Taranaki sits on the remains of three volcanic cones, with the most recognisable being the fabulously symmetrical Taranaki Maunga.
When Tom Cruise was shooting The Last Samurai here - partly due to the mountain’s resemblance to Mt Fuji - he was heard saying, “It’s absolutely stunning here, breath-taking. How could anyone not want to be here?”
Our photogenic region is also crammed with visitor attractions, green spaces and natural wonders and, whether you’re travelling with big kids or little ones, you’ll find plenty to do.
To get your bearings, start in the vibrant port city of New Plymouth. With views of the picture perfect coastline, explore the 12.7km Coastal Walkway. Stroll, run, rollerblade, scooter or cycle your way along the walkway which has many access points along the way. Don’t worry if you’ve not brought your bike, because you can hire them from Chaddy’s Charters or Cycle Inn.
Make your way from Pioneer Park at Port Taranaki in the west, past Len Lye’s Wind Wand, all the way to impressive Te Rewa Rewa Bridge and beyond. Te Rewa Rewa Bridge represents a breaking wave or some people see the skeleton of a whale. Keep your camera handy as there are numerous Taranaki Maunga photo ops along this route, including the chance to grab a perfectly framed maunga through the centre of Te Rewa Rewa Bridge.
Peak to Peak
From one peak to another, get some perspective and climb Paritutu Rock, part of the Sugar Loaf Islands that extend out to sea beyond the port. At 156m tall, it takes 20 minutes of vigorous climbing to reach the top where you’ll be rewarded with jaw-dropping panoramic views, including Taranaki Maunga, New Plymouth city, and the Taranaki coastline and bight. Or how about a race to the top of Hāwera’s 55m water tower? Admittedly there are 215 steps but the views from the top are worth the climb. Collect the key to access the water tower from the South Taranaki i-SITE at the tower's base.
Walks are understandably popular around these parts and, once you’ve viewed the striking peak of Taranaki Maunga from afar, you’ll definitely want a closer look. Kids are enchanted with the magical Goblin Forest on the Kamahi Loop Track. Set off from Dawson Falls Lodge – an excellent place to dine or stay a night or two – and walk for about 20 minutes until you reach the crystal clear waters of Wilkie’s Pools, sculpted by lava flow over 20,000 years ago. Along the way, you’ll be wowed by a symphony of greens from kamahi trees, mosses and ferns. In winter, Taranaki Maunga is also a special place to introduce kids to snow but be sure you’re properly prepared because mountain weather can be unpredictable. Another popular leg-stretcher is the 6km loop track that wends itself around the shores of Lake Mangamahoe, popular with mountain bikers, walkers and horse riders, the way is well signposted with thoughtful information panels.
In the heart of New Plymouth, the 52-hectare Pukekura Park is one of New Zealand’s best-loved botanical gardens and described as the jewel in New Plymouth’s crown. With its wide-open spaces, fountains, bridges, formal gardens, walking paths and playgrounds, there’s plenty to explore and discover, with many experiences for the kids. A special experience is row boating on the lake followed by a well-deserved ice cream at the historic Teahouse on the Lake.
The park is also home to the annual TSB Festival of Lights that sees the park lit up with stunning light installations and displays accompanied by a programme of free entertainment and activities.
Also in the grounds, Brooklands Zoo is home to everything from monkeys to parrots to reptiles and best of all, admission is free. Away from Pukekura Park, additional animal encounters can be had at Pouakai Zoo where lions, tigers, donkeys and gibbons all call the place home, as well as Stoney Oaks Wildlife Park where petting rabbits and grooming a llama are just some of the highlights.
Around the Maunga
For more fun in the great outdoors, Pukeiti Gardens on the lower slopes of northern Taranaki Maunga is like being transported to another world. Boasting phenomenal mountain-to-sea views and over 10,000 rhododendrons and azaleas growing in native forest, there are many trails to wander along. A real highlight for children is the Kids Treehouse Trail – grab an activity satchel from the Rainforest Centre and follow the instructions. The kids will be occupied for hours, then everyone can refuel at the Rainforest Eatery which operates each day (except Christmas Day) from late September to the end of February and then selected days for the rest of the year. Please check their opening hours.
Don’t let the fun stop there! Sleep above the treetops in the Pīwakakwaka Family Hut. Set to be a family favourite, and only a short one-hour walk from the Pukeiti entrance, this extremely accessible hut can sleep 12 people. Booking is essential and you can book online via the Taranaki Regional Council website.
Lighthouses have always lit up youthful imaginations, so a trip to Cape Egmont Lighthouse on the southern coast of Taranaki is essential. It looks like something from a storybook and, to keep those imaginations fizzing, stop by the wreck of the SS Gairloch, where remnants of the ship’s hull still protrude from the sand after it ran aground on a moonless night in 1903.
Discover the stories, history and culture at our numerous museums. Puke Ariki tells the stories of the Taranaki region using interactive media and hands-on exhibits to explore deeper. Conveniently you’ll find the i-SITE and library at Puke Ariki also.
A visit to Taranaki isn’t complete without experiencing the impressive Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre – a museum of contemporary art that’s also home to the Len Lye collection. Kids’ minds will be blown by the works of Lye, the renowned filmmaker and kinetic artist.
Head out to Hāwera, where Tawhiti Museum is considered the country’s top privately owned museum. Kids love to see the past revealed through the Traders & Whalers exhibit. There’s also a bush railway and an impressive underground canal boat ride, inclusive of firing cannons.
For more settler fun, Pioneer Village in Stratford is a lively outdoor heritage museum and on weekends they host ‘living village day’ where visitors dress up in their olden day finery and engage in old-school activities.
But don’t think for a minute it’s time to head home yet, because you’ve still got the Hillsborough Holden Museum and Bathurst themed mini-putt complete with café to visit.
Inglewood is only 15-minutes south of New Plymouth and is home to Fun Ho! Toy Museum. Once New Zealand’s biggest toy manufacturer with a staff of over 200, Fun Ho! opened in 1939 and you can still watch toys being made there today.
Indoor options for the whole family include Bowlarama, offering traditional ten pin bowling as well as an 18-hole black light mini putt course, and Decipher Escape Rooms and Escape Masters where you need to search for hidden clues to solve puzzles and escape before time runs out! If the sun is out, grab your togs and head down to the Todd Energy Aquatic Centre, located on New Plymouth’s coastline with indoor and outdoor pools for all, along with a hydro slide and spa pool. There’s something to keep everyone entertained.
And, when it’s time to grab a bite, dine in one of the friendly café’s and restaurants around the maunga, including buffets, American style dining, vegan cafes, pizzerias and so much more!
Surprise the kids by doing a playground tour of Taranaki as you’ll be spoilt for choice and the kids will have a great time whichever playground you go to.
In New Plymouth, the playground at Brooklands Zoo is a family favourite. Access to Brookands Zoo is free and there is easy parking just outside the gates. After the zoo, wander through Pukekura Park to a large playground where kids can crawl through tunnels, slide down a tubular slide, swing on the swings and so much more. Also staying within Pukekura Park you don’t have far to stroll to the playground at Rogan Street on the way to TSB Stadium.
Away from Pukekura Park there are many playgrounds along New Plymouth’s Coastal Walkway so wander or cycle along the Coastal Walkway to the playgrounds at Ngāmotu Beach, Kawaroa Park, the Wind Wand, East End Reserve and Fitzroy Seaside Park. Go that little bit further to Bell Block for a ride at the Bike Park and a play in the Hickford Park playground. Other playgrounds to enjoy around New Plymouth are at Sutherland Park, Wallace Place Reserve and Drake Street Reserve. In addition, Marine Park at Marine Parade in Waitara is right next to the Waitara River and beach so there is plenty to keep the kids busy!
Head out of New Plymouth and you will find playgrounds by the sea at Oakura, Ōpunake and Waverley and playgrounds amongst the trees at Hollard Gardens or Victoria Park in Stratford and King Edward Park in Hāwera.
Regardless of where you end up, the kids will be happy and tuckered out after enjoying some of our regions fabulous playgrounds!