Surfing Safari

Where to catch a wave in Taranaki

By Stephen Heard | Stuff

It is said that catching a wave can give rise to an out of body experience. If that means feeling like a ragdoll being thrown around in a washing machine, then that’s one more activity to check off my bucket list.

My second attempt at the sport of Hawaiian kings took place at Taranaki’s Fitzroy Beach, an exposed break known for its consistent swell. It is just one of many world-class surf spots in the west coast region. The high concentration of quality right- and left-handers, which can be toured along the suitably named Surf Highway 45 from New Plymouth to Hāwera, is considered to be one of the best mid-city surfing destinations in the world.

On this occasion, light offshore winds, healthy swell and wave height made for moderate conditions. One of the popular thickshakes from the Fitzroy Kiosk, tucked into the side of the surf lifesaving club, served as perfect pre-surfing sustenance.

Fellow surfers effortlessly straddle their boards out the back of the line-up waiting for their perfect ride back ashore. The giant seven-foot longboard borrowed from a friend instantly confirms my beginner status – I may as well have been carrying an inflatable life-raft. Lugging the gigantic rig to the water required a breather to regain some strength for paddling out; I masked the exhaustion by pretending to scope out the perfect entry point into the water.

On this occasion, light offshore winds, healthy swell and wave height made for moderate conditions. One of the popular thickshakes from the Fitzroy Kiosk, tucked into the side of the surf lifesaving club, served as perfect pre-surfing sustenance.

Fellow surfers effortlessly straddle their boards out the back of the line-up waiting for their perfect ride back ashore. The giant seven-foot longboard borrowed from a friend instantly confirms my beginner status – I may as well have been carrying an inflatable life-raft. Lugging the gigantic rig to the water required a breather to regain some strength for paddling out; I masked the exhaustion by pretending to scope out the perfect entry point into the water.

There’s unwritten etiquette that comes with surfing before jumping in with seasoned riders. Those at the peak of the wave have right of way, other surfers should be given plenty of space when paddling in, and surf to your ability when learning.

Taking the latter into account I settle for the ‘ankle slop’, a term given to waves apparently too small to surf. My longboard had room to keep an entire family afloat, so the waist-high white water would be no concern.

Many failed attempts, a few lie-down rides into shore, and I eventually manage to stand on two feet for a few absolutely thrilling seconds. Nostrils full of salt water – that’s officially surfing.

More top surf stops in Taranaki

Ōakura
The eight-metre-high board outside the surf shop is your first sign the seaside village of Ōakura is big on hanging ten. The so-called ‘world’s biggest surfboard’ once set a record for carrying 16 people on one wave.

Located 15 minutes south of New Plymouth along the Surf Highway 45, the black sand beach is the main attraction here. The gentle rolling beach break dishes up right- and left-handers and can be perfect for beginners.

And you don’t have to skimp on the creature comforts. The Black Sand Pizzeria & Bistro serves up fresh pizza with views across the water and there are bathroom and changing facilities accessible.

Ōkato
Further south along State Highway 45 near the small rural village of Ōkato is Komene Road, another spot suitable for beginner surfers. The left-hand break is typically gentle, small and punchy at the southern end of the beach.

More experienced riders should make a beeline for the legendary Kumera Patch and its long left-hand point break, or Stent Road just south of Ōkato. The famed right-hand break is regularly considered to be one of the best surfing spots in New Zealand. Graveyards, Rocky Lefts and Rocky Rights should also be left for intermediate surfers around here.

Ōpunakē
Just over the southern edge of the Taranaki hump is Ōpunakē. The small settlement and its half-moon beach really come to life in the warmer months. The beach is surfed for its beginner-friendly right- and left-handers – just keep an eye out for swimmers. The neighbouring Green Meadows should be left to the experts.

The region is also known for the 7km Ōpunakē Loop Trail with lake, coast and country vistas. Then, follow the mural trail through town and finish off the day with a scoop at the local fish and chip shop.

Always check weather and surf conditions before heading out in the water.

At the centre of surfer’s paradise, it’s easy to see why Longview is the ideal location for your new home.