Catching a wave in Taranaki. © Dave Young

Surf Highway 45: New Plymouth to Hāwera


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We’re going to assume you’re in the 'Naki largely for the big blue and the surfing...

Aside from all the barrelling and thundering available on this beautiful stretch of coastline, there are heaps of other things to do and Surf Highway 45 has to be the best way to see 'em all. So buckle the boards to the roof, belt yourself in and key up the Kombi. Surf's always up in this part of the world, but that's just the start... 

You’re bored with the city snarl-up? Over the daily grind? Stick the boards on the roof, put your boardies on and begin this epic quest for barrels... 

At the most northerly tip of the highway is New Plymouth's Fitzroy Beach, with its renowned 'hollow waves' and driftwood sculptures. Running alongside part of the New Plymouth Coastal Walkway, Fitzroy is a great little surf hub and well worth a stopover: catch waves, swim in summer and stroll the sand before topping it all off with hot chips from the kiosk nestled into the side of the Fitzroy Surf Life Saving Club. 

The black sand of Fitzroy Beach.

The black sand of Fitzroy Beach. © Sue Lewis 

Travel around the coast to Back Beach, at the southern end of town, and stretch your legs up Paritutu Rock, which is well worth a climb. Overlooking the Sugar Loaf Islands, Back Beach produces powerful, quality waves on shifting sand banks. Another local high point, a further 12km or so down the coast, is Ōakura – one of only three beaches on the west coast of New Zealand that is north facing – with multiple surfing options and an outer reef for the hardy.

Ōakura, Taranaki

Ōakura. © Dave Young Creative Commons

And where else from here but to the legendary and peculiarly spelled Kumera Patch, a left-hand break with its 'workable wall and faster barrel sections'.  

When you wind up in Ōpunake, a legendary and popular beach on the southwestern part of the big curve, there are a heap of options: left and right-handers or surfing the outer reefs and rocks if conditions prevail. Off the southern end of the beach, the slightly intimidating Desperation Point can throw up some good waves too.

The fish 'n' chips here are world famous in New Zealand so make time for them if you can.  

Ōpunake beach, Taranaki

Ōpunake. © Sue Lewis 

Check local info for the weather and the best places on the day. The good thing round here is that, literally, the surf is always up somewhere along this coast.

Now even the biggest wave head needs some R&R from the ocean roar.

In between chasing the big blue, remember that this plush surf to mountain hub has lots of beautiful clean and green, which is more than worthy of a look-see. Augment your stay and maximise your meanderings by checking out some of the other things to do.

Once you’ve flipped out at Fitzroy, secure your surfboard and direct the jandals along the Coastal Walkway in New Plymouth. Weave around the Wind Wand, an amazing sculpture by local legend Len Lye, and visit the Len Lye Centre while you’re here. Soak up some of the green spaces and culture (the street art here is incredible) as well as the waves, dudes and dudettes.

In fact, all the way around the bends of the highway, keep an eye out for artists’ studios, little oases of culture amongst the rolling green. Around the coast there are myriad distractions, deviations you will want to make, no question.

New Plymouth's Coastal Walkway

Coastal Walkway. © itravelNZ Creative Commons

And, as they’ll tell you in surf school (and if you’re new to hanging ten, there are heaps of schools that can help you handle the jandal out on the left-handers, as well): look up! The mighty Mount Taranaki oversees your every move, so schedule some time out to head into the hinterland.

There are amazing walks, tracks, places to rest, fish and enjoy a total paradise under the eye of that perfect peak. You can rise to the occasion and ascend to the summit, too, but we fully recommend you grab a guide – the weather up there changes insanely quickly and too many have underestimated the challenges and requirements of what looks like a simple climb. But oh, the views...


Views of all those surf breaks, across rolling farmscapes and homesteads with their often open-to-view gardens...

Many a museum and marae, even in the small towns, can chart the sometimes turbulent history of the region –  for context, a visit to Parihaka, site of the peaceful protest of the same name is a must. It is a key part of New Zealand’s story and the story of the region itself.

So whether you’re hanging ten or just hanging out, this is a highway of surprise and delight, beach after beach of great waves and a surrounding land of natural beauty and cultural significance.


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