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Mention the Taranaki Coast and your average Kiwi will probably think of surfing, because this is what it’s famous for. It accounts for the name of the coastal touring route, ‘Surf Highway 45’ that stretches a hundred or so kilometres from New Plymouth south to Hawera. Along the way, the road passes dozens of world-class breaks with waves for every level of surfer – including those who just want to boogie-board or just have a splash about in the shallows. And with the waves comes beach culture, a colourful, laid-back lifestyle where jandals are de rigeur and sunscreen sells by the litre. Yet Taranaki’s beaches remain uncrowded and you won’t have to queue for ice cream.
Just 15 minutes’ drive south of New Plymouth on Surf Highway 45, Oakura Beach is one of the most family-friendly spots along the Taranaki coast. The beach itself is known for its ‘Blue Flag’ environmental standard, safe swimming and lifeguard patrol, surf for all abilities, and facilities such as showers, toilets, and a playground. Walkers can enjoy nearby nature reserves, and there’s a buzzy little high street with galleries and gift shops, a couple of cafés and a decent pub. A sweet holiday park completes the picture, one with oodles of seaside vibe.
Oakura Beach Holiday Park occupies an enviable position at the far end of the beach, well beyond the hubbub around the surf lifesaving and boardriders clubrooms. It has several different camping areas, and the best sites are in hot demand throughout the summer season, because million-dollar views seldom come this cheap. The beachside sites are just that: if they were any closer there could be trouble at high tide!
There are two tidy amenities blocks with similar facilities although the larger of the two, in the middle of the beach block, is notable for its elevated ocean views and pleasant grassy barbecue area.
A handful of cabins are dotted about, along with a few larger, self-contained ones suited to families. Brand-spanking new cabin no. 12 is particularly appealing, in fact its modern design, elevated position and sunset deck make it one of our ‘great cabins of New Zealand’.
Besides hanging out at the holiday park or beach, there’s heaps to do in and around Oakura. From the park itself it’s an enjoyable two-kilometre walk along the coast to Ahu Ahu Beach and a short hop across the rocky spit to Weld Road Beach Reserve, where you’ll find a large picnic area and river for the kids (or you…) to swim in.
New Plymouth itself is packed with attractions, including an excellent museum and art gallery. Puke Ariki, is a stylish, modern museum offering a range of fascinating exhibitions and interactive learning activities – kids love it. The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery is arguably the best provincial art gallery in New Zealand and presents a wide range of contemporary exhibitions as well as being home to the Len Lye collection. Never heard of him? That’s his Wind Wand waving around on the New Plymouth foreshore, and there are plenty more kinetic wibbly-wobblers where that came from.
For a romantic stroll or to wear out the children, you can’t beat Pukekura Park. It’s stunning, with botanic displays, historic teahouse, playground, rowboats on the lake, and even a zoo. Try to visit in summer when the Festival of Lights transforms it into a nighttime wonderland. Better still – groove at WOMAD, New Zealand’s best music festival, staged within the park over three days every March.
Mt Taranaki stands sentinel over the province, a lone volcano peaking at 2518 metres. As you might expect, the people of Taranaki exhibit a deep affection for their mountain, which defines the almost circular Egmont National Park. Its natural wonders are easily accessible from several points, including from Lucy’s Gully, five-minutes’ drive south of Oakura. For the fit and surefooted, the loop walk to Patuha Trig (3 hours) affords head-swivelling 360-degree views. North Egmont Visitor Centre, accessible from State Highway 3 between Stratford and New Plymouth, sits at nearly 1000 metres above sea level and offers more spectacular panoramas. Numerous short walks start from there, along with the popular summit track, a hard but achievable day-tramp (8-10 hours) for fit people in good weather. There’s plenty to occupy you at the centre itself, including information displays, video presentation and a café.
Chances are, though, that if the weather’s good you’ll probably want to stay put. Oakura offers a classic slice of Kiwi beach culture, any time of year. Get yourself a sun-filled cabin and a wetsuit, and put a little ‘beach break’ in your holiday.