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Some towns exude an air of confidence, as if their citizens share a secret that their town is the finest in the land. New Plymouth is a classic of this type, for this is a town with seemingly everything going for it – save for its location well off the beaten track. Parochial locals are probably the happier for this relative isolation, but for travelers it’s all too easy to pass it by. They shouldn’t. Its citizens are right to be smug: New Plymouth really is one of New Zealand’s sweetest small cities.
In fact the whole region boasts a multitude of charms. Mt Taranaki stands sentry over it, the near perfectly conical volcano peaking at 2518 metres. As you might expect, the people of Taranaki exhibit a deep affection for their mountain that defines the almost circular Egmont National Park. Getting on to the mountain is easy, via the North Egmont Visitor Centre at 936 metres above sea level and accessible from State Highway 3 between Stratford and New Plymouth. From the centre there are spectacular views, and numerous short walks along with the summit track, a hard but achievable day-tramp (8–10 hours) for fit people in good weather. There’s plenty to occupy you at the centre itself, including information displays, video presentation and a café.
New Plymouth itself boasts both an excellent museum and art gallery. Puke Ariki (www.pukeariki.com), is a stylish, modern museum offering a range of fascinating exhibitions and interactive learning activities – the children will love it. The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery (www.govettbrewster.com) is arguably the best provincial art gallery in New Zealand and presents a wide range of contemporary exhibitions as well as being home to the Len Lye collection. Never heard of him? That’s his Wind Wand waving around on the New Plymouth foreshore, and there are plenty more kinetic wibbly-wobblers where that came from!
For a romantic stroll or to wear out the children, you can’t beat Pukekura Park. It’s a stunner, with botanic displays, historic teahouse, playground, rowboats on the lake, and even a zoo. Try to visit in summer when the Festival of Lights transforms it into a night time wonderland.
These are just the tip of Taranaki’s mammoth iceberg of attractions, and you’ll need a good week to tick off the big ones. Thanks to a buoyant local economy built upon the oil and gas, and dairy industries, New Plymouth is lively all year round. Annual events include WOMAD, New Zealand’s most inclusive and family-friendly music festival held in Pukekura Park over three days in March, and the Taranaki Garden Spectacular at the end of October.
If you’re looking for affordable accommodation within walking distance of New Plymouth’s town centre, Belt Road Seaside Holiday Park offers this and more.
Perched on a hilltop right on the coast, this holiday park boasts ‘the best sea view in town’. But the views don’t stop there – it also overlooks the bustling Port Taranaki, with the striking forms of tower cranes, container stacks, the Lee Breakwater and Paritutu Rock. Out on the horizon are the Sugar Loaf Islands Marine Park that can be explored with the inimitable Chaddy onboard his restored English lifeboat. There are plenty of comings and goings here, from little pleasure boats to large container ships, making for a fascinating sight in the daytime. At night the vista transforms into a mesmerising display of lights – an unusual outlook from a holiday park and one that completely seduced us.
This is a roomy holiday park with great swathes of grass and some grand old pohutukawa trees. Those in touring vans and tents can avail themselves of spectacular cliff top sites or private nooks screened by low hedges. Built accommodation ranges from standard cabins (shared facilities, sleeps 2–4), to fully self-contained family units sleeping up to 7, most looking out to sea.
Belt Road has all the expected facilities including a barbecue area and playground. A short pathway leads down to the marina area where there are several dining options to choose from – a convenient option if you want a night off cooking duties.
With park-like grounds, terrific views, and the sound of waves crashing on the shore, Belt Road is a classic coastal campground with the convenience of being close to town. And the walk into the centre isn’t on just any old footpath – it’s a 15–20 minute stroll (1500 metres) along the lovely Coastal Walkway, well away from traffic.
We visit New Plymouth every year, and have still got many corners to explore. On the one hand it feels like ‘anytown’ – just a city working hard doing its thing. But then it starts revealing its secrets, and you realise that there’s a reason the locals have got that glint in their eye. Shhhhhhh…
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