Readers' pick: Whaanga Coast
WHAANGA COAST - RAGLAN TO RUAPUKE
This rugged, rocky, gravel road hugs the spectacular coastline between Raglan and Aotea harbours on the west coast of the North Island, and has become something of a legend to both surfers and motorsport fans alike.
To the surfing community, the road gives access to three iconic locations, Maunu Bay, Whale Bay, and Ruapuke beach, and all three are mentioned with hushed tones of reverence for the quality of the breaks they provide.
To motorsport fans, the Whaanga Coast stage is the often-climatic penultimate challenge of the Rally of New Zealand, and the theatre that usually decides who wins the NZ round of the World Rally Championship.
As you leave Raglan heading south-west, the wide tarsealed road quickly becomes a narrow gravel road that winds its way through a thick canopy of weathered manuka forest.
After about 7km of travelling in the shadows, the manuka opens up, affording spectacular views of a rugged coastline, and bush-clad Mt Karioi, the 766-metre high peak that dominates the adjacent Te Hutuwai Forest Park.
Woody Head and Papanui Point are two headlands that showcase the rugged nature of this coast. Both feature spectacular cliffs, and legend has it that the victors of an inter-tribal battle at the latter hurled the vanquished over the cliffs there.
Several shipwrecks also occurred on this gnarly stretch of coast, including one that produced a most controversial artefact - a bronze ship's bell inscribed with a strange language that some claim is proof that Chinese junks visited New Zealand in the 15th century.
Ruapuke beach is a small detour from the Whaanga Coast road, and a mecca for board-riders and surf-casters alike.
It was once considered a 'hidden treasure' until international surfing competitions were held there in 2006 and put it on the map of the global surfing community. These days most of the parking spaces on the narrow beach access road are taken by the rented campervans of international board-riders.
Bridal Veil Falls, located further inland near Ruapuke township, give this journey an opportunity to end on a scenic high point.
The WRC returns to the Whaanga Coast in June, 2012, drawn to one of the most photogenic stages of the international rally calendar.