Looking for a relaxed holiday in the New Zealand of the good old days? You could spend a few days in Taranaki. Taranaki, or ‘the Naki’, is a beautifully green region of the North Island, jutting out into the wild Tasman Sea. It’s dominated by a stunning, snow-capped volcano and steeped in history. There are many interesting things to do in Taranaki – here’s a list of my top ten:
1) Visit Pukekura Park during the Festival of Lights
The Festival of Lights takes place every summer, from the middle of December to the end of January. Pukekura Park is in New Plymouth, which, despite being the major city of the Taranaki Region, is relatively small and quiet. Pukekura Park is lovely enough without all the pretty lights, but from 8.30pm – 11pm during the festival, it becomes a magical wonderland. It’s well worth visiting, and over 100,000 people do every year. I utterly adored it.
2) Spend a day at the Tawhiti Museum
And by a day, I do mean a day. It looks small from the outside, but ‘an hour or two’ is nowhere near enough time to experience it. It’s the most enchanting museum I’ve ever been to, and I can’t stop raving about how good it is. Nigel Ogle’s Tawhiti Museum is an hour’s drive south of New Plymouth, near Hawera. It tells the story of Taranaki, from pre-European times to the twentieth century, through many hundreds of fantastic models, both miniatures and full-scale casts of local people. I learned a lot there.
3) Take a walk through the Goblin Forest
The Goblin Forest is the area of bush around Mount Egmont, or Taranaki, and the name is very appropriate. I’ve never seen such a wonderfully creepy forest. It’s like it’s straight out of a fairytale! It’s beautiful, and taking a walk through it was most enjoyable. I didn’t expect it to be quite so different from every other bit of New Zealand bush I’ve walked through, but it honestly was. It’s in Egmont National Park, which you should definitely visit even if you have no desire to climb the volcano itself.
4) Have a picnic at Tupare
If you’ve always dreamed of visiting a gorgeous English country house and garden in New Zealand, then go to Tupare. It’s just outside New Plymouth and it’s free to enter. The garden’s beautiful, with many winding paths and old-fashioned flowerbeds. It’s very steep, however, because the property’s on a hill sloping down to a river. It’s all rather idyllic, and the house is open for tours sometimes too. If you enjoy interior design and antique furniture, you’ll love this.
5) Drive along the Forgotten World Highway
The Forgotten World Highway is a narrow road that wends its way precariously between Stratford and Taumarunui. It’s 155km long, 12km of which are unsealed, and there’s not a single petrol station to be had. There is one settlement, though. Located an hour-and-a-half’s drive from the nearest supermarket, the Republic of Whangamomona has a very small population and one very nice pub. There are various attractions all along the highway, and the landscape is quite different from anything you’ve ever seen.
6) Stroll along the New Plymouth Coastal Walkway
Just one block down from New Plymouth’s main street, this wide, easy path along the edge of the Tasman Sea provides a pleasant walk with marvellous views. The walkway continues for over 12km, past the iconic Te Rewa Rewa Bridge and Len Lye’s famous Wind Wand. Coming off the walkway, near Puke Ariki – a tourist information centre combined with a museum and library, I passed under a bridge, through a tunnel that could have seemed quite rapey, but wasn’t. This was partly due to the murals painted along its walls, and partly due to the classical music that echoed eerily through the tunnel, emanating from a concealed speaker. It obviously had a motion sensor. Nice.
7) Marvel at Dawson Falls
This rather pretty waterfall is in Egmont National Park, about half an hour from Stratford. It’s not a strenuous walk to reach Dawson Falls – only about ten minutes from the car park. There are lots of other tracks to walk in the area as well. If you fancy a (refreshingly cold) swim, you could walk up to Wilkies Pools. They’re pretty too.
8) Stop for a drink at Mike’s Organic Brewery
We only stopped here because my dad saw the sign for it whilst driving down to New Plymouth, but I’m glad we did. It’s located off State Highway 3, just before you get to Urenui, about half an hour away from New Plymouth. The tasting room and café is open on weekends. Nice place. The kind of place that makes me wish I liked beer more. According to the people I was with, who definitely do like beer, this stuff was excellent, especially mike’s Vanilla Coffee Porter.
9) Immerse yourself in history at the Pioneer Village
The Taranaki Pioneer Village at Stratford is an interesting museum. Every single one of the buildings – from the church, to the schoolroom, to the blacksmith’s forge – is authentic, brought to the site and carefully arranged to show visitors what life was like in New Zealand one hundred years ago. There’s even a train ride! At the centre of the village is an idyllic pond, and walking around you’ll come across some very friendly chickens and sheep. It costs $12 to get in and, yes, there is a café.
10) Have a look at the Len Lye Centre in the light of dusk
The Len Lye Centre is an extension of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, and it’s definitely a case of the gallery itself being more interesting than the art it contains. The outside of the building is fantastic. It’s bold, interesting and especially striking in the evening, in the soft light that comes just before sunset. The whole thing is silver, reflecting the buildings around it in great, distorted waves. Across the road from it is the New Plymouth Clock Tower, which is different from your usual clock tower and is best viewed at night – its lights look very pretty reflected in the Len Lye Centre.
List compiled by Abigail Simpson