Taranaki: Coastal ramblings

By Liz Light

Liz Light discovers the delights of windy and wave-pounded Taranaki.

Te Rewa Rewa Bridge frames a distant Mt Taranaki. Photo / Liz Light
Te Rewa Rewa Bridge frames a distant Mt Taranaki. Photo / Liz Light

The bridge is a beauty. It's a credit to New Plymouth engineering and design and the council that was visionary enough to commission it. Te Rewa Rewa Bridge, named after a chief who died on the nearby Musket Wars battleground, is 69m long and spans the Waiwhakaiho River.

Its 19 ribs have the curve of a wave or, some say, represent a whale's skeleton. Either way, it sits nicely in the coastal landscape and, from its east end, the skewed arch formed by the ribs perfectly frames Mt Taranaki.

Te Rewa Rewa Bridge was opened last June to join the New Plymouth Coastal Walkway to Bell Block, extending the path by 3km to 10km. Already, the bridge has become a must-see part of the region, and, along with other features on the walkway, has helped turn Taranaki into a place that embraces its wild sea and relentless winds.

The bridge is so spectacular that I wonder if everything after it will be relatively lacklustre; but I have gone hardly 300m along the path and the Waiwhakaiho River mouth is delivering equally magnificent sights. Waves thunder in and curl nicely on the bar.

Surfers are out in flocks and it's mesmerising to watch them catch waves, ride them for a while and then, sometimes, fall spectacularly into the churning briny.

Then, for a while, the walk takes on a tranquil tone as the path meanders behind sand hills, through glades of flax and sedge, with Mt Taranaki making a poignantly pretty backdrop. It feels as if it's deep in the countryside until the surf gets louder and we walk gently uphill to the path above Fitzroy Beach.

There are crowds gathered at Fitzroy Beach Surf Club; standing behind the seawall, on the beach below and in the surf.

The day is still and sunny and the surf is large and well formed; a perfect combination, so everyone with a surfboard is having a go. Even those who don't surf are inspired by it and I admire a buxom beauty doing a surfing impression on top of a beached log.

The queue at Big Wave Cafe is my next stop. There must be something about living under the mountain that encourages visionary ideas because some genius has designed a giant shiny silver metal wave on wheels that serves good coffee and interesting snack food. The menu is written on red surfboards and along with regular cafe tables there are 12 Art Deco lounge chairs on the edge of the walkway so customers can sit in comfort, watch the waves and the passers-by while enjoying a cuppa.

Moving on, and rounding a corner or two, Moturoa Island, Port Taranaki and the big power station chimney are laid out before me. Old men on big boards trundling shoreward on gentler waves is the surfing action here. The path creeps cautiously beside a cliff and the Extreme Danger in Big Seas sign is appropriate because, even on this still day, waves crash against the sea wall and send a dousing spray of spume over walkers who don't pick their moment.

The 45m Wind Wand, designed by kinetic artist Len Lye, is the dramatic centrepiece of the walkway. It's a thin sliver of post-box red, a giant whip, a long reed with a clear orb on top and during a storm it bends up to 20m with the wind. Everyone looks up hoping for action, but on this breathless day it's not moving a millimetre. When a kinetic sculpture is not being kinetic the point of it is somewhat absent but its size and colour are still spectacular.

Most people have heard of Lye, who died 35 years ago, but few people know much about him, primarily because he spent only the first 20 and last three years of his life in New Zealand. He was a man of the world - he lived in Sydney, London, New York and Chicago - and established himself in international film-making and sculpture circles.

The nearby Govett-Brewster Art Gallery holds the Len Lye archives, where you can learn about the man and his work.

The walk meanders west for three further kilometres, passing through Kawaroa Park, along to sheltered Ngamotu Beach and ends at the port where you can watch people fishing off the breakwater as ships come and go. But I have dawdled through the first two thirds of my foreshore walk and am forced to forego the last part. That's okay. It will be a treat next time I'm in Taranaki.

FACT FILE

The walk is a thin green line along the coast on most maps of New Plymouth. It's bicycle-, wheelchair- and mobility scooter- friendly. You can access it from numerous places along its length and if you only want to walk it one way, get organised with friends to leave a car at the end.

- NZ Herald

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