With the iconic Mount Taranaki rising like Olympus in the centre of this culturally rich and diverse region, there’s plenty to do for adventure seekers through to art lovers.
1. Get cultured
In the art stakes, Taranaki punches well above its weight. Don’t miss the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary. In 1979 the gallery was given a major injection of global importance when legendary kinetic artist Len Lye, just months before his death, established the Len Lye Foundation at the gallery. In 2015 the museum opened the Len Lye Centre – New Zealand’s first institution dedicated to a single artist – firmly placing it on the global art map with its undulating, mirrored glass exterior.
Be sure to also check out Lye’s iconic ‘wind wand’ – a 48-metre wind sculpture that’s a constantly moving tube of red fibreglass – on the city’s Coastal Walkway.
Nearby drop into Puke Ariki, a library and museum established in 2003 that includes well-documented Māori taonga. There’s art beyond New Plymouth too: check out the Fenton Street Art Collective, an art gallery-cum-café-cum-gin-distillery in Stratford, opened in 2018 by artist Jo Stallard and her husband Stuart Greenhill. Enjoy local art and a gin and tonic at the same time. Genius.
2. Eat in New Plymouth
There’s some excellent eating to be had in New Plymouth. In the area surrounding the White Hart Hotel – known as the Westend Precinct – hospo dynamos Craig and Kate MacFarlane have established a slew of excellent eateries and watering holes. Within the historic White Hart Hotel locals and tourists keep the place buzzy every day of the week.
In one corner is Snug, a Japanese-inspired eatery with delicious small plates and cozy red velvet banquettes; in the building’s atrium, there are craft beers and authentic Italian pizzas made in a wood-fired oven at Ms. White. Adjacent is Itch Wine Bar, an intimate, sophisticated space with a curated selection of fine wines, cheeses and cured meats. Enjoy excellent coffee next door at Ozone Coffee Roasters, the success of which the MacFarlanes have taken to Auckland, London and soon to the USA.
Across the road from the White Hart is Monica’s, an excellent all-day eatery connected to the Govett-Brewster. And within a short radius are other great spots: Social Kitchen, which opened in 2018 to find itself a place on Cuisine magazine’s top 100 restaurants; and Little Glutton, a popular new eatery with delicious, cheap and authentic Southeast Asian fare.
3. Head to the beaches
There are many breathtaking beaches along Taranaki’s coast. Highway 45 – otherwise known as the Surf Highway – connects New Plymouth and Hāwera, featuring many world-famous surf breaks.
New Plymouth is spoiled for choice when it comes to beaching; Fitzroy beach, East End beach and Back beach are all popular with locals and tourists.
On summer Sundays head to The Kiosk on Fitzroy Beach for great summer music in addition to great beachside tucker. 15 minutes away to the west is the charming beach town of Ōakura with its great swimming beach. If you’re peckish, try the Black Sand Pizzeria and Bistro which sits right on the beach; it’s one of only three pizzerias in New Zealand recognised and accredited as a member of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, an Italian culinary association with strict rules and criteria on how to make traditional Neapolitan pizza.
During summer months, on a grassy lawn a little further down the road, you will find Holy Guacamole, a fantastic food truck serving burritos, quesadillas and Mexican bowls to the delight of Taranaki locals who lounge on the grass on straw mats enjoying the healthy, tasty food.
4. Go for a walk in the park(s)
Taranaki is a garden lover’s paradise. An absolute must in New Plymouth is Pukekura Park, an astonishing 52-hectare property which opened in 1876. You can’t miss the park’s Fernery, consisting of three-glass topped caverns excavated into a hillside. Because they are below ground level, the temperature and humidity create the perfect environment for a wide variety of ferns, native orchids and begonia to flourish.
Southwest towards Ōakura is Pukeiti, a 360-hectare rainforest garden famous for having more than 10,000 varieties of Rhododendrons – the most of any garden in the world. Walks range from 35 minutes (Rhododendron Stroll) to two hours. On the 55-minute Valley of the Giants Walk be sure to look out for the 800-year-old giant rātā. If you’re visiting in late October you will be able to take part in the Taranaki Garden Spectacular, a 10-day event where you can visit nearly 50 private gardens, including several that have been classified as nationally or internationally significant by the New Zealand Gardens Trust.
Other must-see gardens are Tupare – a beautifully restored garden that surrounds a classic arts and crafts era Chapman-Taylor home developed by prominent Taranaki businessman Sir Russell Matthews; and Hollard Gardens in Kaponga, established in 1927 that encompasses diverse a range of native, exotic, rare and endangered plants.
5. Soak in views of Mount Taranaki
One of the best places to take in the beauty of Mount Taranaki is from Lake Mangamahoe, nestled at the base of the dormant volcano near Egmont Village, 10 kilometres south of New Plymouth. The 262-hectare lake and surrounding forest isn’t just a pretty sight; the lake itself provides all the drinking water for New Plymouth, so boating, swimming, horse riding and camping in the immediate vicinity of the lake are prohibited. The lake itself was created in 1932 when a dam was built, submerging 79 acres.
There’s rainbow trout in the lake that you can catch by fly fishing, but you will need to pre-organise a fishing licence. There’s a dedicated five-kilometre bridle trail, as well as a six-kilometre circuit walk around the lake that takes around two hours. There are two trail options in the circuit; be forewarned as the undulating ascents and descents require a medium to high level of fitness. You’ll be able to see a small collection of redwood trees planted in 1931 – not quite as high at their 100-metre Californian cousins yet, but impressive nonetheless. There are also purpose-built downhill and cross-country mountain biking trails accessed via Plantation Road, just south of the lake's main entrance.