1. Pukekura Park
Pukekura Park is all you'd expect and more. First opened as a sports venue in 1876 it’s grown over nigh on 150 years to a 52-hectare gem in the heart of New Plymouth. From the moment you pass through its massive art deco-inspired Sanders Gate you enter a world with something for everyone. There’s a famed sports ground with grassed terraces, there are children’s play areas, numerous glades and lakeside bush walkways as well as the internationally-acclaimed fernery and gardens – two of which celebrate sister-city relationships, with Mishima (Japan) and Kunming (China). On summer evenings the park is brilliant with reflected light during the magical TSB Festival of Lights.
The upper park is known as Brooklands Bowl, where the lakeside stage and natural amphitheatre is the centrepiece of the annual WOMAD festival as well as regular performances by international artists.
By the time you’ve explored the park, visited the zoo and had the row on the lake, it will be time for a cuppa and something tasty from at the tea rooms.
2. Rotokare Scenic Reserve Trust
Lake Rotokare is a 230-hectare community-led conservation trust east of Eltham in South Taranaki. A 17.8-hectare lake at its centre is enclosed by forest-clad hills on all sides. An 8.2-kilometre perimeter fence repels predators and enables populations of rare and endangered species such as tīeke/Saddleback, popokatea/whitehead, toutouwai/North Island robin and hihi/stitchbird to thrive after decades of absence from the Taranaki region.
There are seats on a grassed area overlooking the lake and a boardwalk with pontoon that leads you into the wetland; if you fancy stretching your legs, a four-kilometre track that includes 600 metres of boardwalk (up to two hours’ easy going) takes you around the lake, past giant kahikatea and pukatea as well as hihi feeding stations. If you are lucky you may meet robins near the path or see the native fish in the lakeside streams.
3. Ngā Motu / Sugar Loaf Islands
From shore, some of them resemble inverted blue-grey witches’ hats. The five small islands and rocky stacks off New Plymouth, as well as their big brother, the land-bound 156-metre Paritutū Rock, are toothy remnants of a volcano that blew its top almost two million years ago. They were named in 1770 by Captain Cook because the splash of white bird droppings on their crowns reminded him of sugar.
Although their only inhabitants are now seabirds and fur seals, the islands once provided temporary wartime refuge for Te Atiawa Māori.
Today they are a different refuge, nucleus of a marine park that provides a measure of protection for the creatures living in its waters. Below the waterline, there’s a rich and varied world of cliffs, boulder reefs and sand expanses, habitat for many species of fish, sponges and other creatures. Dolphins and whales are sometimes seen. Charter companies run tours of the islands and you can kayak and also dive in the area.
4. Tāwhiti Museum
In 1975 ex-art teacher Nigel Ogle and his wife Teresa purchased the defunct Tāwhiti Cheese factory in the South Taranaki countryside east of Normanby. Over the years since Nigel has transformed it into the best private museum in New Zealand, a wonderland of galleries and displays that bring the past to life with a combination of life-size exhibits and scale models.
Scenes of Māori and colonial days are vividly real: look into the faces of historical figures, see what they are wearing, doing, feeling and thinking. There are many attractions but the highlight is the dramatic Traders & Whalers, a boat journey through underground tunnels back in time. Take a break in Mr Badger’s Café afterwards. Be sure to check opening days and times before you set out.
5. Around the mountain drive
On a clear day, there are few things better than a trip around Mount Taranaki. It’s about two hours non-stop but plan to make a day of it. You can travel in either direction but let’s say you start in New Plymouth and go clockwise, south on highway 3. There’s a choice of routes, including a loop as far as Hāwera, or a shorter option that takes you out of Stratford for a more varied, rural drive. From Hāwera, you are on the return leg up the famed surf highway 45.
Take time to experience Taranaki’s myriad small towns: check out historic buildings and monuments, art galleries, gardens, pa sites, lighthouse, surf beaches, a glockenspiel and the redwood forest at Lucy’s Gully. And as you travel, note the changing form of the mountain on your right as it morphs from a single peak to double and back again.
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