Go Travel New Zealand - - Contents - By Si­mon­ette Alder

Afew months later a long week­end es­cape was on the cards, so we piled the fam­ily - hus­band, three year old and seven year old into the car, and headed north to­wards the re­gion that de­scribes it­self as ‘like no other’ to see just how far it had come since my last visit over a decade ago.

Head­ing for New Ply­mouth, our first stop in the re­gion is the very unique Tawhiti Mu­seum, just out of Haw­era. The creation of lo­cal artist Nigel Ogle and his fam­ily, the mu­seum il­lus­trates the area’s his­tory through an ar­ray of vin­tage ma­chin­ery and arte­facts, which are joined by hun­dreds of scale and life-sized mod­els of lo­cal Maori, colo­nial and pi­o­neer­ing his­tory. And while it was a tough job get­ting the fam­ily out of the mu­seum to the ad­join­ing Traders and Whalers ex­hibit, once they were there their jaws re­ally dropped as they en­tered a se­ries of un­der­ground lakes to sail through his­tory in a boat ride that was about as far from what we’d ex­pected to find as pos­si­ble.

Back in the car, we hit Surf High­way 45 - the stretch of road that spans Taranaki’s coast­line – and passed count­less surf breaks and even more cars laden with surf­boards, be­fore stop­ping at the seaside vil­lage of Oakura for a cof­fee and then ven­tur­ing through the eclec­tic mix of stress-free baches and mil­lion-dol­lar beach houses to stretch our legs on the black-sand beach.

The chatty barista ran me through how the once-quiet surfer’s com­mu­nity was trans­formed by the

ar­rival of Tom Cruise, Billy Con­nolly and a Hollywood film crew in 2003 when block­buster The Last Samu­rai was filmed, and sug­gests I re­turn to ex­plore the Oakura Arts Trail – it turns out this small beachy vil­lage is a hive of artists and a dozen of their stu­dios are open for view­ing.

When we ar­rive in New Ply­mouth, my seven year old begs us to be taken to the sprawl­ing Pukekura Park in the cen­tre of town. My sur­prise that he’s sud­denly taken an in­ter­est in gar­dens is tem­pered by the dis­cov­ery that his dad has been telling him about the brand new play­ground and next-door Brook­lands Zoo.

For­tu­nately both play­ground and park ex­ceed ex­pec­ta­tions and of­fer some­thing for the whole fam­ily. The free zoo fea­tures farm­yard an­i­mals, ot­ters, meerkats, a walk-through bird aviary and, to my three year old’s ex­cite­ment, ca­puchin and cot­ton­top tamarin monkeys. We all en­joy walk­ing through Pukekura Park too – I can’t help but wish that my own town plan­ners thought to put an ex­pan­sive park with a gor­geous lake in the cen­tre of my home city too!

On our sec­ond day in the re­gion we dis­cover that fresh snow has fallen on Mount Taranaki. While the fam­ily head up to the North Eg­mont Vis­i­tor Cen­tre to play in the snow for the morn­ing – the kid’s first ex­pe­ri­ence of real snow, and only half an hour from New Ply­mouth - I de­cide to check out the city’s shops.

Ex­pect­ing a small town shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence, I am sur­prised by what I find in New Ply­mouth. The main drag Devon Street of­fers a great se­lec­tion of in­ter­est­ing cloth­ing, home­ware and art stores that take my fancy, punc­tu­ated with more cafes than I’d ex­pected, with each of­fer­ing a fan­tas­tic ar­ray of home-baked treats and lo­cally-roasted cof­fee. I’m in heaven.

I re-join the fam­ily for lunch at Chaos café in New Ply­mouth’s CBD, where ex­cited tales of snow­ball fights are in­ter­spersed with pe­ri­ods of si­lence as the pro­vin­cial stereo­type of farm­ers’ por­tions is found to be alive and well. My hus­band is also busy plot­ting a re­turn with his mates to tackle the lo­cal tra­di­tion of go­ing ski­ing and surf­ing on the same day, with a de­cent café stop in be­tween.

From the café, we dis­cover more of the re­gion’s his­tory at the im­pres­sive Puke Ariki mu­seum and li­brary com­plex on the city’s water­front, be­fore cross­ing the road to New Ply­mouth’s Coastal Walk­way to walk off lunch.

The first thing that you see on this beau­ti­ful 11km board­walk is the 45 me­tre tall Wind Wand sculp­ture, de­signed by il­lus­tri­ous artist Len Lye. The ki­netic sculp­ture, which like much of Lye’s work con­stantly moves, has be­come an icon for New Ply­mouth, to the point where a huge Len Lye Cen­tre due to open as a part of city’s Govett-Brew­ster Art Gallery in mid-2015, prompt­ing us to di­ary yet an­other re­turn visit.

Strolling down the Coastal Walk­way, I am sur­prised again by the num­ber of peo­ple out and about. This com­mu­nity is cer­tainly hum­ming - even on an over­cast Sun­day af­ter­noon ev­ery­one is out jog­ging, walk­ing dogs, riding bikes with the kids or skate­board­ing – a very so­cial way to spend the af­ter­noon. The kids are pleas­antly dis­tracted by a cou­ple of play­grounds along the way, while we take note of the grand houses that have un­der­stand­ably be­gun to line

the route.

On Mon­day, we plot our fat-toosoon exit from the re­gion, stop­ping at yet an­other café – this time the fab­u­lously retro Fed­eral Store – for an­other lav­ish break­fast be­fore head­ing a cou­ple of min­utes up the road to one of the re­gion’s fa­mous gar­dens.

Te Kainga Marire is Maori for ‘the peace­ful en­camp­ment’ and is the re­sult of a breath tak­ing trans­for­ma­tion of an in­ner-city quar­ter­acre sec­tion into one of a hand­ful of New Zealand gar­dens to have been judged to be of in­ter­na­tional sig­nif­i­cance. As the gar­den’s cre­ator Valda Po­letti leads us on a pas­sion­ate tour of the gar­den, telling us of its hum­ble be­gin­nings as a col­lec­tion of clay and weeds and her life-long hunt for unique and in­ter­est­ing na­tive plants, grasses and more. The kids are trans­fixed by the tui and wood pi­geons who ap­par­ently call the gar­den home, and I left full of in­spi­ra­tion about how to re­de­velop our hum­ble vege gar­den and the hus­band full of ideas about where to build the pizza oven.

Valda in­vited us in for tea made from in­gre­di­ents in the gar­den, but we in­stead hit the road, bid­ding adieu to New Ply­mouth to head home via the For­got­ten World High­way and the repub­lic of Whang­amomona.

The high­way, which heads away from the ever-pre­sent Mount Taranaki at Strat­ford, fol­lows old Maori trade routes and pi­o­neer­ing farm tracks through some spec­tac­u­lar coun­try­side. Pass­ing through his­toric set­tle­ments and un­touched bush it’s easy to see why it’s a favourite with in­ter­na­tional visi­tors, and you al­most ex­pect to come across a horse and cart laden with milk around the next corner.

Just as the cho­rus of ‘are we there yet’ be­gins to rise from the back seat we round a corner and reach Whang­amomona, a her­itage-rated vil­lage home to around 30 res­i­dents these days, though once far more bustling. We take a walk and ex­plore the old build­ings, stop­ping to talk with the lo­cals who is tin­ker­ing with a golf cart with rail­way wheels – a tourism at­trac­tion on the dis­used rail­way line be­tween Strat­ford and Tau­marunui which has seen a re­ver­sal in the town’s for­tunes.

Un­happy with lo­cal govern­ment ma­noeu­vring, Whang­amomona de­clared it­self a repub­lic in 1989, and cel­e­brates with a hugely pop­u­lar Repub­lic Day and pres­i­den­tial elec­tion ev­ery two years in Jan­uary. As we grav­i­tate to­wards the iconic pub in the cen­tre of town to get our Whang­amomona Pass­ports stamped, and delve into the lo­cal his­tory dis­played on the pub’s walls, the kids are shocked to dis­cover that the vil­lage’s pres­i­dents have in­cluded a goat and a poo­dle, who was ap­par­ently forced to re­tire from the po­si­tion af­ter an as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt left him a ner­vous wreck.

Lunch at the Whang­amomona Ho­tel is typ­i­cally hearty, and shared with tourists, mem­bers of a clas­sic car club and a ly­cra-clad cou­ple who are trav­el­ling the 180km For­got­ten World Cy­cle­way by bike. While that may sound like a cu­ri­ous mix for a Mon­day morn­ing in the mid­dle of nowhere, and must pro­vide end­less en­joy­ment for the lo­cals who I can’t help but join in their en­thu­si­asm for the town.

From there we re­turn to Strat­ford and head home hav­ing cir­cum­nav­i­gated and scaled Mount Taranaki’s per­fect peak.

I once read that the things you re­mem­ber most about a hol­i­day are the things you least ex­pected to see, and in the case of our whirl­wind visit to Taranaki and its rich mix of ac­tiv­i­ties, beau­ti­ful land­scapes and friendly peo­ple, I’ll be re­mem­ber­ing this long week­end for a long time – or at least un­til our next and longer visit.

Moun­tain view from near Eltham

Taranaki black sand beach

Pukekura Park

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