While you’re here, you won’t want to miss –
Glimpsing Mt Taranaki’s spherical snow-capped cone will be your first indication you’ve entered the Taranaki region on the west coast of the North Island.
While this dormant volcano dominates the landscape, the city of New Plymouth just to the west of the mountain is the main focal point for visitors. New Plymouth is a thriving port city with an eclectic array of art galleries, museums and restaurants.
From New Plymouth, it’s possible to enjoy both snow and water sports – all in the same day!
The surrounding region has a lot to offer visitors as well. Known as the Garden of New Zealand, Taranaki’s landscape is rich in Regional Parks and Gardens of National Significance. You also can’t beat the coast for its pounding surf, small town hospitality and scenic walks. With so much to see and do, it’s worthwhile spending some time in Taranaki – The Naki, as Kiwis call it.
New Plymouth embraces the new, especially when it comes to culture and architecture.
One of its main attractions is the innovative Puke Ariki Heritage Center – a combined museum, library and information complex situated on the waterfront. This striking contemporary building features 2 wings joined by an airbridge, 5 gallery spaces and an award-winning Italian-style café / restaurant with an alfresco area and stunning sea views.
Puke Ariki also offers an interesting daily historical walking tour, from 1pm to 3pm, through the city center. New Plymouth has a fascinating settler history – its early inhabitants originated from Plymouth in England.
Another of New Plymouth’s cultural highlights is the Govett-Brewster Contemporary Art Museum. This is New Zealand’s leading contemporary art museum with eight exhibition spaces and collections of sculpture, abstract and conceptual art.
The most important collection is that of Len Lye, a name you’ll become familiar with if you spend any length of time in New Plymouth. Lye was a New Zealand born artist famous for his kinetic sculptures, among other forms of expression, and internationally recognized for his modernist film-making.
Coastal Walk and Pukekura Park
You can see another of Len Lye’s kinetic sculptures at Puke Ariki Landing on the waterfront. His impressive 45 meter high red Wind Wand sways and dips to varying degrees depending on the strength of the breeze.
Puke Ariki Landing itself is part of the Coastal Walk running west to east, from Port Taranaki to Hickford Park. The entire walk is about 6 miles long – almost the length of the city – but you can walk, cycle, skate or jog on the wide path for as little or as long as you like.
From Puke Ariki Landing, it’s a short walk to the city center, for one of New Plymouth’s garden highlights. Pukekura Park is a Garden of National Significance. Renowned for its extensive grounds, it features bush walks, ferneries, formal gardens, lakes, native and exotic trees. A famous photo landmark here is the red bridge, from where you can look out to majestic Mt Taranaki.
Pukekura Park lights up after dark from December to January with the stunning Festival of Lights display.
The Park is also home to Brooklands Zoo and Bowl of Brooklands which hosts the popular WOMAD (World of Music and Dance) festival – featuring artists from all over the world – over 3 days in mid-March.
Scenic Drives and Stratford
If you want to get out and about on a larger scale, then Taranaki offers many places to explore. Drive along Surf Highway 45 around the coast from New Plymouth to Hawera, stopping off for views from the Cape Egmont Lighthouse and checking out some of the smaller towns. Perhaps, stop to try some delicious, fresh whitebait fritters along the way.
From Hawera, head north to the quirky town of Stratford which has 67 streets named from 27 of William Shakespeare’s plays.
It’s also home to New Zealand’s only glockenspiel clock which has life-sized Romeo and Juliet figures that pop out, to re-enact the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, three times throughout the day. You’ll be able to hear the lines precisely, as they’re projected out to the audience via loudspeakers.
From Stratford, you can drive west to easily access Egmont National Park and any number of scenic drives and walking tracks around Mt Taranaki. Or head north to Inglewood for arts & crafts studios and café’s with volcano views.
Although the focus of the Taranaki region is undoubtedly New Plymouth where the majority of this region’s cultural attractions lie, the surrounding small towns do offer up surprises – whether it’s food, friendly conversation, stunning views or even a clock reciting Shakespeare!