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Northern Taranaki has lush, green, undulating countryside, with a coastline of eroded cliffs punctuated by black-sand coves. The settlements dotted throughout the area are quiet and rural, although an increasing number of holidaymakers are discovering its attractions that include crowdless beaches, walkways, historic sites and some good places to eat and drink.
Just off State Highway 3, Onaero Bay is one of our favourite places to stop on the route between New Plymouth and Te Kuiti. From the road it appears like a clutch of holiday homes and a convoy of caravans, but beyond the gate is one of Taranaki’s hidden gems. A public domain since 1904, the bay is visited by day-trippers and overnight visitors who get to enjoy peaceful camping with decent facilities in a park now managed by the hard-working Ian and Daphne. See onaerobay.co.nz.
It is here that the muddy-bottomed Onaero River breaks free from its narrows and wends beside a driftwood-strewn dune before flowing out to sea. At this end of the beach, low tide leaves shallow pools, perfect for short-legged people to paddle about in, or a ready-made moat for a sandcastle. At the other end of the beach, the black sandy bottom is clear of stones and good for swimming. Fishing is a popular pastime, too, with kahawai to be had off the beach, and snapper further offshore.
Flanking the bay are high cliffs typical of this coastline, eroded to reveal their earthy layers, starkly contrasting like two-tone coconut ice. Fluffy-topped toetoe bushes cling to them like unroped climbers, while just offshore doomed stacks stand orphaned, topped with remnants of bush. To the north the coast can be seen stretching for miles into the hazy distance; out on the horizon the Pohokura gas platform can be seen poking unexpectedly out of the sea. A dynamic environment, Onaero Bay seems to change its mood by the hour, and is particularly enthralling during a big sea at dusk.
Running through the middle of the holiday park, the Onaero River offers hours of fun for the younger folk, whether splashing about in its slow waters, paddling up and down in a kayak or fossicking in the piles of sun-bleached driftwood. The river’s muddy banks make for dirty, squidgy, slippery fun, the perfect antidote to squeaky clean modern life. (An on-the-spot outdoor shower makes for easy cleaning, thank goodness.)
On the near side of the river the bulk of the powered sites can be found, along with the office/shop, one of two facilities blocks and a few cabins. The best spots on this side are down the front overlooking the river mouth.
Over the dear-old bridge is a welcoming camping field and the public domain, with an attractive backdrop of regenerating native bush and stately Norfolk pines. The playground sits within a spacious grassed, great for ball games and picnics. There are some delightful sites on this side of the river, both powered and unpowered.
The facilities block on this side is in good shape. The kitchen is easy-clean stainless steel and has a little bit of room for indoor dining. Outside are picnic benches; barbecues can be hired from the office.
Between the domain, the river and the beach, there’s enough ‘doing nothing’ to keep you occupied for a restful few days. Beyond the Bay, though, are plenty of places to visit and things to do.
Mike’s Organic Brewery is seven kilometres north of Onaero Bay on State Highway 3. Here you’ll find great, wholesome beer in a pleasant location. There’s half a dozen brews on offer, including the smoky whisky porter and a hopalicious IPA. All are certified organic and allegedly hangover free, but you might want to test that theory for yourself. The tasting room/shop has cider and other treats, and there’s a beer garden, too – ideal for quaffing a few ales and a bite to eat
About another 3 km further north of Onaero Bay is the White Cliffs Walkway, which allows you to get up close to the vertiginous sedimentary cliffs, arches and stacks sculpted by the endless pounding of the Tasman Sea. The track starts at a boat ramp before heading inland through farmland to Mt Davidson then along the ridgeline, where you’re met with dramatic views of the North Taranaki coastline. From here, descend to the Waipangau Stream via hundreds of wooden steps and follow the stream valley until it reaches the sea and the real stars of the show: the White Cliffs (Parininihi). From here you can follow the beach back to Pukearuhe, but only two hours either side of low tide. Check your tide times!
State Highway 3 is a scenic route, with a number of nice surprises along the way. Onaero Bay is one of them, a place enjoyed by many generations before us, and many more to come.
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