This classic backcountry road works its way west out of Waitomo toward the coast. If you feel like exploring remote New Zealand this makes for a spectacular detour—or a long scenic drive to Taranaki—winding past stunning vistas. (You'll need to make sure the gas tank is full.) If the weather is clear, Haggas Lookout, 7 km (4 miles) from Waitomo, has an expansive view that extends southward to the volcanic mountains of Tongariro National Park. Some 26 km (16
miles) from Waitomo, stop at the Mangapohue Natural Bridge (pronounced mang-ah-po-hoo-ay). From the parking area, there are two approaches to the bridge. One to the right climbs over a hill, dropping into a valley strewn with boulders embedded with oyster fossils—the remains of a seismic shift that thrust up the seabed millions of years ago. The natural bridge rises off the left of the boulders. The other path follows a stream through a gorge it has carved out. The gorge walls climb ever higher until they meet and form the bridge that closes over the path. The circular walk—going out on one path, returning on the other—takes only 15 to 20 minutes. A note of caution: carry your valuables such as wallet and passport with you, and keep luggage in your vehicle out of sight.
About 5 km (3 miles) farther along the road from the Mangapohue Bridge to Marokopa, Piripiri Caves beckon with their interesting fossil legacy—the marks of giant oysters from the area's onetime subaqueous existence. The approach and entrance to the caves are steep and slippery, so wear appropriate shoes or boots, and bring a jacket for the cool air and a powerful flashlight to cut through the gloom. There are no guided tours; just follow the trail markers. A few kilometers farther still, you can view the 120-foot Marokopa Falls from a viewpoint reached via a pleasant forest trail (about 15 minutes round-trip).
Just beyond Marokopa Falls, Te Anga Tavern is a fairly basic, backcountry pub and a good place to meet the locals and play a game of pool. It's open daily 12–late (until everyone goes home!) for drinks, and serves basic bar food such as fish-and-chips and wedges.
The road splits at Te Anga, heading north to Kawhia or southwest for 14 km (9 miles) to the small hamlet of Marokopa, where there's a stupendous lookout over the coast's black-sand beaches. At Marokopa you are 50 km (31 miles) from Waitomo; time either to turn back or keep on south on a more difficult (mostly gravel) but positively scenic route to the Taranaki region.