Known to observant audiences worldwide as the setting for The Last Samurai – you won’t find 19th Century Japan in Taranaki anymore, but you will find plenty to do. Precisely why we’re off there, in this month’s regional pick from our ‘Destination’ series.
Coastal, mountainous Taranaki juts into the Tasman Sea on the western coast of New Zealand's North Island. Its landscape is dominated by the picture perfect volcanic cone of Mount Taranaki, within lush Egmont National Park. The port of New Plymouth is the area's hub.
Maori legend has it that Mount Taranaki used to sit at the centre of the North Island. It was banished west after losing a battle for the heart of pretty Mount Pihanga. It’s said that when the 2518m peak is hidden by clouds, Taranaki is hiding the tears he cries for his lost love.
Taranaki has a flourishing arts scene, and is home to many works by modernist filmmaker and kinetic artist Len Lye. His works are housed at the dazzling Len Lye Centre, part of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. Lye’s kinetic 48metre high sculpture Wind Wand is an exclamation mark punctuating New Plymouth’s bustling, Coastal Walkway, which crosses the beautiful Te Rewa Rewa bridge.
Taranaki’s Mānuka is some of the latest to flower each season. Coastal areas reach their peak in early January, but further inland at higher altitude it’s more like late January, with everything pretty much wrapped up by early March. The 2018 season started a little earlier and was very short-lived – so less than a bumper harvest this year. On the other hand, the Mānuka honey our industrious bees produced from Taranaki’s dense stands of Mānuka bush is absolutely top notch quality. In fact from last season’s harvest, NPA (non-peroxide activity, a good indicator of honey’s MGO rating) levels ranged from 10-23 which is exceptionally high.
Each season our team place around 2000 hives into the most remote, dense spots of Taranaki’s Mānuka bush. Our team of beekeepers love working in this region, and makes the most of those awe-inspiring views of Mount Taranaki and the rugged back country landscape that always seems so far from anywhere.
There’s a lot to do in Taranaki too.
It’s not just the bees that are busy enjoying the local flora. Thanks to rich volcanic soil, Taranaki’s gardens are so spectacular they have their own festivals, including the PowerCo Taranaki Garden Spectacular held late October to early November.
In fact many folks first experience Taranaki by coming to a festival or event. Like the global musical festival WOMAD, the ASP World Women’s Surf festival, AmeriCarna, the International Arts Festival, TropFest Film Festival, Kinetika, and more.
Mount Taranaki has 200km+ of trails, a ski field, cafes and accommodation. Place a visit on your bucket list – to climb to the summit, traverse the Pouakai Crossing, wander through the Goblin Forest or to ride the natural waterslides at Wilkies Pools.
Taranaki is well known for its art – from the internationally acclaimed Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and Len Lye Centre to local artists’ studios including Don Driver, Tom Kreisler and Renate Verbrugge.
For history buffs, the region also boasts an amazing collection of museums, like New Plymouth’s Puke Ariki and Hawera’s Tawhiti Museum – considered the best private museum in New Zealand. Have a poke around and you’ll unearth plenty of other eclectic private museums worth visiting.
Aotea Utanganui – the Museum of South Taranaki is home to some of New Zealand's oldest wooden artefacts and a wonderful insight into South Taranaki's rich past. One of the oldest exhibits is a 3.5 million year old fossilised baleen whale jawbone encased in stone, found on nearby Pātea beach. The Taranaki Wars are told using maps, photographs, weaponry and artefacts, with warriors from both sides being honoured