Antony Rhodes finds that New Plymouth is full of hip eateries, cool accommodation and interesting shops.
NNew Plymouth’s Devon Street is, a local shopkeeper assured me, the longest main drag in the southern hemisphere. It’s also about the only thing I recall from my last visit to Taranaki but driving into the city for a long overdue weekend getaway, I got the sense that things had changed, a lot.
On Devon Street we pass signs pointing to surf beaches and walkways - filed for future reference - a healthy dose of good street art livening up any blank spaces, galleries and design shops, and countless great-looking busy restaurants.
Our destination was a very shiny addition to Devon Street, and the catalyst for the city’s burgeoning ‘west end’: A collection of hip eateries, cool accommodation and interesting shops geographically clustered around the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery.
The gallery has been exhibiting contemporary art since 1970, and in July last year opened a huge extension to enable it to better show the works of New Zealand’s most famous international artist Len Lye (1901-1980).
Lye left his life’s work in trust for display in a purpose-built facility, and this stunning building is it. It’s so impressive that even on a Friday evening we encountered people standing on the street getting the perfect photo of it. We’d have plenty of opportunities to grab a photo: Our accommodation for the weekend was straight across the road.
The King and Queen Hotel Suites opened in 2013 and recently expanded to offer 28 luxuriously appointed rooms. From the moment you enter the reception you know it’s out of the ordinary, a fact confirmed by manager Daniel Fleming, who runs us through our room’s origins. Most of the furniture was imported from Morocco, the coffee hails from the roastery downstairs, and the heavenly aroma in the lobby is from a candle from the boutique next door. Our room reflected this independent spirit, and was a wonderfully cosy retreat with views out to the sea.
The hotel overlooks a couple of Europeanstyle courtyards, and in one of them we discovered the aptly named Snug Lounge, where an obligatory welcome drink quickly extended to dinner within the stunningly modernised White Hart hotel.
The following morning we set off to explore the neighbourhood, starting with a fresh coffee at Ozone Coffee Roasters, in the other of the hotel’s courtyards. The coffee was excellent, and was quickly followed by a booking on their home brewing masterclass that afternoon, in the hopes of taking the skills home. They take their coffee seriously here – so much so that they’ve set up shop in London.
From there it was time to head to the gallery, though not before stopping to get our own photographs of the truly stunning architecture. The commitment to great design is continued in the curved wall inside, though this time in a very tactile concrete finish with small windows tucked behind the curves letting light in and offering reflected glimpses outside and a hide and seek playground for kids.
The ramp leads us to a collection of Len Lye’s ‘Fountain’ works, a forest of metal rods that spin gently, waving and crashing. The shadows and reflections they cast on the walls are almost as mesmerising as the artworks themselves.
We then encounter ‘Emanations’, a global exhibition of cameraless photography, in which we quickly discover Len Lye was a
pioneer. His photos of artists, architects and writers are joined by artworks from collections around the world. It’s a surprisingly fascinating exhibition which we follow into the earlier part of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, and wrap up our visit with a screening in the gallery’s incredibly cool new cinema, featuring films which Len Lye drew, painted and scratched directly onto the film. What couldn’t this man do? Buzzing from our brush with contemporary art, we head back to the courtyard across the road for a late lunch at Public Catering, a recent addition to New Plymouth’s café culture with a fabulous selection of baked goods then to the other courtyard for the Ozone coffee brewing workshop. Suitably caffeinated, we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the shops of New Plymouth’s west end, notably the gallery nestled above the cool Jetcharm Barbers, Kina art and design gallery, fantastic homewares at Plantation Design and super-stylish Et Vous boutique, for our own beautifully scented candle. We were surprised at what was on offer, all within the neighbourhood. Dinner was at the gallery’s swish Monica’s Eatery, a nod to Monica Brewster (nee Govett) who left her fortune to establish the gallery and its contemporary art collection. Both atmosphere and food are as good as you’d expect alongside a world-class gallery, and the wood-fired oven imbues a delicious flavour to our Italian-inspired meals. On Sunday morning, we commandeered the King & Queen’s bikes and hit New Plymouth’s 13km Coastal Walkway, which was teeming with people and included coffee stops Paris Plage at East End beach and The Kiosk overlooking the surf at Fitzroy. We made it to the interesting Te Rewa Rewa Bridge, and were afforded the postcard photo through the bridge to the mountain, though the cycle park further on would have to wait until our next visit. Reluctantly, we returned to the hotel and hit the road - though not before one last coffee. Everything else this surprisingly cool city and its surrounding region has to offer will have to wait for the next visit, which, based on our experience this weekend, won’t be too far away. Caption Home brew with a difference a the Ozone Coffee Roasters workshop.
Image: Patrick Reynolds