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Taranaki – Guide for Backpackers

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Take a trip to Taranaki!

Where can you ski on the mountains in the morning and surf the waves in the afternoon? With just a 30-minute drive between the snowcapped Mt Taranaki and the surf beaches along Surf Highway 45, we know the perfect place. The Taranaki region is identified as the area surrounding the 2518m high Mt Taranaki.

Backpackers come here to enjoy recreation at Egmont National Park, often with some gnarly walks. Then hitting the beach for some equally gnarly surfing along the coast of New Plymouth. However, there’s more to New Plymouth than meets the eye. The town is packed heaps of contemporary art starting with building-sized murals. There’s always something going on, from pop-up gigs to community gallery events. Timing your visit in the summer main coincide with the dazzling Festival of Lights. Summertime also brings banged up old cars to race in the Stratford International Speedway.

Things you can’t miss in Taranaki…

  • Explore Mt Taranaki and the Egmont National Park.
  • Art, bars, gardens, festivals and museums await in New Plymouth.
  • Visit the Shakespeare themed town of Stratford.
  • See the best of Taranaki’s coast on the Coastal Walkway.
  • Roadtrip! The Surf Highway 45 is a must for beach bums, surfers and history buffs.
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Mt Taranaki and Egmont National Park

In the heart of Taranaki looms the magnificent volcanic cone: Mt Taranaki. It is a reminder of the Maori legend where Mt Taranaki was banished here after losing a battle with Mt Tongariro in the centre of the North Island.

Today, backpackers enjoy the recreational activities the mountain and national park has to offer, such as hiking, mountaineering and skiing. See our Egmont National Park – Guide for Backpackers for some ‘sweet as’ ideas.

Venture Taranaki

New Plymouth

A coastal town with a contemporary art fascination. Far from your dusty displays of ancient art galleries, the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery (reopening 2015) is a mix of the bizarre and inspiring modern art from the architecture to its exhibitions. The kinetic art of Len Lye can also be seen here, including the Wind Wand on the Coastal Walkway (see below). [Update: The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery / Len Lye Centre is now open]. Puke Ariki is another architectural marvel. It is a free library, visitor centre and museum for the cultural history of Taranaki. What’s more, all of the above is free.

From the big cultural attractions, to the underground scene. Pop-up galleries, gigs and free cultural events happen almost weekly in the cultural hub of New Plymouth. Keep up-to-date of live music gigs, usually with a pot luck dinner, on the Pop Up Gigs Network. (Get ideas for your pot luck dinner in our article: 5 Potluck Dinner Recipes for Backpackers). The Jetcharm Barber Shop is a quirky and unique space for a community gallery with a gallery event every first Thursday of the month at 6.30pm.

Breakwater Bay is the core for Taranaki activities for: fishing, charters and bike hire, helicopter tours of Mt Taranaki, and yachting. The bay itself is a good place to get some beach hours in. Fitzroy Beach is a renowned surf beach easily accessible from the city centre, while Back Beach is a 5-minute drive from town with more challenging waves.

Night owls should head down Devon Street for bars and clubs. It’s easy to find a variety of great eats too, especially with affordable lunchtime deals. On the other end of the scale, central New Plymouth has the peaceful Pukekura Park and Brooklands Park. If you visit in summer make sure to catch the Festival of Lights, 18 December 2016 – 5 February 2017. The natural amphitheatre music bowl in Brooklands Park, which is also magically lit up, is the perfect location for live onstage performances!

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Stratford

Around the other side of Mt Taranaki from New Plymouth is the Shakespeare obsessed Stratford. 27 of Shakespeare’s plays can be found on the street names around town. A large glockenspiel stands on Broadway. At 10am, 1pm, 3pm and 7pm Romeo and Juliet emerge on the balcony to do a 5 minute performance.

Stratford International Speedway races take place during summer (see our guide to the NZ seasons here). This is close circuit stockcar racing.

If you’re looking for something a little slower, a stroll in Victoria Park or King Edward Park or a swim in the heated pool complex are some other options.

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Coastal Walkway

Take in the coastal views of the Tasman Sea! This 11km journey goes past 2 surf beaches Fitzroy and East End. Stone carvings, kinetic art like the Wind Wand, and the Te Rewa Rewa bridge designed like a breaking wave or whale skeleton, also add flavour to this award-winning walkway.

Situated in New Plymouth, the Coastal Walkway is a very accessible track perfect for walking, wheelchairs, biking and skating.

[Update: The Coastal Walkway has been extended and is now 12.7km long].

Surfer on Taranaki Beach(1)

Surf Highway 45

Starting from New Plymouth to the north of Hawera, the 105km journey is the perfect road trip for surfers! It is worth stopping at the following beaches for surfing, swimming, fishing or a BBQ:

  • Ohawe
  • Kaupokonui
  • Opunake
  • Oakura
  • Back Beach

There are plenty of cafes for a coffee stop along the way. Another highlight of the trip includes the SS Gairlock wreck at the end of Timaru Road. Stop off at the Taranaki Thermal Spa if you are feeling weary from all the surfing.

Not detailed enough for you? We went all out on the highways here: The North Island Scenic State Highways.

If you have more time in Taranaki…

  • Got a car or a bike? Drive the round the mountain circuit in a day to connect with small communities, have access to the national park, abandoned dairy factories, museums and shops.
  • Walk among NZ wildlife at the Rotokare Scenic Reserve.
  • Visit the small town of Hawera and see the historic water tower.
  • See the mannequin-filled Nigel Ogle’s Tawhiti Museum for life-sized history. Check opening hours as they vary from season to season.
  • Stop into Inglewood to see various critters and the Wildlands Park.
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