New Zealand has changed a fair bit since I was a kid. Before Lord of the Rings, before the adventure tourism campaigns and before we were a dream travel destination, we were pretty unheard of. Now we’re seeing more tourists than ever before.
Taranaki’s a North Island region with real character, but unfortunately, we get passed over by most foreign visitors. Not many make the effort to see this side of NZ with most carving a straight line down the North Island, eager to get to the South Island, or heading east to Hawkes Bay, travelling from one big ticket attraction to the next.
Taranaki remains much the same as it always has been - a bit old school New Zealand. We’re a farming region, a collection of blink and you miss ‘em, one horse towns sprawled around Mt Taranaki. New Plymouth is my home, a town I’ve returned to again and again, even after two long-term backpacking trips around Southeast Asia, South America and two years working in Sydney.
So, why should you squeeze Taranaki into your already bursting at the seams New Zealand itinerary?
Mount Taranaki is a great place to start. Hike around Egmont National Park, or climb the beast yourself – a great day trip for the summer with no mountaineering experience necessary. If you have a reasonable level of fitness, just toss on a solid pair of boots and you’ll be as good as gold. To add to that, there are so many tracks and loops in NZ’s most conical National Park, that even I haven’t done them all (and I fricking love hiking). Some lead up to lookouts and huts scattered around the mountain, some tracks are days long and loop around the base of the mountain.
Rest up from your mountaineering conquests on our silky black sand beaches, Oakura, Tongaporutu and Back beach are my favourites for stunning scenery and big stretches sand. Back beach is dog friendly, and mostly devoid of other people, great for a stroll, for hanging out, watching surfers or generally just being at peace. Drive Highway 45 for some of the best secret surf spots and coastal view points in the country,
When you’re ready to be active again, we have 12kms of coastal path ways, perfect for renting a bicycle and cycling away from the traffic. Follow the smooth path out of New Plymouth as you flit from beach to beach before the path curls in amongst the farmland. Or if you’re eager for more pleasant stroll, try the whitecliffs walk, Pukekura park, or loop the lake at Mangamahoe.
Café culture; we love our cafes and after working as a chef overseas, I loved getting back into the New Zealand food scene. The Federal Store café has captured the kiwiana from our childhoods and added a twist of the modern – think smokey mānuka BBQ pulled pork eggs benedict and mince on toast with mushy peas. If you feel like a drive, check out Fonterra's cheese factory store in Eltham, or if you're feeling like being resourceful, hunt for paua and eat for free, (I'm a fan of Waitara beach) it’s easy!
Icons and art
Always pushing the boundaries of traditional architecture, we have a handful of iconic buildings and bridges, and local photographers, artists and street artists who love capturing the essence of Taranaki and giving New Plymouth a unique look. Check out the Te Rewa Rewa bridge, the Wind Wand, the Govett-Brewster art gallery and Len Lye Centre, and the Puke Ariki Museum.
You’ll be off the beaten path by just being in Taranaki, but it won’t stay like this for long. More and more hiking enthusiasts, backpackers and foodies are making detours over our way as people discover NZ’s best kept secret.
What do you think? Have you been? Would you give Taranaki a go?
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