an empty a-frame wave breaking at puniho road inthe taranaki region of new zealand's north island

Departure Gate: Taranaki, New Zealand

Words by Kim Feldmann de Britto & images by Kim Feldmann de Britto



Every surfer casts an eye shoreward at some point in between sets. Depending on where they’re surfing some see the beach or dunes, others cliffs, and others see buildings. Few see snow-capped mountains, and even less look back to see a solitary snow capped volcanic cone of the likes of Mount Taranaki on New Zealand’s North Island.

 

An easy 5hr drive/bus ride (360km/220miles) southwest of Auckland – or an even easier 1hr flight- brings you to the city of New Plymouth, capital of the Taranaki Region in New Zealand. The area gets its name from Mt. Taranaki – a 2500m mountain surrounded by coastline to its NW and SW – which is the reason why most come to this part of the North Island, be it for surfing, snowboarding/skiing or simply slowing down the pace for a while.
Due to its strategic location Mt. Taranaki provides not only great powder conditions in winter time, but is also a decisive factor in the region’s surf conditions due to its incredible capacity to either block or funnel the wind. That, together with a peninsula which sticks out to sea makes the Taranaki region “the land of offshores”, and pretty much any swell with a bit of West in it is bound to produce waves.

Considering the number of surf spots around the peninsula and the fact that there’s a road running parallel to the coast from New Plymouth to Opunake, it only seemed fair that said road be called the Surf Highway 45. This road goes around Mt. Taranaki, passing through small and picturesque villages (offering a wide range of accommodation and food), with dirt roads frequently branching off leading to quiet beaches.

Once in New Plymouth you’ll hear about Fitzroy beach, a popular sand-bottomed break near the city centre that has gained notoriety more for the comfortable location and versatility than the actual quality of waves. Nevertheless, it’s a good option for a quick dip if you just spent the day in transit and don’t want to go on a wave hunt straight away. Plus, it might impress if the swell picks up.


Not too far south of New Plymouth is Back Beach, offering an idyllic mix of consistency and accessibility – and a touch of drama with its sheltering cliffs. This large bay seems to always have something to offer, and when Fitzroy is small you’ll find waves at least a foot bigger here.
Moving down along the Surf Highway to the Okato area you’ll start to notice an number of dirt roads branching off the main road. At the end of one of these dirt roads is the first “popular” spot in the area: Kumera Patch, a long point break left-hander that requires you to walk across private farmland but will very likely be worth the mission. It’s considered one of the best lefts in Taranaki and holds swell up to 3m (9ft), working best at low tide.
Puniho Road is another left-hander just a bit further South from the town of Okato. It’s easily accessible and well-signposted just off the highway, at the end of another dirt road. Much like its neighbour Kumera Patch it holds swell up to 3m (9ft) and works better on low tide, with SE winds blowing.


Just a few more minutes down the highway is Graveyards/Rockies, which consist of three different spots: Graveyards, Rocky Lefts and Rocky Rights. These are all point breaks that come off patches of reef into deeper boulder bays, producing nice barrelling sections as well as manoeuvre-friendly walls. They all work well on low-to-mid tide and are well exposed to any swell with west in it.


Eventually you’ll reach Stent Road – Taranaki’s most famous wave, and with good reason. This right-hander is for the more experienced surfer – and those who don’t mind crowds – as some of its sections can be quite fast and hollow; an uninviting situation in low tide. It’s also well exposed to any westerly swell and best on an incoming tide.

 

Still on Highway 45, just before reaching the town of Opunake is the spot of Arawhata, a reliable right-hand point break known for being one of the only places to work on a NW wind. It too is also best on incoming tides and is easily accessible.
Soon after Opunake you’ll come across Mangahumes, the last “popular” spot on the Surf Highway 45. It may not be as easy to get to as the former, but if conditions are right this is a solid and long wave, that breaks over boulders and rocks and will keep producing surfable sets regardless of the stage of tide.

 

Overall, surf spots on the west coast of New Zealand are well-developed, safe, accessible and consistent, and Taranaki doesn’t stray from this category. In fact, its versatility puts it on top of the pyramid when the focus is to surf everyday instead of wait around for one single swell. It’s also one of the few places on earth where you can snowboard/ski on the same day as surfing, making it the perfect winter destination for those adrenaline seekers who don’t mind full suits. Do bear in mind that the locals love and protect their treasure and that even though they don’t usually mind sharing, respect for both land and people is always welcome.

  • Where: Fly to Auckland (AKL) and drive, take a bus or a domestic flight to New Plymouth (NPL).
  • When: May to August, but works all year round
  • Why: Consistency and versatility. Mainly point-breaks with the odd beach break that works on a smaller swell
  • How: a choice of short-boards will work for all conditions, and a fish could be a fun option on glassy days.

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