Join us as we share the best things to do in New Plymouth, including some memorable day trips to neighbouring towns.
New Plymouth is the largest, most populous city in the Taranaki region. It is located on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand.
Named after the English city of Plymouth (where the first English settlers hailed from), the New Plymouth district is the 10th largest in Aotearoa. Home to approximately 86,000, it hosts two-thirds of the total Taranaki population.
With a number of memorable walks, gardens, art galleries, beaches and, of course, the famed Mount Taranaki (which was once called Mount Egmont), there is much to do in and around this city.
Incredibly, New Plymouth offers the ability to visit the mountains (to ski or snowboard) and beach all in one day – very few places are able to claim this feat!
Whether you find yourself in the Taranaki for work or pleasure, we recommend checking out each of the following top things to do in New Plymouth.
Did you know? The Māori name for New Plymouth is Ngāmotu. Ngā Motu means ‘the islands’.
Getting to New Plymouth
Taranaki, the province where you can actually walk on a beach and a mountain in the same day, is easily accessible from any direction. New Plymouth is the largest city in the region and is the perfect base for your local adventures.
From Palmerston North, New Plymouth is just a 3 hour drive north.
If you are heading south from Hamilton the drive again takes just 3 hours. If you are able to time the tides right a stop at The Three Sisters in Tongaporutu is well worth adding to your journey. The new cafe and toilets there make it a great place to stretch your legs and take a break.
If your journey brings you from Taupo, it will take approximately 4 hours and you’ll have a couple of choices of routes. One of them is the amazing Forgotten World Highway which will take you through the Republic of Whangamomona. The road is very windy in places but you will be rewarded with spectacular views and an iconic part of the country
Where ever you are travelling from, you will be sure to love New Plymouth when you arrive!
The Most Worthwhile Things to do in New Plymouth
Once you arrive in Taranaki there is a large variety of things to do to suit the needs of most travellers.
We suggest you pick out the following activities and attractions that most appeal and customise an amazing personalised itinerary.
Visit One of the Many Gardens and Parks
All three of the following gardens are run by the Taranaki Regional Council are are free of charge to visit. They are stunning and come complete with a variety of picnic spots and public toilets.
On Mangorei Road you will find the Tupare Gardens. These beautifully landscaped gardens cover a hillside looking over the Waiwhakaiho River.
Wind your way down the hill to enjoy beautiful picnic spots and peaceful tranquility away from the noise of the city.
If you have time you might also like to visit the beautiful homestead which was built in the 1930s.
A drive up under the mountain on Carrington Road will take you to Pukeiti, a lush native rainforest.
Alongside the natives at Pukeiti there is an incredible collection of rhododendrons which are magnificent any time of the year.
An education centre means that no questions go unanswered and the Tree House Trail is a real hit for the kids.
Pukeiti also has a cafe so you can sit and enjoy the beautiful surroundings for a wee bit longer. Alternatively, there are many picnic spots to choose from, making it a great place to enjoy a preprepared lunch.
Hollard Gardens (55km from New Plymouth)
Near to Kaponga (on the south side of Mt Taranaki) you will find Hollard Gardens on Upper Manaia Road. A 45 minute drive from New Plymouth, this is home to lots of gorgeous native and exotic plants along with a children’s playground and gardening library.
Best of all, Hollard Gardens has parking for campers to stay overnight.
Check Out Pukekura Park and Brooklands Zoo
A short distance from downtown New Plymouth, Pukekura Park is a must-see whilst in Taranaki.
Take a stroll through the gardens where there you will discover a Japanese garden, waterfall, fountains and an exceptionally good children’s playground. They also have an impressive man made lake (where you can hire boats to row in the summer), a cafe and so much more.
If you are visiting in the summertime, The Festival of the Lights will be held in this expansive park – it is not to be missed. For six weeks the park is lit up with beautiful light features and epic events including live music and daytime activities for the whole whānau.
Continue walking through the park to discover the Bowl of Brooklands – this is the the home of WOMAD.
Up the hill you will find Brooklands Zoo – a family-focused zoo which houses a variety of animal species. Entry to this zoo is free and there is plenty of parking available should you prefer to drive.
Enjoy a World-Class Walk in New Plymouth (with Plenty of Sightseeing too!)
If you enjoy walking then New Plymouth and the surrounding region of Taranaki both have lots of choices for you. They cater for everyone, offering everything from short walks to multi-day tramps.
The Coastal Walkway
The most well known walk in New Plymouth is simply known as The Coastal Walkway.
Stretching 14kms from the Port all the way to Bell Block, this walkway is suitable for walking, biking, skating, pushchairs, scooting… practically anything you like.
On The Coastal Walkway you will find the impressive Te Rewa Rewa Bridge. This local icon looks like a giant white wave and frames the Mt Taranaki beautifully. It’s the perfect spot to snap a photo.
While you are at the port check out Chaddy’s Charters for an hour-long wildlife boat ride through the Tapuae Marine reserve. This area also provides postcard-perfect views of the mountain, Paritutu and Back Beach.
All along The Coastal Walkway you’ll find playgrounds, cafes and smaller walkways. These allow you to plan your journey to suit the people you’re exploring with.
Te Henui Walkway
Branching off the Coastal Walking, heading inland, you’ll find the Te Henui Walkway.
Winding up from the coast, the Te Henui Walkway showcases a wide variety of native and exotic flora. This is known as one of the most beautiful walks in all of New Plymouth. Travelling along the Te Henui River, the 5.9km Te Hanui Walkway (which is a loop walk) is well worth doing.
Nearby, the Huatoki Walkway follows the meandering Huatoki Stream from the Coastal Walkway past many interesting spots in New Plymouth’s history. You’ll visit locations of historic significance to local Māori people along with art installations, a historic flour mill and a decommissioned quarry too.
If you’re travelling with children, we highly recommend stopping in at the Huatoki Plaza to see the friendly urban eels whilst on this walk.
Paritutu Rock Walk
Paritutu is the large extinct volcano near the port in New Plymouth.
This steep climb is not for the faint hearted but the magnificent views along the coast and up to the mountain are a fantastic reward.
The Meeting of the Waters and Araheke Bush Walkway
A few minutes drive from New Plymouth, the Meeting of the Waters and Araheke Bush walkways combine into one loop track. These trails explore a forest of native trees, ferns and mosses – all of which are spectacular and a welcome escape from city life.
This is a popular spot for families to swim in the summer with a great rope swing off the boardwalk too!
A few more minutes out of New Plymouth, you’ll find Lake Mangamahoe. Set in a 262 hectare production forest, this area offers a range of walks with spectacular views of Mount Taranaki (or Taranaki Maunga, as it’s known in te reo Māori).
You will also find an exceptionally good mountain biking park at Lake Mangamahoe.
Heading in the other direction, just past Okato (which is about a 25 minute drive from New Plymouth, around the coast), you’ll find the Stony River (Hangatahua) Walkway.
The Hangatahua Walkway includes a number of short walks though local farmland and some picture perfect Taranaki scenery.
At 3km return (on the same track), this easy walk is great for the whole family.
Pouakai Tarns walk
One of the most famous photos from the Taranaki region (if not the most famous) is the reflection of Mount Taranaki in the little lake below – this is taken whilst tramping the Pouakai Tarns walk.
The Pouakai Tarns walk from Mangorei Road end is the shortest way to get to the famed Pouakai tarns.
This track is approximately 12km return. On the way there it is all uphill and on the way back it is all down. Fortunately though, you’ll find yourself on a well maintained track throughout.
This can be done as a fabulous day walk, or you can choose to overnight in the Pouakai hut should you prefer.
Soak Up the Sun at a Beautiful Taranaki Beach
Taranaki has a number of great beaches for swimming – all of which are either in New Plymouth or conveniently close.
Opunake, Oakura, East End and Fitzroy are patrolled in the summer and safe for swimming.
Each of these beaches are perfect for the whole family and an ideal way to cool off on a hot day.
Beaches Perfect for Walking
Back Beach (under Paritutu Rock) and Fitzroy Beach are both popular with dog walkers, though you’ll want to check for restrictions that apply during the summertime.
With long stretches of pristine sand, these bays are the perfect place to stretch your legs.
Surf Beaches in/Near New Plymouth
There are numerous surf beaches on Surf Highway 45 which is the road around the coast of New Plymouth (and Taranaki).
Most roads that head off the highway (towards the coast) lead to a wave of some sort.
Surf spots such as Rocky Rights on Paora Road, the Kumara Patch on Kaihihi Road, Fitzroy Beach and the beaches on Arawhata Road andStent Road are all well known surf breaks.
For those who enjoy wave sailing, Kina Road is popular, whilst East End Beach a popular kite surfing destination.
Head Along to a Art Gallery or Museum – The Best Cultural Things to do in New Plymouth
If art galleries and museums are your thing then you are in luck – Taranaki has wonderful offerings!
Puke Ariki is a museum, library, research centre, museum store and i-SITE all in one big space.
There you will find Taranaki’s past and present all showcased in one well presented location. They also have a number of feature exhibitions which change regularly.
Its central location makes it easy to locate and as it’s free to visit, you can pop in and out as you wish.
Govett Brewster Art Gallery
Just up the road from Puke Ariki, you’ll find the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery – they have been showing contemporary art there since 1970.
Exhibitions change out every four months so there’s always something new to experience at this memorable gallery.
Len Lye Centre
The Len Lye Centre, with its big wave-mirror exterior walls, has quickly become a New Plymouth icon.
Inside you will find New Zealand-born artist Len Lye’s ideas and artworks in film, sculpture, painting and photography.
In addition, a 60-seat cinema hosts international film festivals along with experimental, arthouse and cult movies. You can also catch a selection of New Zealand cinema, symposia and lectures there too.
This incredible building is well worth checking out – even if you don’t have the time to head inside!
Hillsborough Holden Museum
Just a short drive from New Plymouth on Egmont Road, will find you at the Hillsborough Holden Museum.
This is a purpose built facility, designed to display an extensive of a private collection of Australian Holden cars and memorabilia.
As well as a cafe on site, there is also a mini putt golf course inspired by the famous Mount Panorama track at Bathurst.
The Tawhiti Museum in nearby Hawera is known for being one of the most innovative museums in New Zealand,
Their life size exhibits and scale models capture the past in a series of realistic displays. The attention to detail is amazing, making it well worth the drive.
Hawera is a an hour’s drive from New Plymouth, heading South. It’s the perfect spot for a day trip (perhaps with a stop at the Pioneer Village on the way).
Taranaki Pioneer Village
The Taranaki Pioneer Village is just south of Stratford (and a 30 minute drive south of New Plymouth). It offers 10 acres of unparalleled local heritage.
A walk through the village presents the lives of Taranaki pioneers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
There are some wonderful trips down memory lane here for our older travellers, and a unique glimpse into the past for younger members of the family.
The Pioneer Express train ride gives great views of the whole site and is fun for everyone.
Pay a Visit to the Mighty Mount Taranaki
No trip to New Plymouth, or indeed, the wider Taranaki region, is complete without a trip to Mount Taranaki.
By car, you can access it in 3 different locations.
North Egmont, at the top of Egmont Road, is the closest access point for vehicles if you are travelling from New Plymouth.
From there, you’ll find a number of walks to suit everyone, along with the information centre which has maps to help you choose one that is right for you. There is also plenty of parking and a cafe if you would just like to sit and enjoy the ambience.
If you wish to do the summit climb, this will also be your starting point.
We recommend seeking professional advice before considering this walk as the weather can change very quickly and put inexperienced climbers at risk. Always tell someone your plan when you head off on a tramp and consider hiring a PLB.
Another access point, East Egmont is closest to Stratford.
Again this is the starting point for many walks and, in the winter, the Manganui Ski Field which operates depending on snowfall.
On the south side of the mountain you will find Dawson Falls. This picturesque waterfall is located at the end of a track that drops in elevation towards the falls (and unsurprisingly, gains that elevation back on the return journey).
Another popular walk is to Wilkies Pools. This is a much more family friendly walk and is accessible for pushchairs and wheelchairs.
The Department of Conservation has excellent resources and information for each of these sites should you want more information.
Driving Around the Mountain
Driving around the mountain in a day is very achievable and with stunning views and intriguing stops, it’s worth doing if you have a reasonable amount of time in the region.
Assuming that you are starting in New Plymouth this route takes you counter-clockwise.
Along the way you will find the Oakura Beach community which has a beautiful river and beach for swimming, Okato which is known for its cafes, and lighthouses at Bayly and Cape Roads.
Opunake township offers more cafes, takeaways and shops plus a beautiful beach with a great playground for a lunch break.
Continue around to Manaia for a pie or something yummy at Yarrows Bakery before continuing to the next town (Hawera), where you will spot the water-tower built in 1914 on the skyline.
Heading back through central Taranaki is Eltham where you can pick up some goodies from the cheese shop.
Then head for Stratford where you will see the beautiful glockenspiel clock tower. If you time it right Romeo and Juliet perform four times a day at 10 am, 1 pm, 3 pm and 7 pm. There are some beautiful art galleries in Stratford as well as a gin distillery.
If you love animals Stoney Oaks just outside of Inglewood offers a large number of friendly farmyard animals to interact with – a perfect stop for the kids!
Take in a Special Event in New Plymouth
A number of annual events are held in New Plymouth. If it’s possible, we recommend timing your visit to coincide with one of interest.
Festival of the Lights – Mid December to Late January
If you are visiting in the summer, The Festival of the Lights is not to be missed.
For six weeks Pukekura Park in New Plymouth is lit up with beautiful light features. They also have a number of epic events including live music and daytime activities for kids right through to seniors.
It really is a beautiful spectacle that draws in visitors from right across the country!
WOMAD –World of Music, Arts and Dance – March
In March each year, this three-day internationally established festival brings together artists from New Zealand and all over the globe.
The WOMAD festival celebrates the world’s many forms of music, arts and dance plus the food village offers an enormous variety of cuisine to delight guests.
Although this is a 3 day event there are a variety of ticket options available (should you not wish to attend every day), plus you can take your own picnic food if that is your preference.
Taranaki Garden Festival – Late October to Early November
The Garden Festival is a 10-day celebration of springtime, enjoyed through a series of gardens, art sand events.
Country, cottage, sub-tropical, sustainable, vegetable, native, formal… there is something for all gardeners in their annual programme.
Blessed with natural beauty and a number of memorable attractions and events, there is much more to New Plymouth than first meets the eye.
Have fun exploring!
By Kim Sowman