Type "New Plymouth" into Google and pictures of Mt Taranaki come up. So does one of Pukekura Park, a nice spot with trees, a lake and a manmade waterfall.

When Charles and Camilla visited the city they had to pass on a trip to the park's fernery because of time constraints. This was despite local news reports of a staffer spending $500 on getting his chipped front tooth repaired in anticipation of meeting Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall.

Other things that come up on a New Plymouth Google image search are: a gallery dedicated to kinetic artist and experimental filmmaker Len Lye, a walkway that winds along the city's hectic seashore, now defunct power station's chimney that lords over the coastline (one of Muldoon's "think big" projects), a KFC, a Pak'nSave.

I highly recommend all these things, but behind the tourist attractions, the cows and the oil and gas industry, there's more - much more.


An insider's guide to New Plymouth:

The Len Lye Centre, New Plymouth. Photo / Patrick Reynolds
The Len Lye Centre, New Plymouth. Photo / Patrick Reynolds

Go op shopping

The town is home to op shops galore. Manned by an army of elderly volunteers, the best by far are the Hospice shops.

You can find pretty much anything there — in the past I have bought a Swedish winter coat, a Chemex coffee-maker, furniture, many jars of marmalade and multiple snazzy outfits — all for a pittance. There are two of these shops in New Plymouth — one is Westown (the original) and a new one in Waiwhakaiho, and there are also Hospice shops in Stratford and Hawera.

Westown: 112 Tukapa St, Westown, New Plymouth. Ph: (06) 753 8640.

Waiwhakaiho: cnr Katere and Devon roads, New Plymouth. Ph: (06) 758 8647

Go to Back Beach

This is my favourite beach, possibly in the world. It's not patrolled by lifeguards, and there are two islands with a bit in between called 'shark alley', but don't let that put you off.

Back Beach is beautiful — to get to my favourite spot, head out of town past the Magog Motorcycle Club, the decommissioned power station, and Paritutu Rock, and turn right just after the Dow headquarters. If you're not put off by that, run down the sandhill (best not to wear shoes, which is bittersweet because the black sand is hot) until you hit the water.

How to get there: The entrance to the part of Back Beach that I like is from a carpark off Centennial Drive. Just after the Paritutu Rock turn off on the right, if you are heading south. Avoid the main beach for swimming, as there are rocks, dogs, surfers and crumbling cliffs.

Get an ice cream from Iona Dairy

If, like me, you think icecream is a balanced and healthy meal suitable for any time of day, a visit to New Plymouth's Iona Dairy is a must. This place sells Tip-Top scoop icecream and, more importantly, they do chocolate dip. Don't expect the shopkeeper to be friendly, and don't you dare eat your icecream inside the dairy.

Iona Dairy: 204 St Aubyn St, New Plymouth. Ph: (06) 758 0265

Get a kebab and eat it at the waterfront

There is a restaurant on New Plymouth's main drag called Amadinah, that makes Eastern Mediterranean food.

I am particularly obsessed with their kebabs, and one of my favourite things to do is get takeaways and eat it at the breakwater, at Port Taranaki. You can walk along it, and if the weather is clear, it offers a great view of the coast and the mountain (sunset in the winter is particularly beautiful as the white snow turns pink). Watch out for waves, surf casters and dog turds. If you would rather be one of the locals, pick up some KFC and park up at "pig out point", a favourite for junk food-eating litterers, but hated by the New Plymouth District Council.

Experience the Coastal Walkway.
Experience the Coastal Walkway.

103 Devon St East. Ph: (06) 7597034.

Breakwater: Ocean View Parade (turn right at Ngamotu Beach).

Pig out point: At the sea end of Hobson St, overlooking the coastal walkway.

Drive around the mountain

If you have access to a car and a full day at your disposal, I recommend taking a tiki tour around the maunga. If you take State Highway 45 down the coast from New Plymouth to Hawera, you'll pass by Parihaka, a Maori settlement famous for its passive resistance to British occupation and land confiscation after the New Zealand wars. Patea is also on the way. There you'll find the Aotea waka, and if you so desire, you can buy the local post office, which has been converted into a six-bedroom home and sits on a 1200sq m plot, for just $270,000. The town is also famous for being home to Patea Maori Club, best known for their smash hit Poi E.

Once you reach Hawera, you can return to New Plymouth via Stratford, along State Highway 3. This is the inland route and will take you through farmland and small towns, including Eltham. Eltham's Four Square is so famous for its cheese scones that a while ago, attempts were made to ban them from entering Eltham's cheese scone bake off, because their product was too good.

Route: State Highway 45 will take you along the coast from New Plymouth to Hawera, with plenty of places to stop off on the way. From Hawera, State Highway 3 will take you back to New Plymouth. Check out Egmont National Park along the way.