After Taupo, we started making our way over to the Taranaki region. Located in the mid-western part of the north island, this area is named after the Mt. Taranaki volcano, also called Mt. Egmont, the massive cone of which dominates the landscape (if you’re lucky enough to see it!). This was an area that Bruce & I were considering moving to, for we’d read and heard that conditions were excellent for agriculture due to it’s rich volcanic soil and abundant rainfall.
The regions’ population numbers about 110,000 with folks spread among the four main cities/towns: New Plymouth (50,000), Inglewood (3200), Stratford (10,000) , Hawera (9000) and the remaining 30,000 or so people dotting the countryside’s small hamlets.
Accessibility to the region is by three roads: Highway 3 leads in from the north (Auckland/Hamilton area); Highway 3 from the South (Wanganui/Wellington area); and Highway 43 from the East (Taupo area).
Highway 43 is also called The Forgotten World Highway and has been designated a Heritage Trail. Passing over four saddles (a ridge of high land between two peaks), it commemorates the pioneering days and those who toiled to build the railroad and roads through this mountainous and rough terrain thereby linking East & West. The highway between Taumarunui in the East and Stratford in the West is 150 kilometers long with no gas stations and takes about 2 ½ hours (with no stops) to navigate. However, there’s lots to see and do along the heritage trail and we took our time stopping every so often (Nevin’s Lookout is a good one) to pause and enjoy the scenic vistas.
About 11 kilometers off the main road (on Moki Road) were the Mt. Damper Falls, something the information center ladies told us we should not miss. It’s the north island’s highest waterfall (150+ feet) which spill over a horseshoe-shaped papa bluff into the Tongaporutu River below. The hike in to the falls is through beautiful native bush and private farmland. We got to the falls right at the end of the day, and after our hike in, we realized we weren’t going to have time to drive back out to the main road and then look for somewhere to sleep, so we tucked ourselves away at a little free camping spot (complete with long drop toilets) for the evening. There was room for about 2 or 3 tents/caravans and we ended up being the only people there. Quiet & peaceful!
Another stop worth mentioning is at Whangamomona Village, one of NZ’s most character-packed pioneer villages, which declared itself a ‘republic’ in 1989, complete with republic day, presidential election, and passports. The famous ‘republic day’ is held biennially in January, and is celebrated by thousands to commemorate the community’s 1989 protest over regional government boundary changes that took Whangamomona out of Taranaki. Country activities such as gumboot throwing, possum skinning and sheep racing are held in the main street.
Next we rolled into Stratford and decided to spend a few days chilling out and taking in the sights. We got ourselves a small studio room ($46/night) at the Stratford Top 10 Holiday Park, about two blocks off the main drag in town. It was cute, quiet, and run by an affable sixty-something year old british woman who had a keen eye for gardening as we were surrounded by an amazing palette of colorful flowers.
One of the big sights in Taranaki is, well, Mt. Taranaki, looming at 8260 feet. There’s a saying that goes, ‘If you can see the mountain, it’s going to rain, and if you can’t see the mountain, it’s already raining’! For the entire week, we got little glimpses of the mountain and often when we hiked in the park we were enshrouded by mist. It wasn’t until our very last day that we finally had a clear view of the mountain in all it’s glory!
There are three main roads that take you into Egmont National Park and up the mountain (to about 3500 feet): 1) Manaia Road on the south which leads to the Dawson Falls visitor center, 2) Pembroke Road on the east which takes you to the Stratford Plateau and is a short hike to the Manganui skifield, and 3) Egmont Road from the North which goes to the Egmont visitors center. We stopped at all three Two short and lovely hikes we did from the Dawson Falls visitor center were a 30 minute loop hike to the falls and then an hour long hike to Wilkies Pools. Because the mountain is usually covered by cloud and gets a lot of rainfall, the forest is quite verdant and mystical with long tendril-like mosses hanging from all the trees. Several longer hikes start from the Stratford Plateau and there is an awesome viewing platform, where, should it be a clear day (which is wasn’t for us), one would experience awesome vistas of the valley below. There are heaps of hikes from the Egmont visitors center and we managed to do a few short ones.
Stratford town was quiet fascinating. Named after Shakespeare’s birthplace, it boasts the country’s only Glockenspiel which ‘performs’ four times a day with lines and characters from Romeo and Juliet. Tacky, yet a must see! One evening as I was cruising down the main street, Broadway, I noticed a very peculiar thing: many of the storefronts had various displays themed in red, white, and blue. “That’s really weird,” I thought to myself. “I don’t get it.” I kept seeing this theme repeated up and down both sides of the road. It wasn’t till I had walked the whole strip that I finally saw a notice for “AmeriCARna: A celebration of all thing American” which was coming to town the very next day!
Yes, several hundred American customized cars were descending upon Taranaki for the first ever American car festival and Stratford was closing down it’s main street for two hours the next morning. Well, we couldn’t miss out and what a sight to behold. New Zealanders lined up in the streets, many dressed in red, white, and blue garb, waving American flags, selling american-styled hot dogs and small apple pies. The real clincher was watching a lot of them singing ‘God Bless America’ as the cars rolled out of town.
We also spent a few days in a suburb of New Plymouth, staying with a friend of Bruce’s mom. Carole had grown up in the area and was keen on showing us around. Over the course of two days she took us into town to see the beautiful Pukekura Park and the Festival of Lights – a spectacular light show extravaganza which transforms the park at night into a sparkly wonderland. We had lots of great conversation with Carole and enjoyed her company. We had the pleasure of meeting her two young-adult sons, her very jocular mother, and her sister and brother-in-law over our three days’ visit and really got a glimpse of regular kiwi life.
I have to say, the HIGHLIGHT of our Taranaki visit was a hike we did along the White Cliffs Walkway. Located about ½ hr from New Plymouth, the White Cliffs are aptly named for their dramatic rock faces. The loop hike takes you along the shoreline at the base of the cliffs and then up above through bush and pastureland. You can only hike on the beach two hours each side of low tide as the tide comes in quickly and there’s no where to hide. We looked up the tide schedules and arrived ½ hr before low tide and even then, we had to wade in bare feet along a part of the beach. The hike was stunning. The colors on the rock faces glistened in the sun. Sea shells, amazing rock formations, arches, and sea birds fascinated us for two hours as we made our way to the turn off point.
Next we hiked up though a valley of native bush, through a little microclimate boasting ferns and other tropical-like plants. Then we made the climb up 700 steps out of the forest and onto private pastureland where the views were stunning and the cows were very curious! It was glorious and the perfect way to spend our last day in Taranaki!
Other notable things to see & do:
Cottage Wines – Traditional homemade fruit wines located in New Plymouth
Envirofur – Possum Fur and Leather Products located in Mahoe (near Stratford). Bruce picked up a beautiful possum scarf!
White Cliffs Brewing Company – purveyors of premium organic beer located in Urenui (near New Plymouth)
Cape Egmont Lighthouse – located near Pungarehu off the Surf Highway
Ultra Lounge – a really nice atmosphered restaurant located in downtown New Plymouth
Empire Cafe – 112 Devon Street, New Plymouth. Great selection of teas and delicious organic food!
Taranaki Environmental Center in Inglewood run by proprietors Mel & Graham. We dropped in and spent a nice 45 minutes talking with Mel about regional organics and permaculture and got a tour of the property.
Organic Selections, 5 Mangorei Road, New Plymouth
Nell’s Health & Healing Centre, 202 Broadway, Stratford (small selection of dry goods, mainly sells vitamins and other health products)
Oh, and our final verdict? Not moving to Taranaki. We’re south islanders!