The Taranaki region is both ‘overlooked and underappreciated,’ according to Lonely Planet. New Plymouth New Zealand, the main town in the region, is a lovely coastal beach town known for sunny climate, art galleries, and beautiful parks, coastal promenade, and beaches! It is also famous for its black sand surfing beaches. New Plymouth is located on the West Coast of the North Island halfway between Auckland and Wellington, but resembles neither.
Mount Taranaki in Egmont National Park is the backdrop for New Plymouth. It’s just a 30-minute drive from New Plymouth. Lonely Planet has rated this region as #2 in its ‘Top 10 Best Travel of 2017.’ Egmount National Park offers day hikes, incredible views, and all close to the beach and cultural aspects of New Plymouth.
We hadn’t been to a single place in New Zealand that offered the variety of culture, ocean, beaches, and mountains that this region does. That’s why Tom and I chose it – It is well worth the detour to visit! Why? ….
There is so much to do here that can please all tastes and preferences within close proximity to New Plymouth.
Take a break, have a beach vacation with swimming and surfing.
Go boating or fishing.
Walk or bike the 12 km Coastal Promenade overlooking the beach and ocean and stop to see the sculptures along the way or watch the surfers.
Walk or bike to the famous Te Rewa Rewa Bridge and take in the view of Taranaki towering in the background.
Visit Museums and Gardens
Puke Ariki Museum and Heritage Centre is the place to explore exhibits from the Heritage Collections to Natural History and animals of the region. The exhibits are spectacular – from prehistoric swimming monsters to those that roamed the land. Here you can learn about how humans changed the landscape, and check out the rich geological resources. Experience the region’s current art scene and talent here. There is opportunity to view the extensive native birds.
The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery is considered the country’s best regional art gallery. Shows boast contemporary, experimental and provocative art exhibitions, and the unique kinetic sculptures of Len Lye. This is New Zealand’s first and only contemporary art museum. It is a stellar small museum from its architecture to its exhibitions. Entry is free.
Wondering ‘who is Len Lye?’ Although I have a degree in art, I had not heard of Len Lye, and now I am happy to know his work. It is said that Len Lye is ‘arguably the 20th century’s most original artist.’ Lye was a “one-man art movement spanning several countries and multiple media over a lifetime and beyond.” From being born in New Zealand to becoming a US citizen living in New York City, Lye is known for “mapping a unique course through Modernism. He was a pioneer of experimental film and kinetic sculpture.” The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery is the only Museum that holds an extensive exhibit of Lye’s kinetic sculptures. It is quite an impressive study of form and movement. It’s another ‘must see’ in New Plymouth.
Tupare is considered one of New Zealand’s most beautiful and unique gardens. Free to enter the restored garden surrounding the Chapman-Taylor home, stroll around the garden hillside overlooking the Waiwhakaiho River.
Pukekura Park, over 130 acres of parkland, waterways, and recreation area, is free to visit. From energetic activities to strolls, bird watching, or simply relaxing, this park is a gorgeous place for anything. The park has two lakes with rowboats for hire, a playground, cricket grounds, walking paths, display houses, fountains and waterfall, and an entertainment venue. In the summer (December to February), the Park puts on a Festival of Lights with hundreds of lighting displays that transform the park into a fantasyland.
We would like to thank Venture Taranaki for hosting us, reviewing the region’s attractions, and the tour of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and Len Lye Center. Recommendations in this article are our honest opinions based on our experience.
Mount Taranaki is located in Egmont National Park; its classic volcanic cone dominates the landscape throughout the area rising 8200 feet. It is the youngest of the 3 volcanoes in the area that are on the same fault line; it last erupted 350 years ago. This mountain is the highlight of the region, touted ‘New Zealand’s most climbed mountain.’ While summiting its peak can be challenging, there are all levels of short or longer hikes, and walks providing non-mountaineers plenty of opportunities to explore the mountain through its sub-alpine trees, shrubs, herb fields, and waterfalls. There is snow and ice in winter so the best time to climb is February to mid-April, New Zealand’s summer and fall. Know that the early morning is the best time to start, as thick clouds often descend on the mountain as the progresses, causing low visibility and difficulty navigating.
Taranaki Volcano is said to have one of the most symmetrical volcanic cones in the world. Many say it resembles Mount Fuji; it was the movie backdrop for The Last Samurai.
If you drive there yourself; be sure to stop at the Visitors Centre for information on the mountain, park conditions, and maps.
Alternatively, go with a guide. Tom Parson of Taranaki Tours is of Maori descent and organizes tours, or drops off hikers and picks them up; Tom’s tours are given through a Maori perspective interwoven with Maori culture and natural history.
Experience Maori Culture and history
We did a custom tour with Tom Parsons of Taranaki Tours around the New Plymouth area. We learned so much about the Maori’s view of the rich resources in the Taranaki region, as well as the cultural beliefs. There are 8 Maori tribes living in the area out of the 54 separate Maori nations that arrived in New Zealand. Maori are peaceful people who historically lived in a sustainable in relationship to the land and sea. Maori’s believe in taking only what they themselves need to survive for food, shelter, and natural medicine. Tom demonstrated how they take what is needed without impacting the continued growth of resources provided by the natural environment.
The Maori people pass down stories from their history and culture, and there seems to be a story about all of the land formations. Click here for the Maori Legend of Mt. Taranaki.
If you are interested in nature, sustainability, the culture and stories of the Maori’s who first populated this area thousands of years ago, Taranaki Tours is uniquely designed to provide these insights.
While we were invited guests by Tom Parsons of Taranaki Tours for a guided evening tour, this is a totally independent and honest review based on our experience.
- Forgotten World Highway – A 4-hour trip through bush country passing Maori villages, abandoned coal mines, and memorials. Taranaki Tours offers a tour.
- Paritutu – West of New Plymouth, free to visit – a short climb up a rising precipice with miles of views from the summit.
- Sugarloaf Islands Marine Park – Sea bird refuge with fur seals and volcanic remnants. It is 1 km offshore and free to visit.
- Church of St Mary – Free to visit is New Zealand’s oldest stone church and newest cathedral. The graveyard is historically significant with graves and headstones of soldiers, early settlers, and Maori chiefs.
- New Plymouth Observatory – With great views on top of Marshland Hill, find one of the most powerful public access telescopes in New Zealand. Small fee for entrance.
- Taranaki Aviation, Transport and Technology Museum – South of New Plymouth with old trains, planes and automobiles. Small fee for entrance.
- Manganui Ski Area
- Taranaki Pioneer Village – Outdoor museum with historic buildings. Entrance fees apply.
While the Taranaki area is on the west coast of the north island and seems far from other tourist areas, it is not difficult to get there; it is only a few hours from Turangi, and well worth the trip.
This region draws less international visitors than many of the other well-known towns and regions. We loved our time here, relaxing with fewer crowds, a little hiking, some culture, art, touring, and a beach day. The region is rich with natural resources and diverse activities for all interests – from the beach and mountains to art, architecture and culture. We are thrilled to have had the opportunity to visit New Plymouth and Taranaki; it was a very different experience than any other we had in New Zealand.
If you need more information on the area, Venture Taranaki can help. If you want a knowledgeable, and interesting tour – we highly recommend Taranaki Tours.
For information on other places to visit in New Zealand:
- Milford Sound – Scenery Photographers Dream About
- Akaroa New Zealand – for beach, wildlife, great seafood
- Franz Josef Glacier Activities on the Glacier
Stay tuned for our next blog post on the Rotorua Area.