Motoring south on Route 3 through the Awakino River Gorge has always been one of our favourite drives especially as we reach the West Coast at Awakino ……… This time we hit it just right for the beginning of the whitebait season.
“You know we have to stop for a whitebait sandwich don’t you,” Paula said as we approached the town of Mokau. She was driving so there wasn’t any question this once-upon-a-time Taranaki girl wouldn’t stop but then I wasn’t about to pass up the first of the season catch either. The local café didn’t scrimp on filling the sandwiches with the tasty morsels either. Great way to enter the Taranaki region. There is a three-hour Mokau River Cruise that looks interesting but we haven’t taken the time to enjoy it yet.
The ride along this part of the coast is one of the finest for an introduction to the West Coast shoreline. The population is light before you make the move up and over Mt. Messenger, the barrier that keeps this part of New Zealand less encumbered by people, before entering the southern side where you move into the quite active New Plymouth region.
A couple of great stopping spots for the camper along the way such as on the Tongaporutu River north of Mt. Messenger and the Onaero Camp that provides a beautiful beach and a well maintained camp ground. The river mouth and upstream had quite a few locals trying their luck at the whitebait run when we stopped.
The drive around Mt Taranaki provides an exciting experience for the first time explorer. Even though we have been there many times we still enjoy the ability to see the mountain in all its glory. The region is renowned for its gardens, the surfing and the many artists who live and work here plus many historical places of interest.
One of the most spectacular events is the annual Rhododendron Festival in late October-November. December through February brings visitors from all over to the to the Festival of Lights in the 52 hectare inner city Pukekura Park.
One of the top musical events in New Zealand the WOMAD (World of Music & Dance) Concert is a must. It will be in March usually with hundreds of artists performing from all over the world.
New Plymouth is an easy place for a visiting camper to find a place to park. You are welcome right on the waterfront by the beach. Our cats Chocolate and Sylvester have become known to a couple of the locals who, each time we get to the waterfront to park, come over to say hello and see how the two cats are. They even say hi to us.
When there you may get to see the annual Stone Carving Symposium right on the waterfront that draws artists from all over the world.
The Puke Ariki Museum downtown is well worth a visit. Plenty of shopping available and some of the best cafes in the country. McFarlane’s is the local coffee roaster who provides a coffee we go out of our way to enjoy at their Elixer Café at 117 Devon Street.
A drive from New Plymouth toward Hawera along the Surf Highway is a must. It is a 105km route along the coast with great camp grounds at Oakura and Opunake. Oakura has become a hot spot to stop and visit the many galleries and artists of the region. In Opunake we try to arrange our day so we can go to the Sugar Juice Café that can boast good food, good coffee and great people. We always have a historical stop at the Opunake Camp Grounds where Paula spent summers during her school days.
Past Opunake, 29kms going south, you come to the town of Manaia (Bread Capital of New Zealand) where the Taranaki Country Music Hall of Fame is located. Here you can continue along Highway 45 where it ends in Hawera where the acclaimed Tawhiti Museum exhibits the historical days during the Maori/European land wars and/or take a left out of Manaia and visit Dawson Falls. One of the highlights of a visit up the slopes of Mt Taranaki.
Returning to Opunake Road from the Falls turn left toward Stratford. A left onto Pembroke Road will take you by the Patea River to East Egmont where you can find several picnic sites. In Stratford is the Taranaki Pioneer Museum with over fifty buildings showing life as it was during the early days. Coming back down the mountain return to Route 3 and on to Inglewood where the original MacFarlane’s Café will provide you with top quality food and coffee.
Six kilometres, continuing along Route 3, you come to Egmont Village. Turn left on Egmont Road and head up the mountain to North Egmont where again you can stop and enjoy a picnic or a short walk. After Egmont Village you have completed the circle of Mt Taranaki with your return to New Plymouth. Along the way you will discover award winning beer breweries, wineries, Opunake soap, lavender farms and a macadamia nut orchard. There are a number of walks and heritage trails to enjoy also. There are over 300 kilometre of tracks in the National Park. With the mountain being the source of over fifty rivers the chance for a trout is also very good.
Another interesting and exciting trip in the area is to discover the Forgotten World Highway. This is a trip in itself that can be reached from the North on Route 4 at Taumarunui or from the Stratford end from the south. Be sure to have a full fuel tank, as it is a 155km excursion. This drive takes you through isolated areas of native bush and over several mountains where you can easily see the Tongariro National Park and its three volcanoes. You can also visit the North Island’s highest waterfall, the 85 metre Mount Damper Falls off the Moki Forest Road.
Along the way one of the most interesting places to visit is the community of Whangamomona that became a “republic” in 1989. It has had a poodle and a goat for presidents. An annual “Republic Day” celebration has put the town on the map as tourists flock to enjoy their hospitality even though Thai the poodle had to stand down after an altercation with a Labrador and he began biting visitors. Typical politician when getting into power.
So the Taranaki region is a definite must to explore. The drives through the country are spectacular with Mt Taranaki dominating the scene.
For those of you who enjoy a walk be it short or real mountain climbing it is hard to find a better place. For those who enjoy museums and historical places plus the many events and special occasions on offer you must be sure to take the trip around the mighty mountain of Taranaki during your New Zealand travels.