Three Sisters and no elephants at Tongaporutu
Our first overnight stay on our Summer Holiday was just over a two-hour drive from our Waikato home.
A small coastal settlement in North Taranaki. It’s situated at the mouth of the Tongaporutu River and is probably best known for the nearby ‘Three Sisters’ rock formations. Once you’ve turned off the main state highway there is a small lane running parallel to the river, towards the sea, lined with an assortment of baches (cribs/holiday homes). It’s obviously a popular place with locals and holiday-makers who must come back year after year to chill out in their riverside homes, plenty of which were surrounded by boats and/or fishing rods, plus plenty of other beach paraphernalia.
We’ve driven past on every single trip we’ve done to New Plymouth, sometimes we stopover there for a rest break, toilet break, stretch your legs (or all the dog legs) break etc. We knew that there was an area where self contained campers were permitted to stay so it seemed like a good location enroute to New Plymouth and then southern Taranaki beaches, which I wanted to explore.
I think we were so excited to simply park up for our first night’s holiday in the van, crack open a drink and sit down and be pleased with ourselves, that I forgot for some time that the other big reason to go to this scenic spot was to go and see the Three Sisters. I quickly Googled the tide times as you are only supposed to walk around to the rock formations within a 1hr window either side of a low tide – and as luck would have it we’d just had a low tide when I checked the time. So newly poured drinks were quickly put aside (aka quickly downed) and we locked up the van and set off towards the river mouth/beach at a fairly brisk pace in case I’d got the times wrong! (There’s nothing quite like potentially being stranded overnight in a very damp place to make you walk quickly and with purpose!).
I really wish I had studied geology as rocks can sometimes be SO amazing and look full of history and interesting ‘stuff’! Along the side of the river were some pretty amazing cliffs, boulders, and rocky pavements.
After following the rocky side of the river we came to the beach and kept left to go around the headland. If we’d had more time I would love to have also explored the other side of the beach as the north side of the rivermouth looked super cool and interesting too.
The first view of the Three Sister rock formations is quite stunning. Even at a distance it looks like you’ve stumbled across Narnia or some other such scene from a movie (as can actually quite often happen in New Zealand as lots of movies were filmed here!).
Here’s where I will refer to some interesting facts that I’ve read about the Three Sisters. The towering rocks ‘sisters’ have actually varied in number over the years – the Tasman Sea constantly errodes the rock and some of the towers shrink then disappear – however at the same time the rough tides are also making new formations from the cliffs. The original third sister was lost back in 2003, and the aptly named Elephant Rock which stood close by looking regal, rocky and elephant-y, lost its “trunk’ in 2016 and now no longer resembles a large grey mammal at all! You can see a photo of the original Three Sisters and the Elephant Rock here.
The scenes simply take your breath away. Nature in all its forceful wonders. There to touch (carefully!), walk around (and sometimes through) and just stare goggle-eyed at.. or maybe that’s just me!
The wind was super brisk as was our walking pace still as the tide crept ever closer. We didn’t hang around on the beach too long – although I imagine a sunset shot here on the west coast would be absolutely stunning – and made our way back to camp. The narrowest parts of the walk are where I think you could actually get stranded, on the side of the river, rather than actually on the beach – but we weren’t going to hang around to see if I was correct!
I absolutely recommend this walk to anyone. It was about 30/40 mins each way – and good footwear is recommended for the rocky shores.
We returned to the camper and may have poured another drink to celebrate our mini-adventure and the wonders we had seen.