© NZPocketGuide.com
© NZPocketGuide.com

Finding Three Sisters and the Elephant Rock

© NZPocketGuide.com

49 Days on the Road

Update: Following an earthquake, Elephant Rock is no longer, well, looking like an elephant.

There’s a wild side to the Taranaki coastline – one that involves three sisters. If that doesn’t intrigue you enough, then there is an elephant too. So let’s take a road trip up north from New Plymouth to see these unusual rock formations with our own eyes.

Are we going to make it?!

Like all three sisters and elephants they only do what they want to do – they don’t take no sh*t from nobody, Goddammit! There’s a short opening at low tide to walk out onto the coast where the rock formations stand. Today, that low tide is at 9.22am. From then on, we have about one hour before the tide makes its way back in. We have work in the morning, then we have to drive 45 minutes (which is usually an 1h15min with our speed matched with the winding roads we have to navigate). When we set off at 8.30am, we doubt whether we are going to make it on time.

Snug drive in the mountains

We’ll get there when we get there. Until then we have a new drive to enjoy. Yesterday, we had an epic road trip going south on the Surf Highway 45. Today, we head north tucked between mountain ranges on State Highway 3. (Yeah, that name isn’t quite as exciting). On one side, we know the coast is near but it’s hidden behind a forested mountain range. On the other side: more mountains. We are snug as a bug right here. The sun is beating down on the morning frost creating an atmospheric mist hanging above the mountains. The road is mostly a straight highway until we reach the Mt Messenger section. We, along with massive tanker trucks, are slowly working our way along the side of the mountain. The views are epic, especially when we have a CD blasting called 8 Hours of Epic Music.

We have a rough idea of where we are going, but there is no information online exactly how to get to Elephant Rock and the Three Sisters. So we’ll give you a quick paragraph here on how to get to Elephant Rock and the Three Sisters. (We’ll get a full guide on NZPocketGuide.com soon)!

How to get to Elephant Rock and the Three Sisters

Time your visit at the beginning of low tide.

On State Highway 3, turn off at Clifton Road just outside the Tongaporutu township. The road is signposted with a brown sign saying “Three Sisters”. Drive to the end of the sealed road (about 1km down the road) and park in the car park on the right.

Get out of your car and walk on the beach. Head towards the sea then turn left. You will see an arch then the Three Sisters behind. Hurray! You made it! Next, the Elephant Rock. Head further down the beach past the Three Sisters to reach the Elephant Rock. Beware, the section between the Three Sisters and the Elephant Rock is the first to be swallowed up by the tide coming in, so you can only get close to the Elephant Rock at the beginning of low tide.

Did we get there in time?

Almost… Just… Kind of! We make it about an hour after low tide, giving us probably another hour before the tide makes its way back in. Are we rushing to the beach? Hell nah! We get caught up in talking to a couple of backpackers parked in their surf-mobile next to us. We obviously tell Marcus from Sweden and Tina from Denmark that they need to check out Surf Highway 45! Blah, blah, blah…

Ok, now we really need to rush to the beach…

With the orange and white coastal cliffs looming above us, layered with fossils, shells and boulders, this 5 minute walk down to the beach is pretty amazing. There’s so much going on in these rocks. Caves, arches, mini waterfalls: they are all here eroded into the cliffs as the unsung heroes of the Three Sisters Beach. We do have a few hairy moments on a thin layer of slippery clay coating the rocks from when the tide has come in and out.

Is that the Elephant Rock?

There is a big fat stack directly at the end of the beach that Robin insists is the Elephant Rock. (Does it look like it has a Goddamn trunk to you, Robin?!)

Then we are met with an archway, almost welcoming us to the Three Sisters. There they are: three rock stacks isolated from the rest of the cliff. You’ve got to love that erosion.

Already the tide is coming in fast. There is no way we are getting to the Elephant Rock (Boo, we suck!) But our drone finds a way…

The merpeople of Scandanavia

Nevertheless, Laura starts thinking she has found greenstone, or pounamu, as they say in Maori. This is the rock that the Maori traditionally use to carve necklaces and weapons. Laura is thinking she has struck gold here, but after the stone have dried off in her pocket, she’s not so sure they are green anymore… She is just walking around with rocks in her pocket.

Marcus and Tina have some good finds too when we catch up with them at the Three Sisters. They come walking along the coast with every finger decorated with a shell. It’s official: we are in the presence of The Merpeople of Scandanavia.

As the tide is really telling us to leave already, we head back down the coast to the car park with the mercouple. Backpacker banter, yo.


It was a short and fleeting friendship, but we say: “See ya later,” to Marcus and Tina then stuff ourselves with oranges and potato chips on the drive back to New Plymouth. We do take a quick stop at Urenui, partly because we want to check out the coast just for somewhere random to stop and partly because it has a Maori street name that in English is so scandalous that we creased laughing. (Check out Backpacker’s Guide to the Maori Language: te reo Maori for pronunciation). Obviously, in te reo Maori, it is a sweet as street name, no worries. We have a quick break at a holiday park by the sea in Urenui and leave the town along with Whakapaki Street to head back into New Plymouth for our last night in the Ducks and Drakes Backpackers. Waiji, one of the WWOOFers, has made banana bread! Yay!

Tomorrow, we leave the art and surf city of New Plymouth and make our way to a farm near the Egmont National Park where we’ll be staying with another Kiwi family! See you then!

Can you spot Elephant Rock?

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