New Plymouth in the Taranaki region of New Zealand, a city of nearly 69,000 inhabitants, sits about 360km south west of Auckland. I was visiting some friends who were determined to show me a good time and help me to experience some of the best parts of the city.
1) Stone carving
In what has become a biennial event, during January 2012 various stone carvers from the Te Kupenga Stone Sculpture Symposium could be seen grinding away great hunks of rock to reveal a range of shapes and structures. Some were incredibly detailed, like the little girl statue which my friend Rob said looked like ‘a 3D illustration’, whilst others were more based on flow forms and organic design. With such a bad run of weather, these guys had a real job on their hands to get the sculptures finished before the exhibition opened on 14th January and the auction kicked off on 21st January.
2) Beaches and the waterfront
Down at the walkway in New Plymouth, people wander along checking up on the progress of the stone carvers (see above) and keeping an eye on the Wind Wand. My first stroll along the seafront was in glorious sunshine with a bit of a stiff breeze, my second outing was in stormy, raging conditions where breaking waves splashed over the walkway and, together with some torrential downpour, gave us all a good soaking.
A little south of the New Plymouth city centre and the Paritutu Centennial Park is Back Beach. Having got ridiculously hot climbing the Paritutu, the idea of jumping into the water once we were back down was so appealing. I took off my sandals, burning my feet on the hot, black sands at the top of the dune and then ran down full pelt, sinking ankle deep and kicking up sand as I went. Paddling in the sea simply felt delicious. This was Back Beach with clear, blue-green waters and the Sugar Loaf Islands dotted about in the near distance. Families played on the beach up by the car park end and surfers caught lovely two foot peeling waves (and some doses of sunburn).
The second beach that I visited was off of the Surf Highway where many of the side roads lead down to little beaches. I went in for a surf in choppy waters, caught nothing (I lie, I caught one great wave and messed up the take-off and got a right, royal working – about right for my skill level!) and I also managed to smash up my knee on the rocks when getting out. All sound a bit pants? It wasn’t. Surfing on a reef, I was way out of my comfort zone (good thing) on a deserted beach soaking up some sunshine. I wanted to get out in the sea before I got my tattoo because once it was done, sea and sun were going to need to take a backseat. For a few weeks, in any case.
3) Walks into town
I was staying with my friends on the outskirts of New Plymouth. To get to the centre took a ten minute car ride or a forty minute walk on pretty forest pathways along what is known as the Huatoki Walkway. Always opt for the walk-in. All sorts of trees, some snapped in two by recent gale-force gusts, and a little stream running alongside a mud and leaf pathway make this a relaxing, calming mini hike. And barely another person to be seen. Lovely.
4) Puke Ariki museum
On entering the Puke Ariki, my friend Dund had to pull down her cap. One glance of the massive shark sculpture hanging from the ceiling would have sent her into panic mode.
We made it into the little cinema without any dramas and sat down on funky, lighted seating to a screening of Mutanga: Our Legacy, Our Challenge, Our Future, which gave an overview of the Maori struggle in the Taranaki area. Running through until March 2012, this exhibition talked about the land grab back in the 1860s and the resulting on-going struggle to get a better settlement from the government. It also discussed the importance of cultural identity in helping you to ‘get on with what you need to do in life’. Maybe that’s why so many people, myself included, are on a continuous search for something else? What is my, your, cultural identity?
5) Festival of Lights
I already posted about this a few days ago, but free music and a magical atmosphere made this a great evening out when the wind and rain held off.
There were a few things I noticed about the city that I found a little odd, like the fact that down by the waterfront there is a main road and industrial and commercial buildings in a place that would be perfect for cafés and bars. And although many bars and cafés have outdoor seating space, they mostly front on to a main road, which doesn’t make for the most relaxing time. But ho hum, it was a cool little city with a nice, laid-back vibe and some lovely people . And great pies.