’re scared of the waves, try and start with boogie boarding, and you’ll also find that there are patrolled beaches for swimming, too. Some of Taranaki’s hottest surf spots are in Opunake, Rocky Point and Komene Beach (Okato), Fitzroy Beach in New Plymouth, Oakura Beach, and Ohawe Beach near Hawera.

Back Beach, New Plymouth. Photo by PhillipC @ flickr

Back Beach, New Plymouth. Photo by PhillipC @ flickr

So Surf Highway caters to surfers, hikers, nature enthusiasts, but what about culture and events?

Well guess what, it’s all there, too.

Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, Taranaki

Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, Taranaki. Photo by Robinvanmourik @flickr

If after all that nature exploration and surfing you’re keen on some culture, New Plymouth won’t disappoint. Head over to the famous Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. You’ll find many works of art from kinetic sculptor Len Lye. Take a walk along the coastal walkway and admire New Plymouth’s most famous sculpture, the Wind Wand, by Len Lye.

New Plymouth coastal walkway. Photo by Jacques Marier @ flickr

New Plymouth coastal walkway. Photo by Jacques Marier @ flickr

If Maori culture is what you’re after, you’ve got quite a few options in Taranaki. There is a multitude of historic pa sites you can access from the Surf Highway. Pa sites are fortified refuges, hillforts or fortified villages Maori built and used in times of war. Some Maori people occupied pa sites permanently. You will find them near swamp lands, on hilltops, or coastal headlands.

If you find yourself at the southern end of the Surf Highway when the culture bug bites you, stop by the Elvis Presley Museum in Hawera. It has a wide range of memorabilia and merchandise on display.

Americarna festival in Hawera, Taranaki, New Zealand

AmeriCARna festival in Hawera, Taranaki, New Zealand

Or if you happen to be in town for a special event – Hawera hosts a few interesting ones, such as AmeriCARna.

AmeriCARna, New Zealand. Photo by Mysterious Photographer @ flickr

AmeriCARna, New Zealand. Photo by Mysterious Photographer @ flickr

Quite a random event to stumble over on your Taranaki road trip, huh?


(Video by cadifan on YouTube)

Where to next?

  • Head north to Raglan for more surfing!
  • Head east towards Taupo, taking the Forgotten World Highway.
  • Head south towards Wellington. That’s quite a long stretch of road to drive in one day, so why not stay in Paraparaumu on the Kapiti coast for the night?

Have you been to Taranaki? Would you drive the Surf Highway, and why?

Christina Hegele

About the author: Christina Hegele runs Sandal Road, a blog on her favourite destinations. It just so happened that 95% turned out to be about New Zealand. Follow Christina and her blog on Twitter, like her blog on Facebook, and subscribe to her Youtube channel. Alternatively, subscribe to her email newsletter at the top right of this blog.

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  13 comments for “Great kiwi driving routes: Surf Highway 45

  1. 27 June, 2011 at 09:19

    I haven’t been to New Zealand, but would definitely drive the Surf Highway, it sounds like there’s so much to see and do.

    • Christina
      27 June, 2011 at 17:05

      We have to get you down there! You won’t be bored in NZ, I can guarantee that ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. 27 June, 2011 at 09:24

    I love road trips just about anywhere, but this looks amazing and New Zealand has been on my bucket list for quite a while. It’s pretty cool when you just happen upon local events while you’re on road trips.

    • Christina
      27 June, 2011 at 17:07

      I know, I love crashing the local events! I once went to Taupo Events Centre in pursuit of the climbing wall, and found it was hosting the Northern Area Marching Extravaganza – what an experience! I was also very surprised to see American flags everywhere in Hawera. One visit to the iSite cleared up all confusion.

  3. 27 June, 2011 at 12:22

    Love road trips. New Zealand always looks so spectacular!

    • Christina
      27 June, 2011 at 17:08

      New Zealand is road trip heaven!

  4. 27 June, 2011 at 15:00

    Have you talked to Amanda at Dangerous Business? She LOVES new Zealand!

    • Christina
      27 June, 2011 at 17:30

      Of course! We’ve been in touch since Blog4NZ. We’ve been giving each other recommendations on how to best use our prize packages on the North Island and South Island respectively!

  5. 28 June, 2011 at 11:39

    I spend almost two weeks on a farm located near Mt Taranaki, did went to visit New Plymouth and saw a lot of the western side of the mountain. But never really drove around on the surf highway. Most of scenic highway routes in NZ are really good, would love to do this one as well on my next visit ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. 29 June, 2011 at 00:06

    We didn’t hire a car in NZ and took the bus instead, but I really wish we had. So many places to stop along the way – love your photos =)

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