South Taranaki spans a large portion of the region.
From Ōkato and around the coastline of Taranaki, following the curved clifftops of Surf Highway 45, circumnavigating the mountain to Hāwera and further south to Waitotara, as well as the inland towns of Normanby and Eltham.
With vast land coverage comes plenty of unique things to see and do. With so much more to discover than beaches and world-class surf breaks, South Taranaki offers ample points of historic and cultural interest, scenic picnic spots, welcoming cafés, and a thriving artist community.
Driving south along Surf Highway 45 takes you through to Ōkato. Technically just before the border of the South Taranaki district, don’t be tricked by the size of this coastal town – there’s plenty to see and do. Grab some fish n chips from award-winning Ōkato Fish n Chips (back in 2019 they took out the national title for best chips in Aotearoa) and head to Lucy’s Gully, a popular picnic spot and access point to the Waimoku and Sefton Ridge walking tracks, or drive to the Stony River (Hangatahua) Walkway, which takes you through lowland bush and magnificant views of Taranaki Maunga. Or if art is on the agenda, pull over to the Lumen Studios and Gallery, an artist-run space based at the old Cheese Factory in the small town of Tataraimaka.
Warea and Pungarehu
Since you’re down that way, make sure to take the side roads to visit the Cape Egmont Lighthouse, accessible down Cape Road, and the Historic Cape Light and Museum, down Bayly Road. Orginally built in London in 1865, the Cape Egmont Lighthouse stands proudly at western-most point of Taranaki, with mighty Taranaki Maunga overseeing in the background.
This is not a town to just drive through and forget about. With an excess of artist studios and galleries, sumptuous cafes, and some fabulous retail therapy options, you’ll easily spend hours exploring Ōpunake. Check out Ōpunake Open Studios and Galleries, The Emporium, The Brown Bach Studio, from out of the blue studio, and Forbes & Flay art studio to discover artwork by local artists. Add in a quick 5-minute trip to Pihama to visit the Pihama Lavendar Studio Gallery, which runs monthly markets on a Sunday. Catch a flick at the 1920s inspired and lovingly restored Everybody’s Theatre, and grab a bite at either Sugar Juice Cafe or Arty Tarts, both along the main road. Venture along the Clifftop Garden and Ōpunake Loop Trail, or take the kids to the epic Ōpunake Beach playground.
Kaupokonui and Manaia
Kaupokonui Beach is famous with locals as the best beach in South Taranaki for a sunny-day picnic, with plenty of black-sand dunes to run, roll, sand-surf, or tumble down, and safe surf to swim in. There’s also a kids playground at the nearby campground. Drive a little further around the coast and discover another locals’ secret – the factory shop of Yarrows Bakery. Buy some super-cheap offcuts or stock up on frozen croissants – the very same ones Yarrows exports all around the world. Maybe even take a selfie with the oversized roadside loaf of bread.
You’re most definitely not starved for choice for things to do in Hāwera. The crowning jewel is award-winning Tawhiti Museum and Traders & Whalers underground boat experience. Owner and curator Nigel Ogle has painstakingly crafted each and every scale model and mini-figure that makes up the amazing displays of Taranaki pioneering history. And the fact that WETA Workshop assisted with creating and building the Traders & Whalers experience should tell you that it’s worth visiting! And after your dose of local history, check out the local food scene at The Burnt Place or Upside Down Eatery. Head for the outdoors at King Edward Park, Naumai Park, or Goodson Dell. Or if you’d rather build up a sweat, climb all 215 stairs of the Hāwera Water Tower. Want to discover more local art? Try Quiky Fox or Lysaght Watt Gallery. Or for a unique experience, completely like no other, make an appointment to visit KD’s Elvis Presley Private Museum.
If you like cheese, you’re gonna love Eltham. Home to Fonterra’s Cheese Bar, pop in to snag yourself a cheese bargain. Then take your cheese (and a picnic) to the predator-free Lake Rotokare Scenic Reserve for a lake-side picnic and stroll along the boardwalk. Or do the entire 4km loop track around the lake to take in the abundance of birdlife and native bush.
Pātea, Waverley and Waitōtara
Take the time to stop in Pātea to discover all that this town has to offer. The iconic Aotea Waka on the main road is a great place to stop to stretch your legs, and head across the road to the Aotea Utanganui Museum of South Taranaki. Gallery Pātea will surprise you with the array of affordable local artworks for sale. Check out The Garden of Tutunui sculpture on your way to Pātea Beach, as well as the seven pou sculptures lined up long the fenceline of the golf course. See if you can find the shipwreck at the beach, or turn off to the lookout for tremendous coastline views. Further south in Waverley, stop in at the Waverley Glass Art Studio, or continue your drive onto Waitōtara to discover Ashley Park, an all-encompassed accommodation, animal park, museum, and mini-golf.