Tongapurutu is a little-known dot on the north Taranaki map. It shouldn't be, but nobody promotes it because there's no commercial businesses nearby. It's captivating, it's breathtaking, it's run-on-the-beach-laughing-cuz-it's-gorgeous...it's undoubtedly my favourite spot on the North Island! Words fail me trying to encapsulate the charms. What if you plunked Arches National Park onto blacksand beach with Mt. Fuji in the distance...and only let people walk onto it a few hours at a time before the tides sweeps them and their footprints away, polishing the ebony sands for the next visitors.
The secret charms of Tongaporutu grace the cover of the NZ Frenzy guidebook. When these spheres are 'out' this beach is an embarrassment of beauties...Moeraki and its boulders don't even hold a candle to it! But...Mother Nature moves in mysterious ways here on the blacksand West Coast. A river of sand moves with the tides, and storm activity dictates whether these boulders are'above sand' or not. Personally, I've never seen another photo of them...but few people know that the stuff on the north side of the river may be better than the '3 Sisters' stuff on the south side. Now you know.
Here's what you do at Tongaporutu: at low tide splash knee-deep from the carpark out of the river mouth and through the first sea-cave tunnel to view the 'Two Sisters' (The third fell down just when they put up the sign.) Whoa...to the south you'll find caves and tunnels and sea stacks and waterfalls and arches and Whitecliffs and maybe a Taranaki. An orgy of beauty! The further you go the better it gets, but beware the incoming tide. Retreat back to the carpark as the tide rises.
Don't leave though. Wait. Eat, drink, be merry...but wait. Because, when the tide is full in, and you're sitting atop the south cliff..the waves litterally THUNDER against the scuplted cliffs, shuddering the ground and sending spray 30m high! Quite a sight! Here's where to go: from the carpark drive up the road farther, past a gate and houses towards the Whitecliffs Walkway. One gully before the final locked gate look for a metal gate near a rusting plow...where you can see a small boulder over at the cliff edge. This boulder is where you want to be - MacKenzie's Bluff. WHOA, big waves summon a ground-shaking cataclysm! Hold onto the ground...seriously!
Someday Tourism NZ may get wind of Tongaporutu...but not yet. No zip-line, no zorb, no jet-boat blacksand arch safari. Just you and a smile...and maybe a warmish tide pool to lounge in around the base of a sphere.
For easier access to the north side of Tongaporutu River and its soltide 'n' splendour (no river wading), drive 3km north to the Rapanui Stream carpark. Explore north on this beach too...the rope climb is worth it. Or, sniff around Pilot Road for some views and secrets.