Every place experiences weather conditions which make the location seem at its most striking. At Whitecliffs this weather is a showery westerly. The slight sheen of water on the cliff’s surface seems to highlight the colours of the strata and occasional shafts of sunlight illuminate the colours to greater vibrancy.
This walkway uses the Kapuni to Auckland gas pipeline route for 14 km. The laying of the pipeline involved an immense amount of heavy construction work and these operations opened up walking access to the dramatic forest and spectacular cliffs.
This entire walk is on private land, respect it, keep to the track and use the stiles.
The beach section at the base of the Whitecliffs is only negotiable 2 hours either side of low tide. Plan your walk accordingly. For tide times visit http://www.metservice.com/marine/tides/port-taranaki
The walkway is closed for lambing between the 1st July and 30th September.
The stock tunnel is currently closed due to the structure being deemed unsafe.
6.7 km north east of Urenui, turn into Pukearuhe Road and follow it to the roadend. The start of the walkway is signposted up the farm track towards the river mouth. Parking is on the roadside near the bridge.
Cross the stile and head up the farmtrack for 45 minutes over private farmland. On reaching a grassy plateau, surrounded by vegetation encrusted papa cliffs, it is a little more tricky to spot the next stiles. Look to head left to the low point in the ridge below Mount Davidson (286 metres)
Entering Whitecliffs Conservation Area, the track is cut through the surrounding forest. Access was made possible by the construction of the gas pipeline with occasional marker posts showing its subterranean location . The final drop into the basin of the Waipingau Stream is aided by hundreds of wooden steps.
At the junction turn left and follow the Waipingau Stream for 30 minutes to the beach. This track can be wet and muddy. Beware of violent winds funnelling through the gap in the cliffs at the mouth of the stream.
The Te Horo stock tunnel (currently closed) is a little further to the north, however you should turn left and follow the beach below Whitecliffs for 1 hour to return to Pukearuhe Road.
The Whitecliffs tell a geological story. The mode of deposition is strikingly evident in the exposed cliff faces, labelled by the banded strata and beds of boulders. The papa rocks were laid down in a shallow marine basin at the mouths of large rivers. These transported fine sediment, which accumulated to form the basis of the rock. When storm events occurred, large boulders were washed down the river to become later embedded in overlying layers of mud. As the depth increased, the pressure forced out water and compacted the layers to form the rocks. Subsequent tectonic uplift has exposed the rocks, now being reclaimed by the sea.
The Whitecliffs separate the coastal lowlands from the more rugged north and east regions of Taranaki. The only way to traverse the area was to pass above or below them, making them a formidable stronghold. Pukearuhe Pa, at their southern end thus became a supremely advantageous location to hold, as those in control could monitor the traffic which passed. Furthermore, its formidable defences included protection by the 250-metre high Parininihi Cliff on the seaward side, rendering the site almost untakeable.
The pa’s strategic location blocked off the northern access to Taranaki, the main route at that time following the coast until Pukearuhe. The pa was a stronghold of Ngati Tama from the early 1600s, but was later abandoned.
In 1865, 160 men of the 70th Regiment of British Forces and 60 Taranaki bushrangers took over the pa site and built a two-storey blockhouse.
With a decreased threat of war in 1865, numbers of British troops at the pa were reduced. However in February 1869, Lieutenant Gascoigne, his family, Reverend John Whiteley and two other men were killed in a surprise attack by Maori. The blockhouse was also burned down and the offender never captured. No explanation was ever received for the attack. In 1872 the pa was reoccupied by the armed Constabulary and a new blockhouse built. The site was abandoned by colonial forces in 1885.
The beach route north passed Te Rua Taniwha Point, after which a traveller needed to scale the cliff to continue further. Enterprising Maori thus constructed a flax rope to aid the climb up the treacherous and slippery cliff face. In 1844 Reverend Turton and his family still recorded the presence of a rope.
In the early 1860s attempts to construct a tunnel were embarrassingly abandoned after the two ends failed to meet. In 1883 a zigzag track was put in by the Survey Department and ponga steps excavated to aid the ascent. Government surveyor ES Brookes described the track as ‘not for the faint hearted’ and he continued that ‘to see a horse sometimes with a rider on its back climbing these steps every minute one expected to see both come tumbling down to the beach’. It was not until the active garrison stationed at Pukearuhe Pa were put to the task that any real progress was made with a tunnel. With experience of building roads and bridges, the men managed to complete the works under the supervision of Captain Campbell, completing the structure in 1887. The eventual construction was 95 metres long, 2.4 metres wide and 2.7 metres high, with a gradient of 1:7
Over time the sides were worm smooth by the passing sheep and cattle. Mobs would be herded by three drovers, who would travel up to eight miles per day. Before passing through the tunnel stock would be held on the Gibbs farm at Tongaporutu until the tides were deemed suitable to pass. Even with experience, some drovers still came to grief and local stories include the day Andy and Bill MacDonald lost over 500 sheep to the tide at the mouth of the Waipingao Valley. The tunnel however remained well used and in 1915 18,500 sheep and cattle passed through it.
The tunnel is currently closed due to the structure being deemed unsafe.
North Island ▷ Taranaki ▷ Tongaporutu
This entire walk is on private land, respect it, keep to the track and use the stiles. The walk is closed during the lambing season - 1 July to 30 September.
Spectacular cliffs, caves and arches. Only at low tide!!
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Andre and Marina
Nice half day loop track, be there at low tide and enjoy a lovely walk on black sanded beach to the cliffs and return over the hills.
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Great coastal walkway and scenery.