Toast of Taranaki

Head to the North Is­land’s west coast for out­doors fun aplenty

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - JANE NI­CHOLLS

FES­TI­VAL FUN: New Ply­mouth is fes­tooned in fes­ti­vals, in­clud­ing the world mu­sic fes­ti­val W WOMAD (March), the Fes­ti­val of Lights (De­cem­ber-Fe­bru­ary) and the Taranaki Gar­den Fes­ti­val, blooming in Oc­to­ber. All are big-city qual­ity, mi­nus the crush. The Fes­ti­val of Lights sees us wan­der­ing around the trail of light in­stal­la­tions deep in the city’s 52ha Pukekura Park at night. It doesn’t hold a can­dle to Syd­ney’s blaz­ing light fes­ti­val, Vivid, but it’s a sweet and easy evening. Even the queue for the most pop­u­lar at­trac­tion — tak­ing row­boats out on the main lake and un­der the light-cur­tained Poet’s Bridge — is only about 20 min­utes, but too long for a lo­cal youth who jumps the fence and takes a boat for a joy pad­dle. More: womad.co.nz; fes­ti­val­oflights.nz; gar­den­festnz.co.nz.

CUL­TURE CLUB: Some joke that New Zealand’s 4.6 mil­lion res­i­dents are out­num­bered by 2 27.6 mil­lion sheep, but Ki­wis also en­joy a dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of bril­liant mu­se­ums. One of them is New Ply­mouth’s Puke Ariki, which ups the ante with a li­brary and in­for­ma­tion cen­tre all in one, mak­ing it a sen­si­ble start­ing point. We find arte­facts and sto­ries from the Taranaki district’s Maori peo­ple and lo­cal re­search projects, in­clud­ing a col­lec­tion of juicy his­tor­i­cal scan­dals. Young kids will love the bugs and fos­sils col­lec­tions, and the sus­pended replica of Car­char­o­don mega­lodon, a gi­ant ex­tinct shark. Staff are friendly, in­clud­ing at the cafe Ar­bo­rio (mush­rooms with feta and rocket pesto for me, thanks), where the cof­fee is top­notch. More: pukeariki.com; ar­bo­rio.co.nz.

SEAS BREEZE: The Coastal Walk­way runs just shy of 13km, al­most the com­plete length of the city. It should re­ally be called a path­way, be­cause part of its pur­pose is to get lo­cals bik­ing about. New Ply­mouth is one of the coun­try’s two walk­ing and cy­cling model com­mu­ni­ties and also prides it­self on be­ing among New Zealand’s most ac­ces­si­ble cities. Com­pli­men­tary mo­bil­ity scoot­ers can be bor­rowed from the Todd En­ergy Aquatic Cen­tre (just leave your keys or driver’s li­cence as se­cu­rity). Whether you walk, bike or scooter, sit for a while and watch kite surfers per­form­ing death-de­fy­ing ac­ro­bat­ics off East End Beach. It’s ter­ri­fy­ing and mes­meris­ing. More: new­ply­mouthnz.com.

LIFEBOAT AHOY: David Chad­field, aka Happy Chaddy, prom­ises to “do any­thing to make you smile” when he takes you out in his old English lifeboat (a Liver­pool-class C, for you old salts). Chaddy has a life­time of sto­ries, the gift of the gab and a boat­shed crammed with mem­o­ra­bilia from his days as a pro­fes­sional boxer and shark fish­er­man. Once you get out of the har­bour, the lifeboat rocks and rolls as it heads to the seal colony on Sugar Leaf Is­land and Chaddy checks on lob­ster pots, point­ing out var­i­ous seabirds. Chaddy’s Char­ters isn’t a luxe ex­pe­ri­ence but it’s great value and rol­lick­ing good fun. More: chad­dyschar­ters.co.nz.

PUB­LIC OF­FER­INGS: Art that boosts a land­scape or ur­ban street is worth slow­ing down to ad­mire. New Ply­mouth’s civic art jour­ney be­gan with the 2001 in­stal­la­tion of the 45m-long Wind Wand, the cre­ation of New Zealand-born Len Lye (see No 6). It’s be­come a beloved land­mark and in March was joined by Wav­ing Wands, six hyp­not­i­cally hula-ing fi­bre­glass “wands” spring­ing from a hillock up the other end of the Coastal Walk­way. It’s lit at night and the ef­fect is quite mag­i­cal. (The sculp­ture pre­vi­ously whizzed about atop the Pulitzer Mu­seum in New York.) The Te Rewa Rewa Bridge blends art and util­ity (to cross the Wai­whakaiho River) with its bright white whale-skele­ton lines. Po­si­tion your­self ex­actly to use the “bones” to frame Mount Taranaki. More: art­in­pub­licnp.org.nz/art-works/.

A MOV­ING LEGACY: Christchurch-born Len Lye (1901-1980) was the epit­ome of a self-made man or, as one friend noted, “the least bor­ing per­son who ever ex­isted”. He worked in film in pre-war Lon­don and was later a big name in New York’s avant-garde art scene. He es­sen­tially in­vented ki­netic sculp­ture, the art form for which he’s best known, but he was also a writer and poet, knock­ing around with the likes of Dy­lan Thomas and Robert Graves. The Govett-Brew­ster Art Gallery staged an ex­hi­bi­tion of Lye’s ki­netic sculp­tures in 1977, which led him to set up a trust, shortly be­fore his death, to bring his works to New Ply­mouth. The ar­chi­tec­turally eye-pop­ping com­bined art gallery opened in 2015. More: gov­et­tbrew­ster.com/len-lye/.

PETROL OR PEDAL: You can eas­ily fly to New Ply­mouth (about one hour from Welling­ton) but why not drive, as what­ever route you take is pre­pos­ter­ously scenic and lib­er­ally sprin­kled with his­tor­i­cal cu­riosi­ties and art gal­leries. A de­tour to re­mem­ber would be via the 155km For­got­ten World High­way. It’s the coun­try’s old­est her­itage trail and in­cludes the 180mlong sin­gle-lane Moki Tun­nel, built in 1936. That high­way is also part of the Tau­marunui to New Ply­mouth bike route if you’re so in­clined (there’s a topo­graph­i­cal clue there). There are bikes for vis­i­tors to rent all around Taranaki if you’re with­out wheels. More: taranaki.info.

T TRAMP­ING ALL OVER: The moun­tain formerly known as Eg­mont, the re­gion’s iconic, Fu­jiesque land­scape bea­con that last erupted in 1755, is now Mount Taranaki. On the drive to the plateau car park, lush rain­for­est gives way to alpine veg­e­ta­tion and there’s a spec­tac­u­lar view from the look­out. We only have time for part of the En­chanted Track, but there are more than 200km of tracks to ex­plore, some ac­ces­si­ble to wheel­chairs and there­fore prams. Ex­pert guided tours are avail­able for even half-day walks and well worth con­sid­er­ing. (And don’t be put off by that word tramp­ing; it’s NZ-speak for bush­walk­ing.) More: taranaki.info; topguides.co.nz.

THET PLOTS THICKEN: Three gar­dens make up Taranaki’s re­gional gar­dens, in­clud­ing Tu­pare, which is clos­est to the city. Half an hour’s drive away is one of the world’s great rhodo­den­dron col­lec­tions at Puketi. On the other side of Mount Taranaki, Hol­lard Gar­dens is a to­tal de­light. Even non-gar­den­ers such as me find much to ad­mire in th­ese world-fa­mous, lov­ingly cre­ated es­tates. Clever signs tell a gen­tle story of dairy farmer and pas­sion­ate gar­dener Bernie and his wife Rose, with two oc­ca­sion­ally in­ter­twin­ing trails named for the cou­ple (this tick­les our fam­ily as my hus­band is Bernie and one of our daugh­ters is Rosie). The new­ly­wed Rose was lonely when they set up home there in 1942, but as the gar­den’s rep­u­ta­tion spread, vis­i­tors be­came friends and in time bus­loads were ar­riv­ing. Bernie’s sign proudly tells us Rose’s “Sun­day af­ter­noon teas with a trol­ley laden with home bak­ing were leg­endary”. There’s an imag­i­na­tion-filled kids’ play­ground and a spick and span bar­be­cue gazebo. All the coun­cil-run re­gional gar­dens are free, or you can book a paid guided tour. More: trc.govt.nz/gar­dens. LIGHTS FAN­TAS­TIC: I wish ev­ery ho­tel gue­stroom de­signer would adopt the hu­mane ap­proach to light­ing that we find at the Novo­tel New Ply­mouth Hob­son (pic­tured), which opened in late 2015 and oc­cu­pies a charmed spot be­tween re­gional friend­li­ness and slick mod­ern. Power points have USB ports and by the bed is a con­trol panel on which func­tions are clearly la­belled, in­clud­ing LIGHTS OFF, a rare ho­tel kind­ness. Our ex­ec­u­tive gue­stroom with two queen beds pro­vides plenty of space for us and two chil­dren. In the Gov­er­nors Eatery (lack of apos­tro­phe not­with­stand­ing), food from the in­tel­li­gent, small menu is proudly lo­cal and ex­cel­lent. Bikes are com­pli­men­tary for guests, so you’re out of ex­cuses not to cy­cle. More: novo­tel.com; newzealand.com.

Hik­ers near Mount Taranaki, top; the Fes­ti­val of Lights at Pukekura Park, above left; Len Lye Cen­tre at the Govett-Brew­ster Art Gallery, above right; red jockey cap lily in Hol­lard Gar­dens, be­low; Chaddy’s lifeboat tour, bot­tom

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