Wondering what to do in New Plymouth? Despite being named in the top 10 places by the Lonely Planet for 2017 New Plymouth is still a relatively undiscovered area.The stunning city on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island makes a great addition to any North Island Itinerary or as a stand alone city break.
The horizon is dominated by Mount Taranaki an almost perfect cone-shaped (inactive) volcano. Long stretches of black sand beach and National Park surrounding the mountain provide a playground for the active. The city has a strong arts and culture scene with many events and free concerts, especially in the summer. You’ll find plenty of fun things to do in New Plymouth all year round.
WHAT TO DO IN NEW PLYMOUTH:
1. CYCLE THE NEW PLYMOUTH COASTAL WALKWAY
The first thing I answer when asked what to do in New Plymouth is to hire a bicycle and cycle the 12km Coastal Walkway. This long paved walkway starts at Ngamotu where a breakwater has created a harbour and port area. Follow the paved walkway north along the coast, past parks and playgrounds. Pass the Wind Wand, a Len Lye design, the red needle light structure moves in the breeze, marking the centre of the city. Rocky foreshore gives way to the black sand beaches of Strandon and Fitzroy, over the iconic Te Rewa Rewa bridge and connecting to the Bell Block cycle park.
2. CLIMB PARITUTU ROCK
Paritutu rock is a prominent outcrop on the coastal landscape. Sitting within the city limits above the Ngamotu Port. The climb is short taking only 10-15 minutes to reach the summit but it is challenging with chains strategically placed to pull oneself up the more difficult parts of the climb. This is New Zealand though so don’t be surprised if you come across families with preschoolers heading to the summit. Once at the top be rewarded with fantastic views down to Back Beach and the Sugar Loaf islands just off the coast.
3. VISIT THE GOVETT BREWSTER ART GALLERY AND LEN LYE CENTRE
Len Lye was a New Zealand born artist who later moved to New York. He was a filmmaker and kinetic sculpture. A dedication building has been opened in New Plymouth to showcase the sculptures and with its wavy mirrored facade this has become an iconic landmark. Inside you will find a revolving exhibition of Len Lye’s sculptures, these sculptures bend light and sound to create mesmerising illusions. Connected is the Govett Brewster Gallery which holds temporary collections of modern art. Entrance to both galleries is free or by donation.
4. EAT BRUNCH WITH A VIEW IN NEW PLYMOUTH
Have brunch at one of the many cafes. There are a number of great cafes in New Plymouth. World class baristas extract espresso from locally roasted coffee and chefs make the most of the fresh produce that grows well in the regions rich volcanic soil. Arborio cafe is one of my favourites. The location is perfect, in the centre of the city with views over the coastal walkway to the Wind Wand. Their signature eggs benedict is served on a crispy potato hash with perfectly poached free range eggs, topped with velvety house made hollandaise sauce. What to do in New Plymouth? Eat delicious food of course.
5. WALK AROUND THE LAKES AT PUKEKURA PARK
Pukekura Park is a large green space near the centre of New Plymouth. The park has a diverse landscape with formal gardens, exotic plants, lakes, a waterfall, a fernery and playgrounds. Take a walk around the main lake and enjoy the views of the red Japanese Bridge which frames Mount Taranaki when viewed from a distance. A traditional tea room serves delicious savoury scones as well as a selection of traditional New Zealand sweet treats and in the summer a kiosk sells smoothies and ice creams.
The Bowl of Brooklands is an extension of Pukekura park. A large sloping hill, terraced in parts creates a natural amphitheatre. A small lake sits at the bottom in front of the stage. The green landscape and surrounding trees give a unique concert experience. Concerts are performed throughout the year with big-name international artists such as Elton John, Sting and Jack Johnson have all performed here in Recent years. Cat Stevens and Bryan Adams will play in December 2017 and January 2018.
WOMAD an international music festival is also held here each March and is a must do in New Plymouth if you are in Taranaki at the time.
Brooklands Zoo is a small zoo with a selection of farmyard and exotic animals. This New Plymouth zoo has free entry and is popular with local families. Visitors love the alpaca, goats and donkey as much as they do the monkeys and exotic birds.
A grassed area sits in the middle of the zoo with a large play structure. The zoo enclosures sit around the perimeter. This feature makes it a great option for tired parents who can grab a spot on a blanket or bench and let the children wander while still keeping a watchful eye.
8. TAKE A BOAT TRIP WITH CHADDY’S CHARTERS
Take a one-hour boat cruise with Chaddy’s Charters. The boat sets off from the harbour side of the Lee Breakwater. The boat Captained by “Happy Chaddy” and cruises around some of the offshore Islands. Hear about the history of the area, spot seals and their cubs swimming in the waters and lazing on rocks in the sun and even try to catch a fish. Kids are often allowed to take the helm and have fun steering the boat.
9. TAKE IN THE VIEWS FROM TE REWA REWA BRIDGE
Te Rewa Rewa bridge was opened in 2010, this 83m bridge crosses the Waiwhakaiho river as part of the coastal walkway. Functional and sculptural the bridge resembles the skeleton of a whale and a breaking wave. Grab your camera, cross the bridge and take a picture looking back, a perfectly framed Mount Taranaki in the distance.
10. SURF THE SAND DUNES AT BACK BEACH
Back Beach is a black sand beach at the western end of New Plymouth city. Popular with surfers and locals. Approaching from the city head along Centennial drive, past Paritutu rock to the car park on the cliff. Look out to views over the beach and the Sugar Loaf Islands below. There are 2 ways to reach the beach, take the stairs. Or grab a free thrill and throw yourself down the sand dunes. Choose the run and jump uncontrolled type decent or bring a cardboard box to use as a makeshift sledge. The beach is popular with surfers. It is fine to swim here but don’t venture out too far as the currents can be strong.
11. HANG OUT AT THE WEST END PRECINCT
The Historic White Hart Hotel sat unloved for years but with the passion and talent of a local group of businesses the building, with its modern extension has become a popular hangout.
Now known as the West End Precinct the area is becoming the arts and culture hub of New Plymouth with the Len Lye Gallery and TSB showplace on the same block. There are places to eat, stop for a coffee or have a drink. Ms White serves craft beers and hand rolled pizza’s, Snug Lounge Japanese tapas and cocktails and the Public Catering Company are best known for their Donuts and award-winning Gelato.
I called New Plymouth home for 8 years. It really is a fantastic destination. If you have any questions about New Plymouth or would like to share your own experiences visiting New Plymouth or other destinations in New Zealand let me know in the comments or over on Facebook.
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