While it’s a deviation from the well-worn track of SH1, Taranaki offers a compelling argument for exploration that far belies the region’s size: everything from art galleries, to museums, parks, gardens, and epic events go beyond expectations.
By road, there are three ways to get to Taranaki: the gentle SH3 north from Whanganui, through meandering pastures broken by the towns of Waverley and Patea, past the monumental Fonterra dairy factory, complete with equally monumental-sized cow; via SH3 from the north, a more dramatic landscape offering glimpses of a distant Mount Taranaki as you pass through Awakino, Mokau, and Urenui before passing the Methanex methanol production facility north of Waitara, built on the remnants of the Think Big era.
These industrial bookends give a clue to the region’s economic base of oil and milk—dubbed black gold and white gold—both active contributors to the region’s impressive visitor offerings.
The other way to get to Taranaki is via the more intrepid Forgotten World Highway, which traces old trading and farm trails along SH43 between Taumarunui and Stratford. The centre point is the village of Whangamomona, rich in history spanning mining, dairying, and railway construction, and the only other rugby team in the country allowed to wear the black strip.
At the end of the Forgotten World Highway is Stratford, a town with more than a few Shakespearean connections to its English namesake. Streets are named after characters in the Great Bard’s works, and the town’s unique Glockenspiel Clock Tower recites Romeo and Juliet several times daily.
Looking behind Stratford, and the region as a whole, is Mount Taranaki, with more than 200km of walking and tramping tracks accessed by three roads: the southern route to Dawson Falls offers great short walks, the central road from Stratford leads to the historic Mountain House and the Manganui Ski Field, while the North Egmont entry point leads to the excellent Pouakai Crossing—a great one-day walk similar in effort to the Tongariro Crossing.
The other notable drive in Taranaki is the round-the-mountain loop, a 200-odd kilometre circuit that can be done in a day or stretched out over many, depending on how many of the local attractions you want to explore.
Whether you’re taking the long or the short option, South Taranaki’s Tawhiti Museum has to be added to your list. This private museum, located in a former dairy factory a few minutes’ drive inland from Hawera and Normanby, has regularly been judged New Zealand’s third-best museum, behind Auckland Museum and Te Papa. We won’t give too much away about the museum’s Traders & Whalers ride, other to say that it is something you certainly won’t find in either of the higher-ranking institutions.
In Hawera, the town’s iconic Water Tower can be climbed for an unparalleled view of South Taranaki. Surf Highway 45 leads around the coast through a rural landscape punctuated with welcoming small towns, seemingly countless signs leading to surf breaks, and views of the mountain, while the inland route leads to Inglewood, renowned for its Fun Ho! National
With so many museums in Taranaki, you can visit collections of taxidermy, Elvis Presley memorabilia, vintage machinery, cars, and buildings, and even lawn bowls. The newest addition is the Hillsborough Holden Museum that has an impressive collection of the marque and is home to a mini-putt course modelled on the Bathurst circuit.
The region’s largest museum is Puke Ariki, on New Plymouth’s waterfront, watching over the Wind Wand—a 45-metre sculpture by internationally acclaimed New Zealand artist Len Lye—and the city’s impressive Coastal Walkway. The walkway is just as suited for cycling and stretches 13km along the edge of the Tasman Sea, passing outdoor cafes, parks, and playgrounds and an extensive cycle park.
It crosses Te Rewa Rewa Bridge over the Waiwhakaiho River that has been likened to a feather, a breaking wave, and a whalebone. Either way, it offers postcard good looks and a perfectly framed view of Mount Taranaki.
Gardens and galleries
The Wind Wand is also a teaser for the nearby Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre, a stunning stainless-steel gallery displaying groundbreaking art. The gallery has triggered a regeneration of New Plymouth’s own west end—artisan cafes, boutique shopping, and public art abound. Don’t be limited by this one area, though, as the entire city has undergone a sufficiently extensive regeneration in recent years as to surprise anyone who hasn’t visited it in a while.
The region is also well regarded for its parks and gardens, best discovered during the annual garden festivals in spring each year, when dozens of private gardens open their gates to join the more well-known public and private offerings to show just why the region has been dubbed ‘the garden of New Zealand’.
The city’s events calendar extends well beyond garden festivals, though, with the annual TSB Festival of Lights, which showcases the beautiful Pukekura Park over the summer months, a popular drawcard.
The annual three-day WOMAD festival in March transforms the iconic TSB Bowl of Brooklands and neighbouring Brooklands Park into a hotbed of world music that has to be experienced to be believed that you’re still in a province of New Zealand, albeit a surprisingly dynamic one.
Be in to win a double pass to WOMAD
Win a double adult pass (total value $530) to the three-day WOMAD event in Taranaki!
Competition closes 2 March 2018.