Top 10 things to do in Taranaki, New Zealand

Planning a holiday in and around New Plymouth?

Here are some hot tips for the best Taranaki attractions and activities.

1. Hike the Pouākai Crossing, Taranaki Maunga

Included as a separate part of the multi-day Pouākai Circuit, the Pouākai Crossing track is a 19km, eight-hour hike, known to be one of New Zealand's best one-day walks. The track leads through a series of untouched landscapes on the upper slopes of Taranaki Maunga. Highlights include lush native forest, lava cliffs, wetlands, and a small mountain lake or tarn that perfectly reflects the mountain peak. Normally a summer walk, a good level of fitness and appropriate gear for the changeable mountain conditions are a must. For the ultimate experience, book a knowledgeable and experienced mountaineer guide from Top Guides New Plymouth.

2. Gaze in wonder at the Len Lye Centre

Linking seamlessly with the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, the architecturally stunning Len Lye Centre is rated one of the top places to visit in Taranaki. It showcases fascinating and whimsical works by Len Lye, a renowned New Zealand kinetic sculptor and pioneering film artist. The artist's entire collection of around 18,000 items is held by the Govett-Brewster and the New Zealand Film Archive, allowing exhibitions to change every few months. These cleverly curated experiences sometimes include works by other leading artists. Prepare to be amused, entertained, and enlightened as you explore this internationally recognised gallery in the heart of New Plymouth's arts district.

3. Find your perfect walk at North Egmont Visitor Centre

There's a great visitor centre on the northern slopes of Taranaki Maunga, with spectacular views, a popular café, and extensive information panels. From here you can choose a walk to suit your fitness level and available time. These popular walks range from short forest loop tracks to steep and challenging summer day climbs, such as the Summit Track. The weather on the mountain is changeable, so plan ahead, dress appropriately, and check with the staff at the visitor centre before setting off.

4. Explore the Forgotten World Highway

Built on a colonial horse track, the Forgotten World Highway (SH 43) travels 148km from Stratford to Taumarunui. It passes through several quaint towns, including Whangamōmona, a self-proclaimed republic famous for its historic hotel. Other highlights include views from the Whangamōnoma Saddle, the narrow Moki Tunnel, an optional detour to Mount Damper Falls and a stop at Lauren's Lavender Farm, open from October to May.

5. Explore Pukeiti forest and rhododendron gardens

One of several highly regarded Taranaki gardens, Pukeiti lies on the lower northern slopes of Taranaki Maunga. Here you'll discover more than 10,000 rhododendrons and azaleas growing in native forest. Garden trails range from 40 minutes to two hours and there's a fun treehouse trail for kids. Sleep above the treetops at the bookable hut-style accommodation, Pīwakawaka Family Hut. Beyond the garden, you'll find well-marked rainforest day hikes that lead to massive mountain-to-sea views. Close to the carpark, the Pukeiti visitor centre includes a popular café overlooking the gardens.

6. Discover the history of Taranaki at Tawhiti Museum, Hāwera

This award-winning, privately owned museum is home to thousands of super-realistic scale models and life-size displays that bring to life much of the area's history. The Traders and Whalers experience is an absolute must-do; board a small vessel and drift into the dark, before being transported back in time to witness a snapshot of what things would have been like in Taranaki between 1820-40. Rated as one of the top things to do in South Taranaki for visitors of all ages, Tawhiti Museum is open Friday to Monday from September to May and on Sundays from June to August.

7. Browse creative collections in arty shops

All around Taranaki, you'll find shops and galleries that'll make you want to stop and browse, spanning all kinds of collections - art and art objects, clothing, accessories, and homewares. In New Plymouth, be sure to check out Plantation Design Store, The Collaboration, Kina NZ Design + Art Space, and the shop at Puke Ariki Museum. For South Taranaki, the Emporium in Ōpunake offers all kinds of artisan delights. If you need outdoor clothing for a hike in the national park, Macpac and Kathmandu are ready to help.

8. Tour Surf Highway 45

The Taranaki coastline gently curves through a near perfect semi-circle, ensuring there will always be a surf spot that's pumping. By following the 105km Surf Highway 45, you can trace the coastline south from New Plymouth to Hāwera. Short side roads lead to black-sand beaches and legendary Taranaki surf spots with names such as Graveyard, Kumara Patch, and Dump. It's a particularly scenic drive with quaint towns, boutique galleries, and great cafés to explore along the way.

9. Enjoy Pukekura Park and the Bowl of Brooklands

Right in the heart of New Plymouth, this 52-hectare park is one of New Zealand's top botanical gardens. Here you'll discover fountains, lakes with bridges, open lawns, walking trails, formal gardens, a fernery, and a great collection of native and exotic plants. There's also a lakeside tea house and three playgrounds for children. From mid-December to late January, Pukekura Park hosts the TSB Festival of Lights. In March the park's large outdoor stage, the Bowl of Brooklands, is the focal point for WOMAD, an internationally renowned three-day music festival, and there's most likely a great headline act or two featuring throughout summer as well.

10. Stroll or bike New Plymouth's coastal walkway

From Port Taranaki, a 12.7km award-winning coastal walkway leads all the way east to Bell Block Beach, with numerous entry points along the way. You can walk, run, skate, bike, or e-scooter this smooth promenade to enjoy wonderful views of the ocean, coastline, and farmland. The striking Te Rewa Rewa Bridge is an Instagrammable highlight - resembling a huge breaking wave or whale skeleton, it extends for 83m across the Waiwhakaiho River near Lake Rotomanu. The coastal walkway is one of the easiest Taranaki walks and a highlight among the many free things to do in Taranaki.

Keep exploring New Plymouth

Mt Taranaki image courtesy of Jeremy Beckers; Surfer image courtesy of Rob Tucker; Pukekura Park image courtesy of Mark Harris; WOMAD Global Village image courtesy of Federico Pagola