12 Best Things to Do in New Plymouth, New Zealand
Set in between Mount Taranaki and the Tasman Sea, the small seaside city of New Plymouth is a delightful place to visit with a lot of tourist attractions. Surrounded by swathes of fertile farmland, it lies not far from incredible beaches, waterfalls and coastal scenes, with plenty of picturesque parks and gardens dotted around town.
While the Coastal Walkway and its fine views and nature spots certainly is one of the must things to do in New Plymouth, the port town also has a thriving arts and culture scene to explore. Aside from its handful of magnificent museums and art galleries, there are some excellent cafes and restaurants with numerous festivals, concerts and cultural events taking place during the year.
Although oft-overlooked by visitors to New Zealand, the North Island’s New Plymouth definitely merits a visit if you have the chance.
12. Wind Wand
One of New Plymouth’s most photographed landmarks, the whimsical Wind Wand lies along the Coastal Walkway, just a short stroll from the center. Towering 48 meters in height, the captivating kinetic sculpture makes for a striking sight as it waves about in the wind with Tasman Sea stretching away endlessly into the distance before it.
Designed by New Zealand artist Len Lye, the intriguing artwork was first unveiled in 2000 and has been a popular attraction ever since. Despite its frail look, the contraption is surprisingly sturdy and flexible with its long, red fiberglass tube able to bend up to twenty meters in any direction.
Due to the dramatic scenery surrounding it, the Wind Wand makes for some fine photos with the small, see-through sphere at its end being delightfully lit up at night.
Idyllic Tupare is often said to be one of the most beautiful and distinctive gardens in the country. Nestled alongside the Waiwhakaiho River on the outskirts of town, the pretty property boasts stunning landscapes, scenery and nature wherever you look.
Now owned and operated by the Taranaki Regional Council, the lovingly landscaped gardens were initially founded in 1932 by Sir Russell Matthews and his family. Over the decades, they carefully planted all kinds of colourful flowers, trees and shrubs and created scenic paths.
Hidden away amidst the azaleas and rhododendrons is a Tudor-style historic house with attractive orchards, glasshouses and even craggy cliff faces.
10. Te Rewa Rewa Bridge
At the mouth of the Waiwhakaiho River you can find yet another of the area’s iconic landmarks and utterly unique artworks: the Te Rewa Rewa Bridge. Thanks to its spectacular setting, shape and sightlines, the sparkling white structure attracts visitors to walk, run or cycle along the Coastal Walkway.
Since opening in 2010, the bridge has won numerous awards for both its innovative architecture and impressive engineering that sees it stretch 70 metres over the river. While its curving steel arches were designed to look like the skeleton of a whale or a breaking wave, the bridge’s flow and form also highlight the harmonious relationship between the land, sea and wind.
This is clear when you look back behind you after crossing and see snow-topped Mount Taranaki majestically framed by the structure of the bridge.
9. Back Beach
The perfect place to swim, surf or soak up some rays, breathtaking Back Beach can be reached in just ten minutes from the center. Located on the opposite side of town to Te Rewa Rewa Bridge, its rugged yet romantic shoreline overlooks prominent Paritutu Rock and the various isles of the Sugar Loaf Marine Park offshore.
Boasting perhaps the blackest sand in all New Zealand, the broad beach is backed by steep, foliage-coated cliffs with rocky outcrops, tidal pools and flotsam lining the shore. While some great surfing can be had atop its rough waves, swimming too can be enjoyed depending on its powerful riptide and weather conditions.
For the best views imaginable of the coast, make sure to head to the beach at either sunrise or sunset when everything is coated in the most magical yellows, reds and oranges.
8. Brooklands Zoo
Long a firm favorite with families, Brooklands Zoo is home to farmyard animals, reptiles and amphibians. Set just a couple of kilometers south of the center, its small aviary and spacious enclosures lie right next to the fabulous fauna and flora of Pukekura Park.
Officially opened to the public in 1965, the zoo now has all kinds of amazing animals and beautiful birds to check out with playgrounds and picnic areas also dotted about. While wandering around, you can expect to see everything from colorful tamarins and playful penguins to meerkats, squirrel monkeys and more, with innumerable insects and amphibians also on show.
At its farmyard barn you can also feed and stroke some of the zoo’s friendly residents.
7. Dawson Falls
Tucked away within the enormous Egmont National Park is another of the area’s arresting natural sights: the delightful Dawson Falls. Situated on the southern slopes of the massive Mount Taranaki stratovolcano, it lies in a very scenic and secluded spot, around an hour’s drive from New Plymouth.
Towering eighteen meters in height, the wonderful waterfall courses its way down a sheer cliff face before plunging into a picturesque pool below. Known as Te Rere o Noke to the Maori, the falls are surrounded by lush vegetation and the enchanting Goblin Forest.
Aside from snapping some photos and taking in all the superb scenery and views, visitors can hike around the park or visit the nearby historic power station and stay overnight in the Dawson Falls Mountain Lodge.
6. Pukeiti Gardens
A pleasant and peaceful place to stroll around, the internationally recognized Pukeiti Gardens can be found just north of Mount Taranaki and Egmont National Park. Located half an hour’s drive to the southwest of the city, it is famed for its huge collection of azaleas and rhododendrons, which are best viewed from September through to November.
Established in 1951, the gardens have grown considerably with pretty paths, flowerbeds and even sculptures now displayed amidst the steamy rainforest. In total, the sprawling site has over twenty kilometers of tantalizing trails and covered walkways to explore with atmospheric treehouses, a cozy cafe and informative visitor center also on offer.
Long one of New Plymouth’s most popular attractions, the masterfully manicured botanical gardens are sure to delight both nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike.
5. Puke Ariki
If you are interested in learning more about the history, culture and nature of the region then you definitely won’t want to miss the excellent Puke Ariki in the center of town. Meaning ‘hill of the chiefs’ in Maori, the former site of a fortified hilltop village now houses a brilliant museum, library and research center.
Opened in 2003, the modern museum contains an interesting collection of Maori artifacts, artworks and archaeological findings with photo displays and exhibits also on show. These look at everything from local wildlife and geology to Maori customs and culture, and the lives of early settlers to the area. Particularly impressive are the museum’s amazing carvings and sculptures while a huge shark hangs above the lobby in the entrance hall.
4. Govett-Brewster Art Gallery
As it is widely considered to be one of the best regional art galleries in New Zealand, the exquisite Govett-Brewster Art Gallery is certainly well worth checking out when in town. Set just around the corner from Puke Ariki, it boasts captivating contemporary works with exciting exhibitions, performances and festivals all regularly taking place.
While the main part of the museum was first opened to the public in 1970, it is its new wing – the Len Lye Centre – that showcases the most eye-catching architecture. Dedicated to the New Zealand native, its shimmering mirror-like facade makes for quite the sight with yet more incredible kinetic creations to be found within.
With so many utterly unique paintings, photos and video installations on display, it is no wonder that the gallery is the highlight of many people’s visit to New Plymouth.
3. Mount Taranaki
Dominating the city’s skyline and surroundings is the massive and majestic Mount Taranaki that rises dramatically to the south. Often compared to Mount Fuji due to its symmetrical shape and snow-covered cone, the hulking great stratovolcano offers all kinds of fun outdoor activities with scenery and views wherever you go.
Now protected as part of Egmont National Park, the iconic mount reaches 2,518 meters in height with its sweeping slopes being home to diverse ecosystems. Epic hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing can be enjoyed along its countless trails in summer, while wintertime is perfect for skiing and snowboarding.
As its wonderful wilderness, waterfalls and wildlife lie only an hour’s drive from New Plymouth, locals and tourists alike head to the mountain to relax, unwind and enjoy nature.
2. New Plymouth Coastal Walkway
When visiting town, no trip can be complete without going for a walk, run or cycle ride along the picturesque New Plymouth Coastal Walkway. Stretching almost thirteen kilometers in length, it meanders its way alongside the Tasman Sea with pristine nature spots, enticing attractions and fantastic viewpoints the whole way along.
While the first parts of the paved path were completed in 1999, subsequent extensions have seen it reach from Port Taranaki in the west right to Bell Block in the east.
Aside from basking in the beautiful views over the coast and sea, visitors can also stop off at striking sights such as the Te Rewa Rewa Bridge and Wind Wand along the rambling route.
1. Pukekura Park
Just a short walk south of the center is yet another gorgeous garden and outdoor space that you don’t want to miss when in New Plymouth: Pukekura Park. Sprawled across a huge site, it contains a range of different landscapes with lovely lakes and formal gardens set next to twinkling streams and lush tracts of rainforest.
Now a ‘Garden of National Significance’, it is hard to imagine that Pukekura Park was once a murky swamp. Since being established in 1876, however, it has transformed completely with playgrounds, display houses and a historic band rotunda now tucked away amidst its verdant vegetation.
Besides exploring its trails and taking in the magnificent flora, you can go rowing out on the lake or stop off for a coffee at its charming Tea House. In addition, the park also hosts festivals and sporting events with its TSB Festival of Lights being the most magical of the lot.