Taranaki is dramatic - from its myths and history to its scenery.
According to legend, Taranaki the mountain was once named Pukeonaki and stood near Ruapehu, Tongariro and Pihanga. Pukeonaki and Tongariro were both in love with Pihanga, and battled over her. Pukeonaki fled westwards, coming to rest near Pouakai Mountain. Now, the volcanic peak is known as Taranaki, commemorating an ancestor of the Taranaki iwi.
To learn more about Taranaki history, European expansion, the struggle over land, and non-violent resistance at Parihaka, visit the Taranaki Iwi website.
New Plymouth - gardens and the arts, beside the sea
New Plymouth has grown from a farming centre to a city rich in art and culture, with brilliant galleries, studios and an excellent museum. This city is also popular for its parks, and nearby surf and snow.
Pukekura Park, New Plymouth. Photo: Rob Tucker
New Plymouth’s 53 hectare Pukekura Park is a Garden of National Significance, featuring formal gardens, native bush, display houses, Brooklands Zoo, a children’s playground, the Japanese Hillside and Kunming Garden. It also has lakes, rowboats, a fernery and a natural amphitheatre that hosts many great concerts, including the annual WOMAD festival. Every March Pukekura Park is filled with fluttering flags, food stalls, and thousands of music lovers who come to WOMAD to see musicians from around the world perform in this beautiful setting.
There are many other lovely parks and significant gardens around Taranaki. Every spring, keen gardeners flock to the Powerco Taranaki Garden Spectacular, a festival with tours of the best public and private gardens, and a programme that includes fashion, cooking, garden workshops, guest speakers and more.
In town there are many good places to visit. Puke Ariki, meaning Hill of Chiefs, is a purpose-built museum, library and information centre, with dynamic exhibitions telling the story of Taranaki’s past and present.
Len Lye Centre, photo: Patrick Reynolds
The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery is one of New Zealand’s finest public galleries, housing the collection of film maker and kinetic sculptor Len Lye. The shining, sinuous form of the new building is a joy in itself. Inside, the changing exhibitions of Len Lye’s work, and other modern art, are always surprising and illuminating. You might catch Emanations - cameraless photographs, or syncopated cinema, or Len Lye’s Four Fountains - beautifully lit, fountains of moving metal rods, clacking, clinking and dancing with light.
The Coastal Walkway is a famed and fabulous feature of New Plymouth. Stretching 11kms around the coast, it’s a brilliant place to run, bike or stroll along, with views out over the Tasman Sea. Visit the iconic Te Rewarewa Bridge, shaped like a breaking wave, or a whale skeleton, stretching over the Waiwhakaiho River framing a view towards the mountain. Take the walkway on into town and you’ll come to the famous Wind Wand, a 45m high kinetic sculpture designed by Len Lye - like a sharp, red line, bending and swaying gently with the breeze.
Taranaki - sacred peak
Stratford Glockenspiel and Mt Taranaki, photo: Rob Tucker
Mt Taranaki sits majestic and picture-perfect in the centre of this region, its profile sharp, snow-capped in winter. The volcanic peak rises to an elevation of 2518m, and the mountain is surrounded by forest, then fertile green pastures.
Roads that climb away from the highway to the mountain lead to the ring of dense rainforest that marks Egmont National Park. There are many walking tracks to explore, with clear streams, mystical forests, and breathtaking views. If you’re fit and have the gear, you can hike the 10-hour return trip to the summit of the mountain. Or visit Uruti Valley, which stood in for an 1860s Japanese village during filming of The Last Samurai. Walk through the Goblin Forest - an ancient rainforest on the southern slopes of the mountain and you’ll find gnarled kamahi trunks festooned with ferns and moss. Mt Taranaki is a very accessible playground, but do take heed of its changeable weather and take adequate provisions for any circumstances.
In winter, visitors can ski or snowboard at Manganui Ski Area. It’s open from early June to mid October, depending on natural snow conditions. There are 3 rope tows and 1 T bar, giving access to 59 ha of skiable terrain, with some gentle intermediate runs and great, steep runs for more advanced skiers and snowboarders. Rent gear in New Plymouth or Stratford.
Surf Highway 45
Offshore surf, photo: Rob Tucker
The legendary Surf Highway 45 runs 105km, hugging the Taranaki coast, round from New Plymouth to Hawera. There are surf breaks aplenty, including spots such as Ohawe Beach, Opunake, Okato and Oakura. Fifteen minutes’ drive south of New Plymouth, Oakura is a popular seaside village, with a great beach, surf patrolled in summer. The rusty remains of the SS Gairloch, shipwrecked on a dark night in 1903, are a local landmark. Visit an artist studio on the Oakura Arts Trail and stop for a bite at one of several cafes, Butlers Reef pub or the Holy Guacamole caravan for Mexican food to enjoy outdoors. Get coffee or breakfast from High Tide vintage coffee caravan. Near Oakura is Koru Pa, a well-preserved ancient pa site, accessible from Surrey Hill Rd. There’s a swimming hole close by in the Oakura River.
More places to visit in Taranaki
The Forgotten World Highway runs from Taumaranui to Stratford, through remote countryside, up and down over saddles and rugged landscape, taking in the Republic of Whangamomona, and Mt Damper Falls.
In Hawera, Tawhiti Museum is a unique private museum, featuring thousands of life size and smaller scale models, to tell the story of Taranaki’s history. Traders and Whalers presents the Taranaki coast in the 1800s, complete with a underground boat ride. There’s also a bush railway, farm machinery, and cafe.
What to do
- Visit the Govett-Brewster Gallery
- Walk the New Plymouth Coastal Walkway
- Take in the Powerco Taranaki Garden Spectacular in October
- Take your board to Surf Highway 45
- Hike or ski on Mt Taranaki
- Visit Tawhiti Museum and Traders and Whalers in Hawera
- Drive the Forgotten World Highway