Tag Archives: New Plymouth

5 New Plymouth highlights

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

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Stone carver at work in New Plymouth


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

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The walkway in New Plymouth


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.

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Dund running down the sand dune to Back Beach, New Plymouth

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

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Huatoki Walkway, New Plymouth

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

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Dund trying her best to ignore the shark in Puke Ariki, New Plymouth

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.

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Getting ready for a screening at the Puke Ariki, New Plymouth

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

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Lights at Pukeura Park, New Plymouth


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.

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Music, magic and the Festival of Lights

Every year, New Plymouth in New Zealand hosts the Festival of Lights for over a month during the summer period where bands play each night and the park is transformed into a magical place full of colour and light. Ferns swish in the breeze, people row on the lake under a rising full moon and kids play in a floodlit playground under the presence and sound of a scary, snoring giant.

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Boating on the lake in Pukeura Park, New Plymouth

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Scary, sleeping, snoring giant in Pukeura Park, New Plymouth

Together with a couple of friends, I was on my way to see the Brazilian inspired band, Zamba Flam, play with Brazilian guest musicians. Clearly still unable to let go of my ongoing romance with South America, my time in New Zealand coincidentally has often seemed to lead me back to Latin experiences. I’m not complaining. A couple of beers in our rucksacks and some plastic bags to protect our bums from the damp ground, this was a cheap evening of free entertainment with a relaxed, summertime atmosphere.

Along the walk down into the park, the plants and trees along the pathway were coloured with pink and blue and green and yellow lighting. The waterfall went through changes of projected colour sequences, and people posed for photographs and parents chatted to other parents whilst their kids manically bounced around, excitement for being up way past their bedtime. The sweetness of summer holidays.

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Lights at Pukeura Park

 The band started their bossa nova rhythms accompanied by the low, silky voice of Alda Rezende. Groups of friends and families gathered around in clusters, clapping politely and chatting quietly in between songs. Couples cuddled in closely and a few uninhibited souls danced and swayed freely to the beat.

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Music in Pukeura Park

By 10:00pm it was over, but there was one more thing that I really wanted to see: the glow worms. We walked by fabricated, oversized and UV lit flowers, and then tiptoed our way down a pitch dark pathway, voices to a whisper.

And suddenly I saw the earthy bank twinkling with little lights. Further along it was even denser, these little worms shining out lights so bright that I questioned whether they were in fact real or yet another part of the fictional, fantasy world created by this festival.

Back through the fernery, again drizzled with colour and light and magic, and we headed out of the park and back to normality under the gaze of the man on the moon. A midsummer night’s dream? Yes, it sure felt like it.

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A midsummer night's dream?

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Me, you and the Paritutu

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Views of Paritutu from Back Beach

The Paritutu is a mini mountain, well hill really, overlooking New Plymouth and some of the Taranaki region of New Zealand. My plan had been to climb Mount Taranaki itself but other than a peek of the peak on my arrival into the city, she had kept herself well hidden under a swath of heavy cloud. The weather had also been particularly bad for New Zealand summertime: torrential downpours and forceful winds that snapped trees in two and forced us humans to retreat indoors.

But then one morning a little sliver of sunshine promised a better day and my friends suggested a practise walk to and up the Paritutu. We dropped Rob and his surfboard off at Back Beach, and Dund and I set off along the cliff top walk through passageways of plants and grasses. The views opened up to show the surf below; nice lines and peeling two foot waves on a bright blue ocean under a Simpsons sky.

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Back Beach

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The walk from Back Beach to Paritutu

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Approaching the Paritutu rock

After less than half an hour we were at the start of the Paritutu climb where the first part was an easy ascent up solid, supported steps. The next section was more fun: a return to the ropes and cables of some of the climbs I had experienced in Peru, although here the chain was really necessary to help launch you up to the next level. Not really a path, it was a steep scramble with rocks jutting out all over the place that put vertigo and basic climbing skills to the test. I loved it. (Coming down was a bit of a different matter, the incline and height accentuated by the views down to the bottom, and Dund’s legs were shaking when we arrived back at the start, an adrenaline-achievement mix).

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Dund starting the climb up Paritutu

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Steep climb further up the Paritutu

At the top of Paritutu there was a little platform to catch one’s breath, take in the views and reapply some sun cream. No shade though, and the strong midday sun was a bit vicious. The height of the Paritutu, although only 156m, allows you to take in the views of the city, seascape and the mass of fields stretching out into the distance. And if you’re lucky, Mount Taranaki, but on this particular day she was still feeling a bit shy. Not uncommon, apparently.

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Me and Dund at the top of the Paritutu

When I was in Rotorua, I listened to a radio interview with the  British adventurer Alastair Humphries who talked about doing mini adventures that were doable in a day. This Paritutu experience was essentially a micro adventure, and although fairly structured and safe, it still had the undertaking of the clamber up steep crags which gave it an element of risk. It wasn’t for the unfit or the frightened (though the girl who point blank refused to go up when her parents were up for it was probably being a bit pathetic), but it is a short and sweet morning activity.

If the rain holds off, give it a go.

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