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.

NZ4WD - - WEEKEND DRIVE - Story and pho­tos by David Coxon.

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.

Back­road by­pass

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.

Lo­cal knowl­edge

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.

Mist op­por­tu­nity

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.

Hav­ing seen this wa­ter­fall as we drove past, we spent about ten min­utes wait­ing in the swirling cloud for the wa­ter­fall to reap­pear.

The Three Sis­ters for­ma­tion from the Ra­panui Grey Faced Pe­trel colony.

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.

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