Kia ora: Stratford

Elisabeth Easther takes in this hamlet's rich culture

Mt Taranaki is an ever-present, picturesque backdrop to Stratford's streets. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Mt Taranaki is an ever-present, picturesque backdrop to Stratford's streets. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Origin of name:
In pre-European times it was known as Whakaahurangi, or "face to the sky". In 1877, it was changed to Stratford-upon-Patea to acknowledge the similarity of the Patea River to the River Avon in England. This led to the Shakespeare connection and the naming of 67 streets after Shakespearean characters.

Population:
Town, 5400; district, 9000.

Where is it:
In the Taranaki district, 39km south of New Plymouth, at the junction of SH3 and 43. Or 384km from Auckland.

The town slogan:
In the heart of Taranaki.

The town's mascot:
The Romeo and Juliet glockenspiel clock tower. Instead of carillion bells, as is more typical for glockenspiel clock towers, little wooden figures pop out four times a day and say lines from Romeo and Juliet.

Best reason to visit:
The scenery, because it just pops up.

You'll be driving on a straight road, from about Three Sisters on, and Mt Taranaki will appear to follow you around.

Best place to take the kids:
Pioneer Village, the outdoor heritage museum. At weekends they have a living village day where people dress up in their olden days finery and engage in old-time activities.

Best place to get a drink:
Colonel Malone's and Crossroads.

Best food:
Stratford Mountain House, halfway up the mountain; it does great food and has amazing views. On a still night, you don't hear anything but the occasional morepork and kiwi.

Most famous locals:
World War I hero Colonel Malone and, more recently, All Blacks Jason Eaton, Conrad Smith and Bull Allen were all from around these parts.

Most prominent industry:
Dairy farming, indeed all farming, is big business, while oil and gas have recently taken off.

Best flat white:
Stratford is spoiled for cute cafes - the Ink Pot, Sgt Peppers, Shakee Pear and Urban Attitude are all fab.

Best new tourism product:
Forgotten World Adventures, where visitors can drive golf carts along former railway lines. This endeavour has brought new life to a number of tiny towns, and Stratford is the gateway. Fruity and fun.

Best local website:
stratford.govt.nz

Source of pride:
The community spirit.

Best art gallery:
The Percy Thompson Gallery. Thanks to the generosity of the late Percy Thompson, visitors enjoy regularly changing exhibitions of world-class quality.

Best walk:
The Carrington Walkway runs close to town through King Edward Park and the McCullough Dell, with its beautiful azaleas and rhododendrons. A great place to get married. There are also loads of hikes, long and short, all over the mountain.

Town competition:
The Romeo Awards. These service awards recognise excellence in retail and customer service. Winners take home figurines of Romeo.

Best view:
There are so many pretty vistas. One little beauty is halfway up Pembroke Rd - look one way to Mt Taranaki in all its glory, and the other way to Ruapehu National Park's majestic maunga. Countless postcards celebrate these sights.

Best place to pull over:
The Whangamomona Pub. Stop for a spell as you cruise along the Forgotten World Highway. The TET Multi Sports Centre is a great big sports venue, and it has outside and indoor loos.

Best playground:
Victoria Park. There's a lake, a skatepark, slides, swings and picnic areas.

Here for a short time:
Call into the i-site - they can tell you everything you need to know to make the most of a brief visit.

Best kept secret:
The numerous swimming spots along the Patea River. There are a couple of beauties within a short distance of town. Pop into the aforementioned i-site and they'll tell you where to go.

Best fishing:
Try the trout fishing on the Patea River.

Best indoor swim:
TSB Swimming Pool. A lot of visitors just want a shower; handy if you've been roughing it.

Do visit if you can:
Mount Damper Falls - there's a short signposted walk off the Forgotten World Highway. Dawson Falls on the mountain is amazing, and there are lots of short walks up there.

Most fabulous item of wildlife:
The Thomson Arboretum covers an acre of looped paths and is lovely. A little beyond Stratford there's the Lake Rotokare Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary - 230ha of amazingness, with a fence to keep predators out.

Regional Park:
Egmont National Park is bursting with walks, DoC huts, views and you can ski parts of the year, too.

Is there anything one shouldn't do?
Don't climb the mountain in jandals. Trish from the Stratford i-site says you'd be surprised what some people attempt.

Visitors say:
Would you look at that mountain?

Locals say:
What mountain?

Thank you to Trish Dent from the i-site in Stratford for letting us in on some of the area's best assets.

- NZ Herald

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