New Plymouth is the main coastal city in the Taranaki region on the west coast of the North Island. With the 2,518m snow-capped volcanic cone of Mt Taranaki/Mt Egmont just 30 minutes to the south and a string of wild beaches along the coast, you could snowboard and surf on the same day.
Egmont National Park (20 minutes drive south), with the mountain as its focal point, provides countless outdoor activities, from challenging treks to short walks, rock climbing and skiing. For adrenalin-pumped kayak and canoe water action, Taranaki Outdoor Adventures offer dam dropping and abseiling. There are several waterfalls in the area including the 74m-high Mount Damper Falls (59km north) and the 18m-high Dawson Falls (10 minutes’ walk from Dawsons Falls Visitor Center in the park). Near here, you can also dunk in the natural alpine plunge pools at Wilkies Pools (1.3km walk from the visitor centre). Helicopter flights are considered the must-do mode for viewing the mountain and its environs.
Aim your New Plymouth rental car out to the district’s sweeping beaches. You can hire a board or learn to surf with Surf Taranaki, next to their surfwear shack. The most family-friendly central sands are Ngamotu Beach (Ocean View Parade), but swimmers can safely share the surf at East End Beach (2km north) and nearby Fitzroy Beach. For more confident swimmers, the surfing beaches at Oakura (14km south-west) and Opunake (60km south-west) are good, but rips are common and swells can be treacherous. To visit the fur seals in the Sugar Loaf Marine Reserve, hop aboard a restored lifeboat for a one-hour cruise.
For something more sedate, park your New Plymouth hire car at the seafront and stroll along the 10km Coastal Walkway, a paved promenade that stretches along the city’s seaside fringe. You’ll pass the 45m ‘Wind Wand’ kinetic sculpture in the central section and at the south-west end climb Paritutu Rock for extensive views.
Puke Ariki, the local museum and tourist office, has interesting interactive displays and theGovett-Brewster Art Gallery showcases amusing contemporary exhibits. The huge Pukekura Park in the heart of the city houses the Botanic Gardens and Brookland Zoo, home to monkeys and meerkats. A summer highlight is the TSB Festival of Lights.
Explore more stunning gardens, from the inner city Te Kainga Marire to the landscaped gardens of the Chapman-Taylor Home at Tupare. Alternatively, there’s the renowned Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust gardens, set in native bush at the foothills of Mt Taranaki, and the extensive woodlands at Te Popo Gardens in Stratford.
Stratford is worth visiting for art at the Percy Thomson Gallery, an early settlers’ history atTaranaki Pioneer Village, and smashing stock cars at the Stratford Speedway on Saturday nights (Oct–Apr).
After a busy day, relax in the hot mineral waters at the Taranaki Thermal Spa (Bonithon Avenue), or head to the Serenity Wellness Spa for a therapeutic treat. Indoor swimming is best at the Todd Energy Aquatic Centre (Tisch Avenue), which also has outdoor pools, a hydroslide and wave machine.
Foodie delights include grabbing an ice cream from Gelato Caffé, enjoying the quirky, alfresco Big Wave mobile café (East End Reserve), the superb Gusto Restaurant overlooking the marina, and the popular Ugly Duck Restaurant and Bar.
There are plenty of welcoming hostels, self-catering motels and smart hotels to choose from. Recommendations include the excellent Fitzroy Beach Motel near the iconic Te Rewa Rewa bridge, central Waterfront Hotel or peaceful One Burgess Hill on Waiwhakaiho River. The city hosts many international festivals and sports events so book well in advance.