Long weekend road trip
With the chaos of Christmas over, a long weekend proved a great opportunity for David Coxon to visit the hot water beach at Kawhia on the south Waikato coast.
Kawhia is a good day’s drive from Wellington so we planned to get up to New Plymouth on Saturday to give us a more relaxed day on Sunday, with time to stop for a bit of sightseeing. The tide cooperated, with the ideal time for the hot pools on Sunday being from 6: 00pm. Leaving Wellington late Saturday morning after essential chores had been done, we linked up with with our fellow travellers Gillian and Ashley near Otaki, pausing for cheap fuel at Levin and lunch at Waitarere Beach before making some distance north on SH3.
Just past Stratford we turned off to follow a network of backroads to bypass New Plymouth. These slower, at times windy roads, were a pleasant chance to slow down and enjoy the scenery after the 100km/ h highway touring. I was hoping for some nice photos back towards Mt Taranaki and of the afternoon light across rolling hill country, but the cloudy conditions made for flat lighting and also hid the mountain. The most interesting part of this section was the old, single lane, unlined and unlit tunnel we had to use. I always enjoy these glimpses of constructions of earlier times. After a very pleasant night’s accommodation at an AirBnB in Onaero we took a more leisurely run north up SH3, firstly dropping in to the beach at Waiiti Stream for a refreshing walk along the beach and the view back along the coast to Mt Taranaki. The view and the sparkling black sands were beautiful, but the mountain was still being shy. We stopped again at the sign for the Three Sisters but once again we managed to arrive with a rising tide preventing us from walking the last section of the Tongaporutu River bank to the coast. I gave up when the water got over my knees and still rising with a strong current.
Luckily a bit of local knowledge led us to the road on Umukaha Point on the other side of the river where a short walk across the fields of the Rapanui Grey Faced Petral nesting sanctuary gave us some beautiful views down the coast, including the entire whanau of rocks that make up the Three Sisters site. We continued up the coast to Awakino, then as the main road headed inland we turned off to head up the Manganui River
Valley, another remote and scenic part of New Zealand. We worked our way through a network of low-grade sealed roads and small settlements before turning off at Waikawau to take our first gravel road to Waikawau Beach and our lunch stop. What makes this beach special is that the road stops on the landward side of the coastal cliffs, and access to the beach is a pedestrian tunnel about 100m long. It was like walking through a damp wind tunnel, with a constant sea breeze wet, muddy patches underfoot and being dripped on from above! We arrived at high tide, although luckily it was a low high tide leaving a tiny bay with a couple of metres of sand between the high water mark and the cliffs. It was an amazing place to sit and enjoy lunch while watching a few locals body boarding in the surf. With the tide slowly retreating we left the body boarders to their fun and continued up the coast on a mixture of sealed and unsealed roads. We took a quick detour to visit to the little coastal settlement of Marokopa then followed the Marokopa River, detouring briefly to visit the rather spectacular Marokopa Falls. Access to the falls was a 400m walk down a gentle and well-formed track from the road to a viewing platform, with a further scramble down to the base of the falls for the more adventurous. The falls were fairly full and I could have stayed there photographing the patterns for hours.
Getting into hot water
From here, a quick run got us to Kawhia about 5: 00pm, which was perfect to have time to settle into the motel before heading to Hot Water Beach. After a short slog from the car park up and over the sand dune we found some hot and cold water and dug ourselves a natural spa pool at the perfect temperature. I now have the experience of lazing in a sandy hot pool soaking up the atmosphere at the end of the day as another fantastic memory. As a complete contrast from our evening on the beach, Monday dawned still warm but wet – very wet. Kawhia to Wellington was going to be a long run home, but we still wanted to do some back roads on the way, so we took a south-easterly route from Kawhia harbour, working our way through a string of back roads across to Taumarunui. As we started up the first valley just past Hauturu we hit more heavy rain, and at the same time the seal ended. For me this made for the best driving on the trip, with moody, misty scenery and slippery, windy roads making for a stimulating drive. As we climbed out of one of the valleys May spotted a waterfall on the other side of the valley. This was well worth a photo stop, however by the time I had pulled in and got my camera out, the falls had vanished into the mist.
We spent about ten minutes standing in the misty rain watching the cloud drifting across the hillside, waiting for a gap in the mist to line up with the waterfall. It was quite enjoyable having time to just watch the clouds, and were finally rewarded with a reasonably clear view of the falls. The road continued to wind its way through the valleys, gradually moving back towards civilisation as we hit SH3 at Piopio where we stopped at a very nice café for brunch before a final back road section across to SH4 at Tangitu. Once on SH4 it was a steady run down to National Park then on down to Whanganui and eventually Wellington, ending a most successful weekend road trip.
The Three Sisters formation from the Rapanui Grey Faced Petrel colony.
Having seen this waterfall as we drove past, we spent about ten minutes waiting in the swirling cloud for the waterfall to reappear.
Marokopa was a very pleasant and tranquil place to visit.
The tunnel design was rather minimalistic.
A quick and cool walk through the tunnel to our lunch at Waikawau Beach.
Lazing around at Hot Water Beach, Kawhia. It was a very non-touristy experience.
Photo op at the picturesque Marokopa Falls.