Holding onto Adventure

Words by Tran Lawrence
Jade Newson Jade Newson

We are living in strange times, with uncertainty, change, and often feelings of helplessness. And at times like this, it’s easy to focus on all the things we can’t do, rather than all of those that we can.

For most of us this year holds no overseas travel, and for many, it is a time of financial uncertainty, unemployment, and reduced income.

The ability to create memories within your whanau, within your communities, still remains. For many children, consider that they may look back at this year as a time that their parents were home, when family was together, when adventures happened in their own backyard. They may remember smiles, laughter, and togetherness, rather than the doom, gloom and tragedy that many of us see as 2020. 

Best of all, we live in Taranaki. Stop a moment, take a breath, and look around you. So beautiful it is, this place we are blessed to live in. Adventures in Taranaki need not take a lot of money, effort, or travel, for we have the perfect chance for adventure in our own backyard. 

When we arrived in Taranaki over 20 years ago, we laid flat topographical maps of the area out in front of us. Seeing all the land stretched out in front of you like that, you certainly get a sense of how much opportunity this region holds. 

Every weekend we explored our new area.

With a packed lunch, raincoats, sensible footwear and furious planning, we ticked off mountains, summits, beaches, back tracks, and side roads. The best advice we were ever given was that “the first rule of adventuring in Taranaki is that Plan B is plan A with a rain coat”. We explored caves, waterfalls, canyons, (and canyons with waterfalls), lakes, dams, beaches, unused tracks, huts and rivers that were so clear we could see our future. 

It wasn’t all easy, we got cold, sunburnt and bruised, had the wrong gear, ran out of food, and got lost. Kids had tanties, heated arguments, fuel shortage, tipped kayaks, rope burn, break downs, and froze our butts off in the snow.

Now, 20 years later, it’s these memories that I cherish the most…. and it was well worth all the effort! 

There are some really beautiful treasures here in our own back yard, and I wanted to share with you some of our favourites. 

Tongaporutu 

Start with a low tide walk out to the beach and explore the rock formations. If you manage an evening tide, then the photo opportunities are incredible.

In summer try what the locals call the “float”, wait for the incoming tide (an hour after the change of tide), walk out to the river mouth and float back in on whatever handy floaty thing you have on hand.

For hunter-gatherer types, surfcasting at the river mouth will definitely sort dinner out or scavenge for fresh green lipped mussels on the rocks. There’s mullet and flounder to be had in the river. 

What our kids loved the most was the mud. Swim or kayak across the river, and then run and slide over the mud banks for endless hours of fun. 

Oakura Beach 

A favourite of many, and a source of endless childhood memories for the locals – this is where our children grew up surrounded by an awesome community (we always said if we didn’t have eyes on our child we knew someone did) and it definitely should be on your to do list. Oakura has surf, a great swimming beach, a new skatepark, a surf shop, cafés (even a new vegan one!), numerous places to get both a cold beer and an ice-cream, rock pools, walks and black sand (insider tip to the west coast, the sand gets really hot in summer so wear sandals). 

A walk to the southern end of the beach will get you to the end of Ahu Ahu Road, this place is truly beautiful, with some amazing surf, free-diving and fishing.

The northern end is the Ōākura River in which our children spent hours in every summer swimming, jumping off the bank, kayaking under the bridge and building sand art. You can even get mussels for dinner and whitebait in season. If you want to stretch your legs the walk along the beach further north to New Plymouth is rugged and refreshing (only at low tide). 

After 20 years here we still walk on the beach almost every day, even when windy and rough. This is our soul food.  

Maunga Taranaki Photo Road trip

Have you driven around the mountain and gotten a photo of all his different faces from different viewpoints? A day’s road trip will yield an awesome set of photos for your fridge or wall with Taranaki – on the way you can throw in a few of family stuffing their faces with ice creams, famous surf signs, iconic road names, and coffee moustaches with the mountain in the back ground! Our maunga is pretty photogenic on a good day and he loves shamelessly making the rest of the world jealous on social media. 

Time for a hike? 

Another go to for us to fill our adventure bucket is to wander our beautiful maunga’s slopes – we feel like it is part of our patriotic Taranaki duty to get out on the mountain as often as possible. Whether a walk up the Puffer track, to one of the visitor centres, the ski club, Wilkies Pools, Dawson Falls or all the way to the summit there’s something for everyone. People come from all over the world for a walk and photo and it’s right in our backyard! A few years ago I guided a friend and his 75 year old mum up. We got pretty close to the top but she couldn’t make it up the shale so we just sat there for lunch, while my friend scrambled to the top. She sat and just stared at the view with tears in her eyes, she had wanted to do this her entire life and was overwhelmed at how beautiful it all was. It was an 11 hour day for us all but she said she wished she had done it years before and would cherish the memory forever.

How about a night away? 

Maketawa has always been our go to overnight DOC hut on the mountain, it’s easily accessible and a great first time overnight hut adventure for families. I really love the way once you get there everyone rushes out to admire the view from the deck and comes in buzzing about it. And make sure you don’t miss the amazing sunrises from there. It’s not too far from the road, the walk is interesting and on the way home you can climb up the translator track for more amazing views and come down the alternate route. Our second favourite hut with kids is the Waingongoro — such a lovely tramp in with ladders and swing bridges, but I will let you discover that one.

Dam Dropping

This adventure inland from Normanby is for those who are a little more adventurous. Many times I’ve come home and our body boards and kayaks have been gone and a note is in their place. “Gone dam dropping, thanks”

This little man-made dam is a get wet and adrenaline activity, that is iconic to Taranaki. 

Through the years I’ve seen people slide off here with everything you can think of, from body boards, kayaks and surfboards, to car bonnets and inflatable couches, I think it’s all been done. My recommendation is that you wear a helmet, footwear and a life jacket and slide over on the far side of the dam (river right) as more water flows over there, and preferably on something. Also check it out first, as there may be debris and trees down the bottom. For the kayakers, below the dam there is a beautiful grade 2 stretch of water easy enough for beginners, happens to be full of trout as well.

Pukekura Park 

The kids always loved the park, and we still do. From the zoo to the playgrounds and incredible range of flora don’t overlook this iconic resource that is free to everyone. Our hot tip for the park is pack a picnic, and devote the best part of the day to just wandering – you would be surprised how many back trails there are you never suspected exist with hidden treasures. At the intersection of each path let the young ones choose the next direction – you might be surprised where you end up. 

Back Beach 

I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone racing down the massive sand dune at Back Beach without a smile on their face, this little gem really brings out the child in all of us! (During summer, remember to wear footwear!!! The sand gets incredibly hot!) Ever since arriving in New Plymouth and discovering this area it has always held a special place in our hearts. The carparks and lookouts overlooking the Sugar Loaf islands are spectacular and usually one of the first places locals take visitors to really show off our spectacular coastline. This is somewhere we come when we are going through a challenging spot in our lives – a walk along Back Beach always puts everything back in perspective. We are not religious, but this spot seems to hold a healing power for us. A great route is down the sand dunes, south along the beach, and then back up along the top of the cliffs – there are lots of hidden vistas. Last time we were there we even found a hidden couch overlooking the beach! 

Lake Rotokare 

A lot of love and care has been put into this reserve just east of Eltham and it is definitely the place to enjoy abundant native birdlife due to being enclosed in an 8.2km predator fence.  There is a beautiful bush walk around the lake, and it’s great for kayaking and canoeing, and safe for paddle boarding. Great changing facilities. 

Lake Mangamahoe

Another must do, there’s a spectacular walk around the lake, with some beautiful spots for picnics and trout fishing. If the kids are looking to burn off some energy grab some mountain bikes and explore the tracks that have been lovingly cared for by the local club. On a good day you might even capture a photo of our stunning maunga reflected in the lake’s waters. And if your young ones like feeding ducks – go nuts!

Walkways 

Of course, everyone knows about the Coastal Walkway (and for good reason – how lucky are we to have it?!) but how long has it been since you made the effort to branch off and go up the Te Henui and the Huatoki sections? You won’t feel as if you are in town any longer. Our children’s favourite climbing tree was up the Te Henui.  Take a packed lunch and either walk or cycle and don’t forget your swimming togs as there are some really cool swimming holes that only locals know about. Also keep your eyes open for the public orchard along the way – if you stop and have a hunt around you might be rewarded with some fruity treats!

Taranaki is an amazing region for adventures that don’t require lots of travel or money. Especially for those of you with young families (or young at heart), spend that time together, make it an adventure, make it a memory that will last forever. What are you waiting for? Get out there! 

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