The road that runs along the Taranaki Bight on the west coast of Aotearoa New Zealand’s North Island, is a spectacular drive. It is bordered on one side by sloping farmland, rugged hills terraced with ancient Pa sites and pockets of beautiful bush and on the other by magnificent surf beaches. It passes through lovely little seaside towns, like Mokau.
Located at the mouth of the Mokau River just north of the boundary between the Taranaki and the Waikato region, Mokau, has a permanent population of 400 people, who are served by a core of small shops, a hilltop cafe, a Catholic Church and museum.
We happened to pass through Mokau and drop into the museum when a meeting of the Mokau Historical Society was in session, so we were treated to a tour (with commentary) of the collection of fascinating artefacts and photos by one of the town’s oldest citizens.
Born and bred in Mokau, he had a hundred and one stories of the old town and its characters. In the old days, he told us, Taranaki was possum free. Mokau kept it that way. They went without a bridge to prevent the furry pests from pattering across and posted a watchman with a rifle just in case any sneaked aboard a boat or decided to swim.
He had also gone to the Mokau School with June Opie, author of the New Zealand book ‘Over My Dead Body’ which tells of her battle with polio and her years in an iron lung. June Opie’s father, furthermore, was a possum watchman on the Taranaki bank of the Mokau River!
Mokau offers excellent fishing, particularly for kahawai and snapper and the whitebait run thick at the river mouth. It is also a popular spot for surfers as it has some great surf breaks.
In the summer, holiday makers come to enjoy the beach and the tiny population swells to a a couple of thousand.