It was a long and tiring 5hr traverse across the country. I had left the sun shining on the east coast at Castlepoint but as I headed west and north, the clouds built up. Towns and cities came and went as I skirted round Masterton and up to Palmerston North and onward to Bulls. I would have loved to have stopped in Whanganui for a bit, a city that I spent a few days in some years prior, but there was still some way to go, so I pushed on west, ever hopeful for a view of Mount Taranaki, one of the country’s most distinguishable volcanic cones. But the clouds were low and kept it hidden. As I drove up the eastern flank, you wouldn’t even have known there was a mountain there.
The evening light was weakening as I pulled up at my Air BnB in New Plymouth, a city I’d wanted to visit for some time. I had 2 nights booked there and I’d had grand plans of hiking around the lower slopes of Mount Taranaki. It was mid-September and I knew the snow would still be an issue higher up, and I didn’t have the time to do any multi-day treks, so I was ready to just explore the lower reaches of the mountain. But for my whole stay, the entire reason I’d come to the region barely showed itself, the cloud sitting low day after day after day. It was a slight frustration but it did mean I was able to explore a bit more of the region than I’d expected to, and the area firmly put itself on the list of places to return to in the future.
My Air BnB was right on the coast and I could hear the sea from my room. It was also facing the side of sunset, providing me with a lovely vista as the sun dropped low to the horizon soon after my arrival. The clouds added a dramatic splash of colour that first night as the sun set behind the islands of Lion Rock and Moturoa just offshore in the Taranaki Bight. After grabbing takeout, I had a lovely quiet evening planning my adventures over the coming days.
I awoke to sunshine and clearer skies. After the previous day’s long drive, I was planning on exploring on foot. New Plymouth has a long coastal promenade that from where I was staying led off in both directions along the coast. Dotted along the route are a series of sculptures or works of art to draw attention away from the rolling waves. One of the more well known ones, and one that I wasn’t really enamoured with, was the Wind Wand, a very tall metallic pole that swings with the breeze. I continued all the way to Port Taranaki where Ngamotu beach marked the end of the coastal walkway.
But my goal was Paritutu Rock, the rather distinctive pointed geological feature that is visible from some distance away. I had to cut up through a rather industrial part of the city to reach the car park and the start of the trail up to its summit, but I was rather disappointed to discover that the summit trail was closed for my entire stay while track work was performed. I at least had a more close up view of the collection of offshore islands that were nearby. I considered walking round the corner to Back beach but it was downhill, so having decided I wasn’t in the mood for the extra distance and climb on the way back, I started to head back towards the city.
The main road offered little interest on route beyond the occasional piece of street art, but I eventually found myself at Puke Ariki, one of the city’s museums. It wasn’t the largest or most interesting of museums but it did have a few things that caught my attention, including a sign discussing a virus outbreak as a future global emergency, something that hadn’t yet happened when the sign was erected, but had become quite ironic at my time of visiting in 2020. From here, I had a walking route to take through the city to spot the variety of street art that is dotted around the place. I’m a big fan of street murals, and New Plymouth has many of them. Next to the museum was a 2-storey high tui, and spanning out from there I recognised artwork by some of my favourite street artists.
It was a convoluted route past space creatures, portrait mashups and a giant elephant. There was even a beautiful landscape mural depicting Mount Taranaki to make up for my lack of view. But it wasn’t long before the city streets melted away as I entered the ornate gateway into Pukekura Park, a sprawling green space at the back of the city. It was a week day, so although there were plenty of other people around, it didn’t feel crammed, and I was easily able to procure a table at the Tea House On The Lake. I was staring directly at the summit of Mount Taranaki, invisible as it was, behind the clouds. Intermittently, for brief seconds, a snow-capped peak appeared before it was quickly enveloped once more. On a cloud-free day, this vista across the lake, with its distinctive red arched bridge below the peak of the mountain is one of the city’s more well known mountain photography spots.
It’s a beautiful spot for a wander. From the lake the trails crisscrossed through beautiful bush with the sounds of native birds to keep me company. The furthest away lake was the prettiest, and meadow flowers were in bloom in the green space at the farther end of the park. I spotted plump kereru, noisy myna, a sacred kingfisher and tui as I skirted up the hill from the Bowl of Brooklands, past Brooklands Zoo and back towards the lakes. I love visiting gardens in the spring. It always feels like so much life is thriving as the flowers burst into bloom and the birds go about mating and breeding. Near the cafe, the Pukekura Falls added an additional sound element to the call of the birds as I headed back towards the park entrance, and I was quickly made aware of the fact that there were shags nesting in the trees on the bank of the lake.
Eventually I exited the park, cutting back through the city past more murals to return to the coastal walkway. Ignoring my tired feet, I headed off in the opposite direction from the morning, passing recreational reserves and East End Beach before feeling like I’d left the city behind at Waiwhakaiho Reserve where a broad river opens out into the sea. There was a lot more activity here with cyclists, walkers, joggers, and dog owners all pounding the track.
Down in the river bed, a myriad of shags were drying themselves, but I was here to see the famous Te Rewa Rewa bridge, a white-arced structure that spans the river. Aside from the uniqueness of the bridge structure itself, it’s more well known for photos showing it framing the peak of Mount Taranaki. But although I was under glorious sunshine and a blue sky, when I reached the other side and turned around, as I already knew it would be, the mountain was nowhere to be seen, a bank of cloud hiding its existence.
I planned on continuing on to Bell Block beach, but after a few bends of the coastline, I decided that my feet had had too much. Turning around, I re-crossed the bridge then decided on a whim to circumnavigate the nearby Lake Rotomanu, a manmade lake nearby. As I headed back along the coast I could see windsurfers out in the evening surf, and when I eventually returned to my Air BnB, I was able to watch another sunset with the added drama of a changing cloud pattern to send streaks of light across the sky.
The following day turned into one of frustration. I awoke to a slightly overcast and stormy day but I had a lot of ground to cover so was quick to leave my accommodation behind and get going. Despite a need to head south, I turned north and drove for an hour up the winding state highway away from New Plymouth. Once past Waitara, it was effectively rural, with greenery spanning both sides of the road. Eventually I pulled off onto Clifton Road and found myself at the car park for the Three Sisters and Elephant Rock. I’d wanted to visit these coastal structures for years, and had been disappointed to hear that one of them had partially collapsed in an earthquake a few years prior. But it was to be a must-do excursion when I was planning this roadie, so to say I was gutted to get to the car park and realise that I couldn’t reach them was an under statement.
Despite investigating location and transit, I had failed to notice in advance that they are only accessible at low tide. As I got out the car, I looked at the gushing flow of the Tongaporutu river and stared incredulously at the sign that showed I needed to follow the river bank down to the sea. Only there was no river bank, just a high level water and no route to take me there. It was clearly high tide, not even close to being accessible, so I had to admit defeat and leave. A quick look on Google maps though had me spot a lookout just along the road, so I headed across the river and up the hill to an unmarked road with an unmarked car park and an unmarked track. But the views from the hillside made up for the lack of beach access. Although Mount Taranaki was once again invisible, I could see for miles down the coast, and the various sea stacks stood tall against the brunt of the waves that rolled in from the Tasman Sea.
On the way back to New Plymouth I cut down to Bell Block beach to see what I’d missed the day before. It felt rough and wild so I didn’t stay long. I only skirted the edge of New Plymouth, taking State Highway 3 south to Lake Mangamahoe. This was one of those places I’d wanted to visit for some time, in part because, like many people, I had spotted a photo on social media and felt compelled to see it for myself. The walk from the car park turned out to be rather bland with only fleeting glimpses of the lake, however it didn’t take long to reach the lookout with its famous view, only to realise once again that the cloud-shrouded mountain rather deflected from its potential glory. It felt a little underwhelming.
The track continued around the lake, with views patchy in places. On the south bank of the lake there is a redwood forest, where the path leads through foreign giants. It’s hard not to love redwoods even if they are an introduced species. To complete the loop round the lake, the track eventually joined the road I’d driven up, and I have to admit I was eager to get back to my car by the end of it. I think my expectations had been a little high, and as such my opinion of the place probably doesn’t serve it much justice. Yet as I pulled out of the reserve and cut round the back of New Plymouth to follow the Taranaki coastline round its volcanic cone, I was unaware that my frustrations were only going to get worse.