Family Fun in Taranaki

Taranaki sits on the remains of three volcanic cones, with the most recognisable, the fabulously symmetrical Taranaki Maunga and, when Tom Cruise was shooting The Last Samurai here - partly due to the mountain’s resemblance to Mt Fuji - he was heard saying, “It’s absolutely stunning here, breath-taking. How could anyone not want to be here?”

Our photogenic region is also crammed with visitor attractions, green spaces and natural wonders and, whether you’re travelling with big kids or little ones, you’ll find plenty to do.

1. To get your bearings, start in the vibrant port city of New Plymouth, and the picture perfect coastline, with an exploration of the 12.7km Coastal Walkway where you can stroll, scooter or cycle – don’t worry if you’ve not brought your bike, because you can hire them from Chaddy’s Charters or Cycle Inn. Pedal from Pioneer Park at Port Taranaki in the west, past Len Lye’s Wind Wand, all the way to impressive Te Rewa Rewa Bridge. The bridge represents a breaking wave or, some people see the skeleton of a whale. Keep your camera handy as there are numerous Taranaki Maunga photo ops along this route, including the chance to grab a perfectly framed Mt Taranaki down the centre of Te Rewa Rewa.

2. Walks are understandably popular around these parts and, once you’ve viewed the striking peak of Taranaki from afar, you’ll definitely want a closer look. Kids are enchanted with the magical Goblin Forest on the Kamahi Loop Track. Set off from Ngāti Ruanui Stratford Mountain House - an excellent place to dine or stay a night or two – you’ll be walking for about 20 minutes until you reach the crystal clear waters of Wilkie’s Pools, sculpted by lava flow over 20,000 years ago and, along the way, you’ll be wowed by a symphony of greens from kamahi trees, mosses and ferns.
3. Another popular leg-stretcher is the six-kilometre loop track that wends itself around the shores of Lake Mangamahoe. Popular with mountain bikers, walkers and horse riders, the way is well signposted with thoughtful information panels. In winter, Taranaki Maunga is also a special place to introduce kids to snow, but be sure you’re properly prepared because mountain weather can be unpredictable. From one peak to another, get some perspective and climb Paritutu Rock, part of the Sugar Loaf Islands that extend out to sea beyond the port. At 156metres tall, it takes 20 minutes of vigorous climbing to reach the top where you’ll be rewarded with jaw-dropping panoramic views, including Taranaki Maunga, New Plymouth city, and the Taranaki coastline and Bight. Or how about a race to the top of Hāwera’s 55m water tower, admittedly there are 215 steps but views from the top is a worth the climb.

4. Closer to civilisation, and smack bang in the heart of New Plymouth, 52-hectare Pukekura Park is one of New Zealand’s best-loved botanical gardens and described as the jewel in New Plymouth’s crown. With its wide-open spaces, fountains, bridges, formal gardens, walking paths and playgrounds, there’s plenty to explore and discover, and many experiences for the kids; from row boating on the lake, to a well-deserved ice cream at the historic Teahouse on the Lake.

The park is also home to the famous TSB Festival of Lights, held every summer, the park is lit up with stunning light installations and displays, with free entertainment and music, food and activities.

Also, in the grounds, Brooklands Zoo is home to everything from monkeys, parrots to reptiles and best of all, admission is free. Additional animal encounters can be had at Pouakai Zoo where lions, tigers, donkeys and gibbons all call the place home, as well as Stoney Oaks Wildlife Park where petting rabbits and grooming a llama are just some of the highlights.

5. For more fun in the great outdoors, Pukeiti Gardens on the lower slopes of Taranaki Maunga’s northern side is like being transported to another world. Boasting phenomenal mountain-to-sea views and over 10,000 rhododendrons and azaleas growing in native forest, there are many trails to wander along. A real highlight for the kids is the treehouse trail – grab an activity satchel from the Rainforest Centre and follow the instructions. The kids will be occupied for hours, then everyone can refuel at the Rainforest Eatery which operates from September to March. But don’t let the fun stop there, sleep above the treetops in the Pīwakakwaka Family Hut. Set to be a family favourite, and only a short one-hour walk from the Pukeiti entrance, this extremely accessible hut can hold up to 12 people. Booking is essential and you can book online via the Taranaki Regional Council website.

Lighthouses have always lit up youthful imaginations, so a trip to Cape Egmont Lighthouse on the southern coast is essential. It looks like something from a storybook and, to keep those imaginations fizzing, stop by the wreck of the SS Gairloch, where remnants of the ship’s hull still protrude from the sand after it ran aground on a moonless night.

6. Discover the stories, history and culture at our numerous great museums. Puke Ariki tells the stories of the Taranaki region using mesmerising interactive media and kids love the hands on exhibits - handily you’ll find the i-SITE and library there too.

Another impressive arts offering is the Govett Brewster Art Gallery and Len Lye Centre, a Museum of contemporary art that’s also home to the Len Lye collection where kids’ minds will be blown by the works of the renowned filmmaker and kinetic artist.

Head out to Hāwera, where Tawhiti Museum is considered the country’s top privately owned museum and kids love to see the past revealed through the Whalers and Traders exhibit. There’s also a bush railway and an impressive underground canal boat ride, inclusive of firing cannons.

For more settler fun, Pioneer Village in Stratford is a lively outdoor heritage museum and on weekends they host ‘living village day’ where visitors dress up in their olden day finery and engage in old-school activities.

But don’t think for a minute it’s time to head home yet, because you’ve still got the Hillsborough Holden Museum and Bathurst themed mini-putt complete with café to visit.

Inglewood is home to Fun Ho! Toy Museum. Once New Zealand’s biggest toy manufacturer with a staff of over 200, Fun Ho! opened in 1939 and you can still watch toys being made there today.

7. Looking for something for the whole family, then back in New Plymouth you can’t go past Bowlarama, offering traditional ten pin bowling as well as an 18-hole Black Light Mini Putt course. Or if the suns out, grab your togs and head down to the Todd Energy Aquatic Centre, with indoor and outdoor pools for all, along with a hydro slide there’s something to keep everyone entertained.

And, when it’s time to grab a bite, dine in one of the friendly café’s and restaurants around the Maunga, from buffet style eating at the Devon Hotel’s Marbles Restuarant, to an American dining experience at Deluxe Diner.