Scenic Drive Through New Zealand’s Surf Highway

With a name like New Zealand’s Surf Highway, SH45 route is going to have a lot of appeal for those seeking to incorporate this popular pastime into their Kiwi vacation. But there’s more to this delightful stretch of coast: volcanic scenery of course, with towering Mount Taranaki dominating the Egmont National Park, as well as sites important to Maori culture and history such as Parihaka. Here are some tips if you’re thinking of taking your rental car or campervan down one of North Island’s most scenic routes.

New Zealand's Surf Highway, Evening surf at Oakura Beach
Evening surf at Oakura Beach by Dave Young via Flickr CC BY 2.0

How to Explore New Zealand’s Surf Highway

Don’t rush

At first glance, New Zealand’s Surf Highway that’s only 65 miles long from where it starts in New Plymouth to where it finishes up in Hawera could easily be ticked off in little more than an hour. But this winding stretch of asphalt shouldn’t be rushed; and you’d be crazy to try and tick off its sights in a day. Give yourself time to stop and experience what the area has to offer and take a few days rather than a few hours to cover the distance.

Prepare to get wet

You can’t drive a road that defines itself by surf without giving a board an airing. You won’t even need to leave New Plymouth to take to the water at Fitzroy Beach. It’s well known for its hollow waves; which for those not versed in surf-speak, that means the wave has a tube shape and can be ridden inside as if in a tunnel.

Further along the coast, Kumera Patch is renowned for its fast-breaking left handers. You’ll find it between Okato and Warea. Beginners can do worse than to try a surf lesson at the nearby Komene Beach. And if it doesn’t go so well, that’s also a great spot for birdwatchers.

Inspect a century-old landmark

Wreck of the SS Gairloch by Ian Munnings via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The SS Gairloch was wrecked on the beach at Oakura on the night of 5th January 1903. The waves have been trying to break down its rusting iron skeleton ever since. The ship ran aground on a dark night and the crew rowed to safety. By daylight, though the harbour board recovered personal effects, the holed vessel was deemed unsalvageable. Today, the bow of the SS Gairloch sits in the sand; its engines waiting just below the water level for anyone who’s interested to wade out and take a look.

Eat in the “bread capital of New Zealand”

When Alfred Yarrow brought his family bread making business to the little town of Manaia in 1923; he could never have imagined that the place would become the national phenomenon that it is today. A team of over 200 people work 24 hours a day, seven days a week to produce not only bread, but other baked goods such as croissants and cookies. Grab yourself the makings of a picnic before snapping a selfie with the Big Loaf on your way out of town.

About JuliaHammond


Julia Hammond is a Geography teacher turned travel writer with a passion for places. Winning Mail Travel's Deep South competition was the catalyst to write for a diverse range of publications including Bradt's Bus Pass Britain Rides Again. She’s written Kindle guides to Cape Town, Peru and London for Unanchor and advice on Savannah for Wanderlust. When not travelling, she can be found at home in Essex planning her next trip, her two golden retrievers curled up at her feet.

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