Expect the unexpected. Three words often wrongly used, most of the time over-used; simply put, a cliché. Three words that so accurately describe my experience in the region of Taranaki. The unexpected appeal to the arts and culture left me curious for more and intrigued to get to the bottom of the tight-knit communities that call what Lonely Planet coined as the world’s second best region to visit in 2017 their home. In my very own naïveté, I didn’t travel to this glorious pocket on Aotearoa’s West Coast in pursuit of creativity or worldly eateries. I came for the mountains. Well, for the one mountain, to be precise. Mount Taranaki was shy when I visited but kicks off my travel guide to Taranaki and New Plymouth nevertheless. Deservingly so. Let’s get wild!
Mount Taranaki The photogenic 2518m volcanic peak last erupted in 1755 and calls for alpine adventures galore. Egmont National Park offers a humble 200km of walking trails. Highlights include the multi-day Pouakai Tarns Circuit and the short walk down to Dawson Falls and Wilkies Pools. The weather is known to have a mind of its own over here, so please gear up and check the conditions at the Department of Conservation Visitor Centre in North Egmont beforehand (or phone 06 756 0990). If hiking for days on end doesn’t do it for you, consider cycling right round the mountain (150km). For a more considerate overnight walk, start at the Mangorei Road end to reach Pouakai Hut within 2-3 hours. Snap that money shot at sunrise or sunset from the tarn just north of the hut.
Coastal Walkway Whether by bike or on foot, start your New Plymouth explorations at Len Lye’s unmissable Wind Wand sculpture. Go left, and the 13km coastal walkway will take you to Breakwater Bay and the Port of Taranaki (look out for fur seals). Go right to pass East End and Fitzroy surf beaches, and you will reach the iconic Te Rewa Rewa Bridge (whale or wave?).
Govett-Brewster Art Gallery / Len Lye Centre The work of late New Zealand artist extraordinaire Len Lye is beautifully displayed at this New Plymouth (or dare I say New Zealand) institution. Its rippled, reflective facade plays homage to a man who was relentlessly drawn to the kinetics of shiny metal.
“When I’m working, the main thing is to find something that looks kind of magical, that keeps fascinating me… I’m interested in the business of energy and getting a feeling of zizz.” Len Lye
Spend a couple of hours at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, and you will be able to relate. Besides Lye’s Zebra and Trilogy, other exhibitions to draw inspiration from include Matt Henry’s Long Division and Set in Motion. The latter builds a relevant bridge between Len Lye’s iconic pieces and contemporary work.
Paritutu Rock A short, albeit steep, walk up Paritutu Rock will blow your socks off. Literally.
Gardens While Taranaki’s economy is far from being green (hello oil and dairy), its landscape undoubtedly is. Labelled The Garden of New Zealand over a century ago, the region celebrates its local greenery accordingly. Make Te Kaina Marire a priority. Upon settling in New Plymouth, Valda Poletti and David Clarkson set it upon themselves to transform a patch of grey suburbia into a native garden sanctuary. The result is astonishing, even to those of us who aren’t well-versed in the world of gardening. Other local favourites include the manicured Tupare Gardens, peaceful Stanleigh Gardens, New Plymouth’s Pukekura Park, Hawera’s King Edward Park as well as Stratford’s Hollard Gardens.
Tawhiti Museum It’s Nigel Ogel’s meticulous eye for detail which proofs the success of this display of New Zealand history inside a former cheese factory in South Taranaki.
The Forgotten Highway Experience a slice of New Zealand most locals don’t know about and trace ancient Maori trails along this 155km journey through the Tangarakau Gorge, farmland, and masses of native bush. When in Rome, join the 30 locals and stay overnight in the self-declared republic of Whangamomona.
Surf Highway 45 Find your wave as you make your way from New Plymouth to Hawera, crossing Koru Pa (one of the region’s first Maori settlements), the wreck of the SS Gairlock (at the end of Timar Road), Te Ngutu o Te Manu (Battlesite Memorial), Cape Egmont Lighthouse, and Back Beach.
Three Sisters and The Elephant [rock formations] You’ve seen it first on Instagram. Head for Tongaporutu north of New Plymouth and let your imagination run wild. Fun fact: Less than 20 years ago, there were four sisters. Nature seems to be claiming one at at time.
Puke Ariki This fully integrated museum, library and visitor information centre is ideal for rainy days.
The Seaside Market Head to Ngamotu Beach in New Plymouth on the first Sunday of the month (9am to 3pm) and stock up on locally produced goodness.
Chaos Cafe It’s so good, I went twice!
Ozone Beanstore Coffee is their religion.
Monica’s Eatery Authentic Italian flavours and beautiful natural light flowing throughout; just how I like it.
The Loving Hut Vegan Cafe Don’t be put off by the somewhat tired interior. The food is excellent. For a change of scenery, grab a takeaway or two and head down to the waterfront.
Jetcharm Barber Shop Some argue they are more famous for the smoothie bowls than their haircuts.
Kin and Co Fine Foods Oakura Make it a key destination when on the Surf Highway 45. Local freshness combined with creative flavours make this laidback affair a winner.
King and Queen Hotel Suites This low-key, high-end hotel in the heart of New Plymouth is steps away from world-class art, foodies’ favourites, and the crashing waves of the Tasman Sea. Staff are friendly and knowledgeable, rooms are large, and beds are almost too comfortable. Throw in in-room dining, a gym, and fast wifi, and you have a gem.
Tropfest – February 18 The world’s largest short film festival held as an outdoor screening.
Powerco Taranaki Garden Spectacular – October 25 to November 5 A proud showcase of more than 40 of the region’s best gardens.
Taranaki Arts Trail – June 10/11 Meet with over 70 local creatives in their studio/workshop.
Oakura Arts Trail Open weekends are held in October and November, with a self guided art trail accesible all year round.
New Zealand Surf Festival – April Plunge into the waves or come to peoplewatch
TSB Bank Festival of Lights – December 18 to February 5 Come for live music and good vibes at Pukekura park.
When to Go
As elsewhere in New Zealand, numbers soar over summer. utumn brings shoulder season prices, less people and stable weather.
Get There and Around
Self-drive your way across this vast region.
Click here for more info from the local tourism board.
I hope you can make great use of my Quick Guide to New Plymouth and the Taranaki region. Click here to see my Taranaki + New Plymouth photo diary.