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.
New Zealand boasts variously 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 (“Mount 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.
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.
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 shrubs, 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 to take 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.
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 wetsuit, 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.
So Surf Highway caters to surfers, hikers, nature enthusiasts, but what about culture and events?
Well, guess what, it’s all there, too.
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.
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.
Or if you happen to be in town for a special event – Hawera hosts a few interesting ones, such as AmeriCARna.
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?