If you ask most Kiwis about New Plymouth, chances are you’ll end up with directions to Palmerston North, or a vague answer concerning cows and a mountain. Sometimes, being off the beaten track is tough. Being off the beaten track in New Zealand can be even tougher.
But for New Plymouth, being tucked away has its advantages. For years its guarded secret surf spots, stunning scenery and an abundance of beautifully manicured paths and walkways. Add to these a thriving local economy, rich artistic culture, and some of the best coffee you’ll find this side of the Tasman, and it’s easy to see why New Plymouth is fast becoming a destination in its own right.
Although New Plymouth has a lot on offer, the key to getting those Insta-worthy holiday snaps is in knowing exactly where to go – while none of these spots are secret, there’s so many places to choose from that sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming. So here I present a carefully curated list of the:
Top Five Places You Must Visit In New Plymouth.
Back Beach & Paritutu Rock
To the south west of New Plymouth stands Paritutu Rock, the remains of an old volcano that, at 154m high, provides some of the best views of New Plymouth available on foot. A fifteen minute walk to the top is broken into sections of stairs, gravel pathways, and niches & footholds carved into the rock itself. Not for the faint hearted, Paritutu is best suited to those with a medium level of fitness and who lack a fear of heights. Be sure to take your camera for sweeping panoramas of New Plymouth city and the rugged coastline extending to the south.
After you strenuous climb, why not cool off with a dip at one of New Plymouth’s best surf spots, Back Beach. Wander slowly down the stairs at the carpark off Centennial Drive, or take a tumble down the huge sand dune at the bottom of Paritutu Rock. The smooth black sand beach is stunning, and at low tide you can explore rock pools and marine habitats on the rocky outcrops along the beach.
Best be wary though – Back Beach is not patrolled by lifeguards and often has strong rip currents at work. Please exercise caution and do not swim alone.
Getting There: Follow St Aubyn St along the waterfront from New Plymouth’s city centre as it becomes Breakwater Rd, passing through Motorua. Take the last left before Port Taranaki, onto Ngamotu Rd, then an immediate right onto Centennial Drive. The Paritutu Rock carpark is on the right hand side shortly after the crest of the hill.
Te Henui Walkway
Connecting the city to the sea is the Te Henui Walkway. Perfect for walking the dog, cycling away from traffic, or just getting amongst nature, the walkway stretches more than 3Km through New Plymouth, running alongside the Te Henui River. Dotted with swimming holes and other points of interest (the Awanui Cemetery for example, is much more picturesque than it is morbid) it’s a scenic track with plenty of photo opportunities. There are multiple entry points to the walkway (I’ve marked the most popular ones for you on the map below), but my personal favourite section stretches from Cumberland St to East End Reserve, and can be walked comfortably in less than an hour. The Te Henui is suitable for all fitness levels, but you should take care following heavy rainfall – the track can get a bit muddy in places!
Getting There: Start the Te Henui from the bottom at East End Reserve, following the path upstream. You can also join the walkway from access points at Devon Street (a pathway down from the street is located on the left hand side heading into town, just past Baring Terrace); Courtenay St (turn left before Marbles Buffet on Devon St, then left again: the walkway meets the road at the end of the street); Spencer Pl (first right off Awanui St, off Mangorei Rd from Devon St), or join it further up, at the Cumberland St bridge (first right heading into town from SH3 South) or at the very beginning on Durham Ave (right onto Junction Rd from SH3 South, then right again onto Durham Ave).
A short walk from the end of the Te Henui is undoubtedly New Plymouth’s most popular beach, Fitzroy. Home to a solid surf break, the beach houses the New Plymouth Surfriders Club, Fitzroy Surf Lifesaving Club, & Piccolo Morso Milkshake Bar, and between 2010-2015 hosted an annual event on the ASP Women’s World Tour of Surfing. With lifeguard patrols throughout the summer season, and hundreds of metres of sparkling black sand, it’s a great place for travelers and locals alike, and on a clear day, often yields stunning photo opportunities of the mountain (Taranaki) and nearby Pouakai Ranges. For those not keen on ocean swimming, Lake Rotomanu, a man made recreational lake, is but a ten minute walk along the coastal walkway, and is also a popular venue for watersports and trout fishing. You can also catch a glimpse of the visually striking Te Rewa Rewa Bridge from the the far end of Fitzroy Beach, where the ocean meets the Waiwhakaiho River.
Getting There: Follow the coastal walkway along the beachfront from East End Reserve (five minutes will see you on Fitzroy Beach), or take Devon Street East heading North and then turn left at Beach St.
Heading away from the sea towards the mountain you’ll find Tupare Gardens. Run by the Taranaki Regional Council, the gardens are a free, publicly accessible space, boasting immaculately manicured grounds, a swimming hole, picnic area with BBQs, and toilet facilities. There are a range of walking trails suited to all abilities, and photo opportunities around every corner. Open from 9am every day, Tupare is one of New Plymouth’s hidden gems, and is a perfect spot to while away a sunny day in peace.
Getting There: Follow Mangorei Rd inland towards the mountain, then turn left into the gardens carpark just before Mangorei School (487 Mangorei Rd).
Often described as ‘the jewel in New Plymouth’s crown’, Pukekura Park certainly has a lot to offer, and is definitely the number one spot to check out if you’re in the city. Spanning 128 acres in the city centre, the park is New Plymouth’s answer to the botanical gardens found in many larger cities, and it measures up to its competition beautifully. Playing host to a number of events, Pukekura Park contains a boating lake, Tea House & Kiosk, a large number of well-maintained walking trails, a greenhouse & fernery, and a unique natural amphitheatre known as the Bowl of Brooklands, which has hosted musical acts including UB40, Fleetwood Mac & Elton John. The park also hosts the annual Festival of Lights, a locally sponsored celebration of the rich landscape within the park, that illuminates it from December to February each year. WOMAD has also found a home here since 2003, and each year attracts up to 50,000 visitors to Pukekura Park and her lush surrounds.
Getting There: Follow SH3 South into New Plymouth as it becomes Coronation Ave, then turn left onto Pendarves St, and left again onto Liardet St to access the front gates.
Last but not least, no trip to New Plymouth would be complete without a few good cups of coffee. So skip the Starbucks, my top picks are:
Chaos Cafe: Tucked away in the CBD on Brougham St, these guys make a delicious cuppa, and have a wide range of food on offer (plenty of vegetarian options too!).
Ozone Coffee: Occupying a sunny spot behind the TSB Theatre on King St, Ozone is the perfect place to recharge before checking out The Govett Brewster Art Gallery & Len Lye Centre, just around the corner.
Tea House On The Lake: Nestled snugly into the lush surrounds of Pukekura Park, the Tea House provides a sunny place to kick back and rest your feet after wandering the many trails on offer. Perch on the deck over the lake to catch a glimpse of local legend Boris the eel!
Piccolo Morso Milkbar: Not just coffees on offer, they’ve got just about everything needed to warm you up after a pumping surf session, or cool you down after tackling the walkway.
The Federal Store: Offering, in my humble opinion, the best coffee in town, the Fed is a vibrant, retro styled milkbar-turned-cafe on bustling Devon St, just minutes from East End & Fitzroy Beaches.
For anything I haven’t covered here, or for any further information you need during your trip to New Plymouth, see the team at the New Plymouth iSite, located in the foyer of Puke Ariki Museum, on St Aubyn St. Enjoy your time in Taranaki – a region like no other!