We never did climb Mt Taranaki when we were on holiday in New Plymouth recently. It was the wrong time of year to see the rhododendrons in full bloom. And The Govett Brewster Art Gallery, by all accounts one of New Zealand’s most exciting, was closed for refurbishing. But nevertheless we had a most enjoyable time exploring the city and its surrounds for four days.
New Plymouth today is a far cry from the provincial backwater it used to be.
We arrived in the early evening and walked along the coastal walkway at dusk to view Len Lye’s Wind Wand. This immensely tall spindly sculpture is topped with a softly glowing red sphere. When it catches a coastal breeze it bends and sways with the wind.
From our motel, the Dawson, we could easily walk to Pukekura Park and Brooklands. How fantastic to have such a large green space so close to the city centre.
By the weekend the crowds would be arriving in the park for WOMAD music festival at the TSB bowl of Brooklands. It was already a hive of activity as workmen beavered away to build the sets.
We took a peaceful stroll through the forest and heard tui calling, in lesser numbers now than when the kowhai comes into full bloom. Then we climbed up some steps to view the vividly coloured display of orchids and other tropical plants in the Fernery and Display houses. A small collection of traditional Maori medicinal plants also caught my eye. Afterwards we stopped at the Tea House for a flat white and sat outside in a tranquil setting overlooking the lake.
One morning we took advantage of the free bikes at the Dawson Motel where we stayed and biked along the coastal walkway avoiding the dog walkers and the occasional wheelchair and mobility scooter. We cycled as far as Te Rewa Rewa Bridge which looks like the sun-bleached ribcage of a gigantic whale. From the other side of the bridge we looked back and had a good view of cloud covered Mt Taranaki framed through its arches.
At Fitzroy and Oakura Ocean beaches John strode manfully into the surf while I dipped my toes in at the water’s edge and found the water surprisingly warm.
Tupare, a beautiful garden overlooking the Waiwhakaia River on the outskirts of New Plymouth was an enjoyable walk, a little steep at times. Once covered in gorse, Sir Russell Mathews and his wife May spent a lifetime landscaping it. We stopped to admire what was once their family home designed by prominent architect James Chapman-Taylor. It was locked. But the gardener’s cottage was open. Here there were plenty of family stories and old photographs to peruse.
The Russells worked hard at landscaping their garden but they were also well known for their parties and singsongs around the piano. At one of these Sir Russell reputedly did a sword dance in his long-johns with the swords that hung above the mantelpiece.
For a provincial museum Puke Ariki holds a substantial collection. Here we learnt about the history of Taranaki Tangata Whenua as seen through their eyes. Heard the story of the last Taranaki kokako Tamanui (now deceased) and the quest to bring these rare native birds back to the region. And touched replica dinosaur footprints discovered in sandstone rocks, evidence that these creatures once walked in New Zealand.
We love being in the bush so we put on our hiking boots and headed for the Meeting of the Waters/Araheke Bush walk one morning. Once over the swing bridge we walked under a canopy of tall trees, totara, tawai and matai.It felt very peaceful to be there with only the occasional tui and the sound of the flowing waters of the Araheke stream breaking the silence.
At the end of our walk, still feeling energetic, we went for a short drive to the Nikau loop walk. We entered the forest through a small wooden gate. Then it was down rather a lot of steps, and several stream crossings before we arrived at a small waterfall. Then upwards again to complete the loop. The most memorable part of this walk was the profusion of Nikau palms.
Trip Advisor lists 119 places to eat in New Plymouth so we were spoilt for choice. The number of Chinese takeaways which also sell fish and chips were a blast from the past. At Blowfish there was a mini smorgasbord where for not much more than $10 you could fill a container full of old favourites like sweet and sour pork, fried rice, spring rolls, fried chicken and chop suey. The seafood marinara at Bella Vista Italian restaurant is also worth a mention.
All in all it was a great place for a holiday. We’re already making plans to go back for the WOMAD music festival next year.