Taranaki is a region in New Zealand with a host of strings to its bow. It’s blessed with rolling hills, fantastic beaches and a mountain right on the doorstep. Both the local and the tourists are spoiled for choice when it comes to activities. The region is bursting at the seams with hiking and biking trails, coastal walkways, parks and surf beaches. And when it all gets too much, and the old feet are aching from all the ankling around that’s been done, there’s a veritable smorgasbord of cafes, bars and restaurants in which a weary traveler can restore the tissues. So, with that, here is our list of the top things to do in Taranaki.
This is a great place to start your acquaintance with Taranaki. It offers some fantastic and fascinating background information on the very early pioneering days of the region. The visitor is shown how the relationships between the European settlers and the Maori unfolded. What is perhaps the most brilliant aspect of the whole museum is that the majority of the exhibits are scale models that have been handmade and set up by artist and owner of the private museum, Nigel Ogle. It’s really one of those amazing little gems that you have to see to believe, and what makes it all the more bizarre is that this excellent place is hidden away in South Taranaki, about an hour out of New Plymouth. By all rights it should be in the middle of town.
If you fancy spending a bit of time at a quintessential Taranaki beach town then Oakura Beach — a 10-minute drive from New Plymouth — is an excellent choice. You might have to make a dash across the super-fine black sand to get to your elected spot because it gets hot after a few hours under the sun, but once you’re settled you can lie back and soak up that serenity. Oakura has a great little village set back a few streets from the beach. If you get peckish there’s the Black Sands restaurant on the beachfront, serving up cracking homemade pizza. Activity-wise there’s surf and bodyboard rentals if the waves are in the mood, and there are also a couple of nice places where those that are inclined can cast a line out. It’s also pleasant to take a walk along the beach, past the beachfront baches (Kiwi for holiday homes) that are now mostly all million-dollar homes, to Corbett Park where locals love to bring their kids to jump off the bridge and play in the river.
In a region of captivating natural beauty, Mount Taranaki is the inescapable topographical superstar. This perfectly conical, 2,518-meter mountain is actually an active volcano — although the last major was around 1655. The name “Taranaki” comes from the combination of the Maori word “tara” — meaning mountain peak — and “ngaki” which means shining. The mountain is a hiker’s utopia with over three-hundred kilometers of trails, ranging from 10-minute constitutionals to three-day treks. And, of course, in the winter time you can snowboard on the small ski-field. Perform a proper local feat, going from the mountain to the sea, and complete “The Taranaki Double” and go snowboarding and surfing in the one day.
Govett-Brewster Art Gallery
This internationally recognised contemporary art museum is a building that is impossible to miss. As you cruise down the main street of New Plymouth — Devon Street East — you suddenly find yourself confronted by a weird, rippling mirrored apparition. This is the Govett-Brewster Gallery, and it is very fitting that the building itself is a work of contemporary art. Inside, you’ll find work from local and international contemporary artists, which changes three times a year, as well as the late Len Lye’s (maker of kinetic sculptures and experimental films) multimedia collection. If you want a taste of Lye’s style, then head down to the New Plymouth foreshore and take a look at his 48-meter-tall Wind Wand.
42 Queen St, New Plymouth 06-759 6060
Pukekura Park is often referred to as the jewel in the crown of Taranaki. With several lakes, walking trails, a fernery, kids play park, a teahouse, row boats for rent and formal gardens, this is the perfect spot to pass a few hours on a beautiful day. Although it covers about 128 acres, it resides in the very heart of the city. There is also Brooklands Zoo to explore, and The TSB Bowl of Brooklands; a 15,000-person ampitheatre, which has hosted such notables as Sir Elton John, Sting and Fleetwood Mac. If you fancy sitting a while then you can also catch a game of domestic cricket at the park — one of the home-grounds of the Central Stags. You might recognise the cricket pitch as the training ground where Tom Cruise trains his new Japanese recruits in The Last Samurai. The Festival of Lights is also a must-see in the summer months, when the park is illuminated by thousands of lights and displays after dark.
10 Fillis St, Brooklands, New Plymouth 06-759 6060
State Highway 45, the coastal road that winds from Hawera to New Plymouth, is known locally under a different and more bohemian moniker — Surf Highway 45. This is obviously due to the fact that this stretch of coast is absolutely rife with great breaks — and what’s more there are waves to suit every skill level, whether you’re a fresh-faced grommet or one of the old boys. The only things to think about are whether you’re able to handle the conditions, that you’re aware of surfing etiquette and if you’ve got the right gear for the job, e.g., a dry-suit for colder days. Head to Stent Road, The Kumera Patch or Rocky Point to ride some of the most legendary breaks.
Taranaki, like many tows in New Zealand, is situated by the sea, so if you’re in the area and of a happily optimistic nature it is a great place to sling a hook out. There’s no better way than passing a lazy day than at the beach — by a river mouth for preference and to boost your chances — with a good book and a line or two in the water. Wade out a little, cast, stick your rod in the sand and then play that age-old game of patience that is beach fishing. There are plenty of good spots to visit in the ‘Naki, Tongaporutu, where you can also visit The Three Sisters rock formation — Oakura and Urenui being notable. If you want to boost your chances of landing “The One” and target bigger species, there are a host of charters you can employ to take you out on the high seas. The satisfaction of landing a nice snapper, gurnard, blue cod or king fish and taking it home to whack on the barbie is immeasurable.