Welcome to Taranaki and New Plymouth
The Taranaki region is most famous for its volcano, Mount Taranaki (also known as Mount Egmont), in Egmont National Park. Its distinctive, almost perfect cone (one of the most symmetrical volcanic cones in the world) dominates the surrounding landscape and is one of New Zealand’s most visible landmarks from the air. The national park and Mount Taranaki itself are ideal for family picnics and walks. In case you’re wondering, Taranaki’s last major eruption was in 1655 and major eruptions have been occurring roughly every 500 years, although some scientists are suggesting it’s already overdue for some activity! The mountain’s name – The Maori called it Mount Taranaki (meaning shining mountain peak) but Captain Cook changed the name to Mount Egmont after the Earl of Egmont. Today both names are used, while scientists call it the Egmont Volcano.
New Plymouth is the port and main city of the Taranaki region. It is also noted for being a coastal city with a mountain within 30 minutes drive, where residents and visitors to New Plymouth can snowboard, ski, water ski and surf all in the same day. As well as being a popular base for outdoor enthusiasts, sun seekers, skiers and climbers, New Plymouth is a pretty arty place too! It's home to the largest New Zealand Arts Festival outside Wellington, featuring international and New Zealand talent. This two and a half week festival, with over 80 performers, runs from end of July to mid August. New Plymouth is also host to WOMAD, a 3 day music festival. WOMAD features 400 performers from 21 countries, providing a mix of music and dancing. Tickets are in hot demand and generally sell out well before the event. Be sure to check out an online travel guide for more information about events taking place in or around Wellington.
Known as Surf Highway 45, the touring route right around Taranaki's bulging coastline passes dozens of world-class surf beaches with pristine, uncrowded waves. As you make your way round to Hawera in the South (about 2 hours drive without stops you'll always see magnificent Mt Taranaki and on the inland side of the highway there are plenty of places to get into the foothills and explore the bush around Taranaki. Starting from New Plymouth, first point of interest is Lake Rotomanu, home to New Plymouth's premiere waterskiing and wakeboarding venue. As you head out of town you'll pass numerous beach roads and it's time to take your time, wander off the main road and get exploring! Look out for the Wreck of the SS Gairloch, down Timaru Road, and the Cape Egmont Lighthouse at the end of Cape Road. A great lunch stop on this drive is Opunake; cool, arty township with a laid-back surf culture and safe swimming beach nearby. As you make your way back north towards New Plymouth, you'll pass the roads that lead into Egmont National Park, and at Stratford, the Forgotten World Highway begins.
Forgotten World Highway
New Zealand's oldest touring route between Stratford and Taumarunui. It's a windy road and not the quickest, and perhaps for this reason the road is very quiet – which is perfect for a leisurely day of exploring, if you're heading towards Central Plateau or the north and aren't too pressed for time. The 155km highway begins in Stratford and passes through idyllic, green dairy country. There are four natural saddles on the highway, all great stopping places with spectacular, far-reaching views. On a clear day you'll see Mt Ruapehu ahead of you and Mt Taranaki behind. One of the tiny villages you'll pass through is called Whangamomona with a population of not much more than 30 residents. Whangamomona declared itself a republic in 1989, complete with its own presidential election. Continue on past forest, waterfalls, through tunnels and gorges until you arrive back in civilization at Taumarunui. The iSite information centres at both Stratford and Taumarunui as well as New Plymouth provide excellent maps of the whole Forgotten World Highway and all the points of interest along the way.
Taumarunui–New Plymouth Cycle Trail
Part of the New Zealand Cycle Trail network, the 180km on-road cycle trail follows the Forgotten World Highway from Taumarunui, through farmland and onto join the Coastal Walkway at New Plymouth. There are great sections to take as a day bike ride, where the roads are quiet and the scenery spectacular. A 70 km return option is to park at the scenic Bertrand Road Swing Bridge and follow the well-marked cycle route. You're on roads but they are pretty quiet. You'll see a small but clear cycleway sign at every junction. The route follows farmland, goes through the Tarata Tunnel and eventually you're at the remote village of Purangi. This 35km section encompasses some of the best scenery of the track, is varied and a close starting point from New Plymouth. However, it's a long day, so you may want to decide your distance and pick up a Cycle Trail map from the New Plymouth iSite.