By MiNDFOOD (January 23, 2020)
Pouakai Crossing. Photo: Jeremy Beckers
Go to its seaside city of New Plymouth, for its galleries, festivals, cuisine and history. Get out of town (and that’s not very far) for surf breaks, hikes, jaw-dropping gardens – and a friendly welcome in the province’s many towns and villages.
Towering above all this, from every angle, is Taranaki Mounga (formerly Mt Taranaki).
In a country where it’s pretty hard to improve on nature, New Plymouth manages to do that. Served up a glorious coastal location, it adds world-class art, cuisine, gardens and walks, and tops them off with a laidback style. No surprise that Lonely Planet calls the region “New Zealand’s secret paradise”.
Things to do in Taranaki
The Govett Brewster is one of our leading contemporary art galleries. Next door, behind its eye-stopping stainless-steel façade, the Len Lye Centre celebrates the locally born, internationally renowned kinetic sculptor, film artist, painter and poet; his famous 48m-high Wind Wand is on the waterfront nearby.
Visit the Len Lye Centre in the heart of the city. Photo: Patrick Reynolds.
In the heart of the city, award-winning Pukekura Park is a 52ha oasis of lush forest walks, lakes, streams, one of the country’s outstanding botanical gardens, historic Brooklands estate, zoo and colonial hospital.
Over the summer, the park glows with stunning installations for the TSB Festival of Lights; in mid-March, WOMAD – the World of Music and Dance brings leading international performers to a joyful, funky, family-oriented festival centred around the Bowl of Brooklands stage, beautifully behind a lake in a natural amphitheatre surrounded by trees.
Festival attendees at WOMAD. Photo: Federico Pagola
New Plymouth celebrates its connection with the sea in the award-winning Coastal Walkway, a 12.7km path that stretches beyond the city centre and showcases artworks and installations as well as the famous black-sand beaches and dramatic west coast vistas. Walking, running and cycling are encouraged; there are also free electric mobility scooters, available by contacting the New Plymouth District Council. Another Insta spot: 83m-long Te Rewa Rewa bridge, its design recalling a breaking wave or whale skeleton.
The city’s favourite beach is Fitzroy, site of an iconic Kiwi holiday park and home to a great surf break; Ngamotu is another popular spot.
Eating out in Taranaki
For almost 150 years, dairy farming has been the backbone of Taranaki’s prosperity. In recent years, however, the region has become known for an ever-expanding range of food and drink. Little wonder that chefs, brewers and distillers have created a lively café, restaurant and bar scene based on riches found close to home.
Dining at Social Kitchen.
Critics give high praise to places such as The Hour Glass fine-dining and drinking establishment; Social Kitchen, in the former Salvation Army Citadel, for sharing plates with big tastes; Snug Lounge, a Japanese-inspired cocktail lounge; Fork n Knife for creative Kiwi cuisine; the Asian-inspired aromas of Arborio and the classic dishes of Gusto. Several recently-opened city-centre hotels have brought high-end dining, too.
Venture around Taranaki
Taranaki’s taonga don’t stop at New Plymouth – you’re only beginning to uncover the treasures of this unique corner of Aotearoa.
The mountain and its surrounding Te Papakura o Taranaki (formerly Egmont National Park) are less than an hour’s drive. The Pouakai Crossing is one of New Zealand’s best day walks, with mountain and ocean views, towering lava columns, the red-water Kokowai Stream, haunting Ahukawakawa Swamp and the Pouakai Tarns, an iconic spot where mountain pools create a mirror reflection of the peak, before descending into peaceful forest.
Cyclists on Te Rewa Rewa Bridge. Photo: Rob Tucker
Taranaki has two iconic highways – one famous around the world and the other less travelled. Surf Highway 45 runs between New Plymouth and Hawera past 105km of black-sand beaches with surf breaks ranging from perfect for beginners to those best left to experts, who flock from all corners of the globe.
The Forgotten World Highway is a two-hour, 15-minute drive between Stratford and Taumaranui – if you take the “fast” lane.
It follows a horse track used by 19th century pioneers, the road twists, turns, rises and falls past farms, forests and hamlets. Highlights include the Moki Tunnel, Mt Damper Falls and Whangamomona, a village which declared itself a republic in 1989.
The slow route is something else. Forgotten World Adventures, based in Taumaranui, provides self-drive motorised rail carts that run along the 142km heritage railway line to Stratford. These can be combined with bike trails or jetboat tours on the Whanganui River. You can even overnight in the “republic”.
Alongside its buzzing arts and cultural scene, Taranaki is known for spectacular parks and gardens. There are seven gardens of national significance and one of international significance – Te Kainga Marire, a once-overgrown New Plymouth valley planted to imitate the ‘real’ New Zealand.
On the mountain’s slopes, Pukeiti features rhododendron and colourful exotic plants as well as trails through a large rainforest with native birdlife and streams of rare native fish.
The 10-day Taranaki Garden Spectacular in October-November showcases these and 50 mostly private gardens, while the Fringe Garden Festival, at the same time, allows visitors to see the region’s huge variety of plants and learn secrets from local garden gurus.
Family fun at Tawhiti Museum.
Taranaki has a reputation for eccentricity, and you’ll find that at Hawera’s Tawhiti Museum. Sitting in a boat, glide through the dark to a Māori village, watch flax exchanged for muskets, duck a battle at a pā where cannons fire across the bow. Morepork and seagulls call, there are glow-worms and a wild pig.
Wanting to take home more than a memory of your stay? Pop into Kina NZ in New Plymouth’s historic Exchange Chambers Building, where New Zealand artists exhibit jewellery, sculpture, ceramics, glass, prints, homewares and original paintings.
Percy Thomson Gallery is Stratford’s public art gallery, recognised for its thriving and diverse exhibition spaces and shop. In Eltham, The Bank is an eclectic design store featuring one-off pieces, homewares, contemporary and vintage furniture, inside an old bank.
Getting around Taranaki
You’ll need a vehicle to experience the best of the Taranaki region. Book your car rental before you go with Air New Zealand or choose from the options when you land at New Plymouth Airport. For more on Taranaki, visit https://www.taranaki.info/
Air New Zealand offers non-stop flights to New Plymouth from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, with connecting flights from most other regional centres. Choose from seat, seat+bag, flexitime or flexidate fares. Auckland-New Plymouth flight time: 50min; Wellington 60min; Christchurch 90min. Click here to book and for more information.