On the last day of 2015, Andy and I left Waikanae in the morning and made the drive up to Stratford, just south of New Plymouth. Stratford is in the Taranaki region of New Zealand, which is about four hours northwest of Wellington. Here it is on a map.
That big circle to the west of Stratford is Mount Taranaki, the giant peak that dominates the entire Taranaki region. You can even see it from Wellington’s west coast on a good day and from Golden Bay on the South Island. Here’s an aerial shot. The green area surrounding the mountain is all Egmont National Park.
Mount Taranaki is 2,518 metres tall (8,261 feet) and as you may have guessed, it’s a volcano. Although its currently dormant, it has minor eruptions every 90 years or so, with major ones coming every 500 years. The rest of the North Island’s largest volcanoes are all clustered in the center of the island in Tongariro National Park (where I did the crossing that passed Mount Doom). Māori legend tells of Taranaki getting in a fight with Tongariro and being forced to flee westward. It now stands all alone, but it’s quite the sight rising from an otherwise flat landscape. You can climb the mountain, but it’s considered reasonably dangerous, and most of the year crampons and ice picks are required.
Andy and I had reserved a campsite at a holiday park in Stratford, so we arrived and set up our tent with plenty of daylight left to enjoy the last day of 2015. We took a walk along the river that flows through Stratford and cooled our feet, which was great on a hot day. Higgs even did some swimming all on his own. We had a nice dinner at our site and then settled in with some drinks to await midnight. It began to rain as the sun went down, so we retreated to the tent and struggled to stay awake for the new year. We did manage, though, and crashed shortly thereafter. It was a great, quiet way to ring in 2016 with two of my favorite guys, Andy and Higgs. I couldn’t have asked for more.
The next morning, with the forecast promising lots of rain, we decided to pack up the tent and get a cabin for the next two nights instead, since the holiday park had lots of options. It turned out to be a wise choice. After packing up, we took advantage of the remaining clear weather and set out to drive the Surf Highway. Basically, we were going to drive a large loop around Mount Taranaki. Here’s the route.
We started by driving north toward New Plymouth, Taranaki’s largest town. We got very lucky, as the mountain was completely free of the clouds that often shroud its peak.
New Plymouth itself was fairly unimpressive, and struck me as just a large industrial town, although we didn’t spend much time there. We did take a walk along the shore for about an hour to let Higgs get some exercise.
The giant wind needle in New Plymouth puts Wellington’s to shame.
After grabbing some coffee to refuel, we hit the road again and drove along the coast. We got some more great views of the mountain as we continued on.
If you’re wondering why we didn’t visit Egmont National Park, it’s because they sadly don’t allow dogs. Andy and I are planning to back sometime when we can find somebody to watch Higgs. Apparently, there are a lot of great walks around the base, and you can go part-way up the mountain if you feel so inclined.
We did drive as close as we could get and made a quick stop at Pukeiti Gardens.
Our next destination was the shipwreck of the SS Gairloch. The ship ran aground in 1903, with no casualties, and has been besieged by the elements ever since. Just up my alley!
We parked in some farmland near the coast and made for the shore.
On the way to the wreck, Higgs had to check out a dead eagle ray.
Looking back, Mount Taranaki peeked out over the closer hills, providing a gorgeous backdrop to the beach.
And here’s the wreck!
I could’ve spent hours photographing the skeletal remains of the Gairloch. I imagine it won’t hold up for much longer, so I’m happy to have had the chance to see it. In fact, I’m amazed it has lasted as long as it has, 113 years!
Luckily, Andy and Higgs were able to entertain themselves while I took countless shots.
Hey there, Taranaki!
Ok, one more wreck shot.
We made our way back along the beach toward our car.
Next, we planned to visit two lighthouse further down the coast. On the way, I had to hop out to get a shot of this hydrangea-lined road. The bushes went as far as the eye could see. It was amazing.
Up next, lighthouses and rugged coastline – my favorite! – along the Surf Highway.