A mission in a muscle car for a mid-winter crisis is just the ticket, writes Alanah Eriksen.
They've called it "competition orange". And boy, was it.
But the blindingly-bright new Ford Mustang GT Fastback was just what the shrink ordered for a quick getaway on a dreary winter's weekend to the 'Naki.
It made up for the fact we didn't even get to see Mt Taranaki through the rain and clouds.
The Americans have finally made us a right-hand drive Mustang so my first drive of one was a breeze from Auckland.
Even around the corners of the Surf Highway 45 and the Forgotten World Highway — which at points had debris strewn across the road from a storm.
The tangerine dream acted as a beacon to ward off speeding motorists cutting corners as we exited the car to move the branches.
But the chilled-out, arty towns of Taranaki barely batted an eyelid when the 5.0L muscle car entered the region.
And that's just how we liked it.
Baths are for kids and the elderly. Except if you're on holiday.
The first night was spent in the Anniversary Suite of New Plymouth's King & Queen Hotel Suites — across the road from the mirrored Len Lye Centre which showed off the reflection of the orange beast as we were pulling up.
We were expecting to live like a King and Queen that night, hence the name. It was probably more like North African royalty than English Monarchy.
Our room's combination of brown leather couches with a zebra-skinned occasional chair and Moroccan-style orange and pink footstool worked.
The massive bathroom (in a separate room to the toilet even!) had a deep bath with barn-like doors atop that opened out to the bedroom so you could kick back with a glass of wine taken from the fully-stocked mini bar — which I did — and flick through the Sky channels from afar — which I didn't as the remote was hijacked to play Euro 2016 games.
The second night was at The Platinum Lodge, just a few minutes out of Stratford and owned by Lynne and Rod Pulford who live at the property.
Their home is attached to the guest accommodation so they're used to tourists waltzing into their open-plan kitchen and dining room for breakfast, which they don't mind.
"We like it," Rod says.
Most people probably wouldn't want to leave their rooms though. It was true luxury. If you pay the "full service" room fee, you get breakfast, a gift and a bottle of wine.
And the bath ... I'd never seen such a contraption. There were countless jets, head rests on each side and bath salts and bubble bath. There were even plush white robes and slippers to mince around in.
The couple also run the Stratford Mountain House in the Egmont National Park — about nine minutes up the road — where we had dinner.
The duck and zucchini risotto was a treat and the medium rare scotch fillet was so soft the knife just slipped right through.
Best meal (and cocktails)
In keeping with the region's culture vulture theme, The Social Kitchen in New Plymouth has deer heads and metal hand sculptures protruding from the wall.
Cooked in a charcoal oven, the food is designed for sharing and has a South American influence.
We had empanadas (with pulled beef brisket, black olives and chimichurri inside), fried calamari balls, polenta fries and black turtle beans (with spiced chickpeas, feta, red peppers and Spanish onion).
And it wouldn't have been a true South American-influenced Taranaki weekend getaway without cocktails for lunch.
My "Bison" was a deliciously fresh combination of Bombay gin, ginger syrup, fresh lime and soda.
Best free activity
The New Plymouth hotel had free bike hire so we completed our morning exercise with a ride on the Coastal Walkway.
The wide, 13km sea-edge promenade was swarming with walkers and cyclists. Despite the nippy temperature, the crashing waves made for an awesome atmosphere.
Pukekura Park, a quick drive or 15 minute walk from central New Plymouth, is also worth a stroll. While killing time before lunch, we walked to the Fernery within the park, which has at least 50,000 plants and counting.
The colourful display, in three glass-topped caverns, is cared for meticulously. Plants are hand-watered due to their different needs and in the height of summer watering can take one person eight hours.
Most unusual experience
It's hard to believe that towns can exist with less than 200 people. That's until you go to Whangamomona.
The 150 residents (likely a lot fewer but the 2013 Census has the latest count) are so town-proud, that the hub of the town, the Whangamomona Hotel, even has a shrine to what they call local "celebrities".
There were pictures of former All Blacks, a world shearing champion and a top dog triallist.
Situated on the Forgotten World Highway, the town declared itself a republic in 1989 after regional council boundaries were redrawn and it became part of the Manawatu-Wanganui region.
During our bite to eat at the hotel, an eclectic group of people filed through, none of whom appeared to be locals. They included a bunch of Asian tourists who came in solely to get their passports stamped with a Whangamomona stamp by the bar staff, a group of young contractors working on a road nearby, and a family who stopped and bought a bowl of chips just to say they'd eaten at the iconic hotel.
Best piece of art
If you're in New Plymouth, take the 15km journey south to the surf town of Oakura.
While surfing wasn't on the menu in the drizzle, we did an abridged version of the Oakura Arts Trial, which involves visiting the homes of local artists and admiring their work.
We started at Ringcraft Moana where Rob Wright displayed his 45 years of jewellery-making.
We then went to Swiss felt artist Susan Imhasly's home to look at her creations, before visiting local painter Amanda Crehan's home where she has set up a studio downstairs. I fell in love with a beautiful piece called Blue Cinerarias. The blue flowers and leaves were so realistic.
The biggest surprise
Before I'd left Auckland, a colleague insisted I visit the Tawhiti Museum in Hawera as owner Nigel Ogle has a talent that you don't see anywhere else. He was right.
Since the 1970s, he's been making moulds of people — teeny tiny ones and life-size ones representing real people — to tell the story of NZ's history.
In one exhibit, Traders and Whalers, you take a journey on a small boat through an eerie Maori village, illuminated by lanterns and candles, to the distant sound of birdcalls and water drips.
Life-sized sailors barter with local Maori for pork, potatoes and flax in return for flintlock muskets.
Best stretch of road
The Forgotten World Highway was the real test for the Mustang — 155km of different terrain. From a river gorge which included a one-lane tunnel, to sharp corners through four mountain saddles, to 15km of unsealed gravel.
We got to try out three of the four driving modes: normal, sport+, and snow/wet.
The wet function calmed the nerves around the slippery corners creating a smooth and stable drive.
Sport+ got tried out on short, sharp bursts when we got to a bit of straight road. We had to remember to slow down when driving over shrubbery and wet sports as we slid easily.
But remember to fill up your tank before leaving Stratford — especially in a gas-guzzling Mustang — as there are no petrol stations until you reach Taumaranui.
The new Ford Mustang GT Fastback 5.0L Ti-VCT V8
• Built at Ford's Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Michigan
• The first right-hand drive Mustang in NZ
• Retails from $77,880, convertible from $82,880
• Keyless entry and push button start
• Heated front seats
• Rain-sensing wipers
• Reversing camera and parking sensors
• Voice activation system on 8-inch LCD touch screen, pairs with mobile devices (bluetooth or USB), includes gps
• Four driving modes: normal, sport+, track, and snow/wet
• Three steering modes: standards, sport and comfort