57 Days on the Road
Today is probably the saddest day of our road trip. After spending nearly three weeks in beautiful Taranaki, we are finally leaving and heading to the wild region of Manawatu-Wanganui. Our first stop will be Wanganui, the biggest city we will have seen since we left Auckland nearly two months ago.
But before that, we have a long journey ahead of us. From Opunake to Wanganui, lies 130km of coastline that begs to be explored, none of the places that we are visiting today are mentioned for more than a sentence in any guidebook. We are entering unknown territory.
How to make the best plans for a road trip
For the past few days, we have told almost everybody we’ve met, that our time in the ‘Naki (that is how locals call “Taranaki”) was coming to an end. All that’s left to explore is the coastal road to Wanganui today. After attempting to make us stay in the region, locals such as a Maori father in Hollard’s Park, a lovely couple in Opunake, and a store clerk in Stratford shared a few tips about things to do and see before leaving the region. With each tip written down in a little note pad so not to forget them, we are hitting the road early morning so we can squeeze it all in!
Manaia: The Bread Capital of New Zealand
That is literally the most exciting title possible for Robin. When listening to the Maori father of two in the rest centre of the Hollards Gardens, Robin was literally drooling. Yes you read it right, Taranaki is not only home to the (although disappointing) Cheese Capital of New Zealand, but is also home to the Bread Capital of New Zealand. There is no way he is missing that, and to be fair, the man mentioned that the factory also has cheap as pastries, so Laura is pretty keen as well.
The best smelling town in New Zealand
After a 30-minute drive from Opunake, we finally hit Manaia when doubt set in quickly. You see, the man told us that when entering the town we will be greeted by a huge bread-shaped sign saying Manaia – Bread Capital but right now, all we are seeing is the usual green and white sign marking the entrance of a town. Boring…
BUT! A certain smell tells us we are in the right place. It’s freshly baked bread! Oh My God! The town literally smells like heaven! Robin is laughing with excitement as we approach the gigantic bread factory that gave this town its title.
Yarrows was its name-o
Yarrows produces bread, pastries and cookies for most brands in New Zealand including every supermarket chain and even Subway restaurants.
Like every good factory, Yarrows has a small factory store where they sell the stock that they over produced. Fine by us! We get in, and everything is as cheap as it gets. Lamingtons, apple pies, ciabattas, cookies, slices, muffins, cakes, rolls… a whole pack of 20 to 50 pieces for only a few dollars… We are losing it!
Robin is running around like a child trying to contain is excitement while Laura is pragmatically reminding him of the size of the fridge in the van. It took Robin about 20 minutes in this tiny shop to make his reasonable selections. Here is what he got:
A bunch of baguettes (Honestly we have no idea home many we got) for $1
2 boxes of 20 unbaked cookies for $4 each
1 box of 15 unbaked croissant for $4.50
Total: $12 and a few cents.
It has to be said that the staff are quite entertained by the amount of time we are here. We are finally getting back in the van and leaving the best smelling town in New Zealand not without finding this Bread Capital sign on our way out of the city!
Hawera: The water tower that isn’t free
The next locals’ tip on our list is in Hawera, a larger town for Taranaki’s standards, which is the junction between the main roads of the region: Surf Highway 45 [[[link]]] and State Highway 3. Here, we have been advised to climb the Hawera Water Tower, a free must-do in the region as we would get 360 degree views of the area including the ocean and Mt Taranaki.
The tower is easy to spot as it is the second tallest tower in Taranaki and is visible from almost every part of Hawera. Its distinct design and slight tilt (only 3 feet) make it an icon of the region. So we head toward it and take half an hour to photograph it from every angle of the small park surrounding it.
Alas, our information about the town is a bit outdated, as the tower climb comes at a cost of $2.50 per person. Oh my God, how outrageously expensive! We suck it up and pay the man, or a lady working in the i-SITE in this case. She lets us in the 54 metre tower and we have now 215 steps in front of us. Laura is having a hard time with the steep climb while Robin is having a hard time with the narrow sections of the climb since he is carrying our usual huge backpack full of equipment. Along the stairs are four different levels in which signs explain to visitors more about the history of the town and the tower itself. Fun fact: the tower was first built to get enough water pressure to fight fires, not to take showers.
Arriving at the top of the tower, we are greeted to a panoramic view of the sea, town, a dairy factory, but the mountain, this elusive Mt Taranaki that has refused to be climbed in the last three weeks, is hiding behind a thick cover of clouds. Oh Mt Taranaki, don’t you worry. We’ll be back and we’ll get you, we’ll get you good!
Patea: A surprising museum
Next on our list, and our last pit stop in Taranaki, is the small settlement of Patea. Patea has a rich Maori history and was recommended to us by a couple of locals for its Maori Waka sculpture and great museum.
We only notice that we are in Patea when driving by a huge sculpture of a Waka (a traditional Maori canoe). I guess we were distracted by the views and missed the town entry sign this time. Robin stops the van by the sculpture and starts making epic sandwiches with fresh bread, while Laura is taking pictures of the sculpture from every angle.
We are now well fed and ready to head to the Aotea Utanganui – Museum of South Taranaki. The design of the building is modern and very welcoming mixing traditional Maori sculptures and modern features.
We spent over an hour looking at the whole collection curated in this small one-room museum. There is really a lot to see from an early 1900s car to a full Maori river Waka complete with its punga (anchor stone). A gigantic fossilised baleen whale jaw bone catches Laura’s attention, it washed out on a nearby beach and a scientist from the Te Papa Museum in Wellington came over to analyse it she says while Robin seems fascinated with a couple of red Maori Tikis (sculptured poles).
Despite being such a small museum in such a small town, we are both impressed by the wealth of the collection and the modern displays. What a great way to end our journey through Taranaki!
Hard break up with Naki
Back on the road, it’s around the town of Waverly that we are officially leaving Taranaki. There are signs on the side of the road saying: You are about to leave Taranaki, then another sign: Why? and another one: We’d love for you to stay. Oh, come on Taranaki! You are making this much harder than it needs to be.
We had a blast together but we have to move on. It’s not you, it’s us. Let’s just remember our time together for what it was: an incredible eye-opener on such an underrated region. We spent nearly three weeks with you and yet, feel like we only scratched the surface of what you have to offer. We’ll keep you on a hook, making sure that you still want us when we are ready to come back. Because yes, we will be back!
High hopes for Whanganui-Manawatu
Tonight we will spend our first night in the town on Wanganui where we will stay at the 42b College House, a hostel that has been highly recommended to us by other travellers. We have big plans in the region, including a bit of snow sports. Maybe, the season has been slow to start this year. But before that, we are taking about an hour to get the two front tyres of our van changed after the incident of the other day. Laura rocked the phone all afternoon trying to find a garage that had the correct tyres and when arriving, we were served quickly and efficiently by a bunch of very friendly mechanics. Way to make a great first impression, Wanganui!
What a water tower looks like on the inside
- Taranaki – Guide for Backpackers
- 10 Free or Cheap Things to do in New Plymouth
- 15 Places to stop on the Surf Highway 45
- 5 Walks You Can’t Miss in South Taranaki
See you tomorrow!