Readers' pick: Surf Highway

01:02, May 31 2012

SURF HIGHWAY - HAWERA TO NEW PLYMOUTH

Distance: 105km

Going the long way round between Hawera and New Plymouth adds around 40km to any journey between the two settlements, but is well worth doing if you've got the time.

The coastal route circumnavigates the mountain that gives the province its name, and driving around it feels like circling a gigantic sun-dial, with the shadows of the peak pointing to the time of day.

That far fewer vehicles take this route creates a more relaxing drive as you cruise west from Hawera while keeping mountain views on the right side of the car, and coastal panoramas on the left. If it's a nice day, the scenic vistas of the journey will be worth travelling the extra 40 kilometres alone.

Leaving Hawera (home of a water tower that looks like it came from Disneyland), you quickly encounter the left-over factory buildings of now-defunct small co-operatives of dairy farmers. Many of these now serve as studios for artists, and dropping in at such studios is a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture of a unique province.

The mountain dominates everything in Taranaki, including the works of its painters and sculptors. The other big influence is the sea, and the wild energy that hits this dramatic volcanic coastline with enough force to bend and shape large trees.

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At 43km into the journey, Opunake will remind its beholders of the setting of a Ronald Hugh Morrieson novel with its gothic-looking shopfronts and ancient public buildings.

The late mystery author probably wouldn't recognise the place however, given that many are now painted with colourful murals. The latter recognise the town's place in surfing culture; it's welcome sign proclaims it as "home of world-famous surf."

Wave-chasers will definitely love this route, as the changing angle-of-impact of the coastline to wind and swell virtually guarantees that there will be some enticing breaks located somewhere along the drive.

On our encounter, Cape Egmont, with its historic lighthouse, was the place to be, with spectacular two-metre swells breaking predictably both left and right. Others may find that the break at the bottom of Stent Road, known to Kiwi surfers as 'The Legend', is living up to its name.

However you don't have to be a board-rider to enjoy the Surf Highway. The beauty of the drive, with its subtlety-changing scenery, is something that everyone can enjoy along the way.

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