NEW PLYMOUTH is a star specimen of a plucky provincial destination punching far beyond its weight class. Its arsenal of dynamic craft producers is formidable and extensive.
There's a palpable sense of pride in the perky city's urban vitality; its cultural draws, creative credentials, culinary verve and craft brew scene.
The past decade's revitalisation of the West End, magnified immeasurably by the stainless steel traffic-stopper, the Len Lye Centre, is a gleaming tractor-beam. Like a gallery wrapped in a grand and mirrored tutu, it will literally make you stop and reflect.
Directly across the road, on the corner of Devon and Queen Sts, the colonial splendour of the historical White Hart Hotel, with its wraparound wooden veranda. Famously robbed by a highwayman in 1893 and home to Taranaki's punk rock scene in the 1970s, this classic hotel has been meticulously restored, housing a variety of hospitality venues and inviting shops including the interior design concept store, Plantation.
Queen St boasts some divine cafes, including Monica's Eatery, inspired by the life and spirit of the art gallery's founding patron, Monica Brewster. Then there's Fork and Knife, where customer favourites include fresh ceviché, venison loin, plus the ever-popular deconstructed snickers bar.
The Arizona is the adjoining awesome street food option, which has recently stepped up a notch with new owners/chef Jeremy and Britt Webling. It's the local favourite for takeaway tasty burgers, salads, shakes and smoothies.
A new hero in New Plymouth's hospitality scene is Shining Peak Brewing, that has fast cultivated a red-hot following as a social hub in its Gill St base, housed in a former electronics store. They passionately pay tribute to the region's origins and tales while delivering a world-class experience.
The name Shining Peak pays homage to the original translation of Taranaki, while their brews share the stories of quirky local legends, like Fanny Fantham, the notorious Highwayman, or the 'Octopus Clamp' — a preferred wrestling move of Hawera novelist Ronald Hugh Morrieson.
Meeting up with co-owner and head brewer, Jesse Sigurdssen, I was inspired to hear about their 5% Project, where in keeping with the tradition of a local brewery playing a central role within a community, Shining Peak nurtures many local community projects and causes by donating 5 per cent of their beer revenue to a different organisation, each month. That equates to around $5000 a month – which is no small beer, regardless of whether you're a fan of dark lager, pale ale, or a raspberry berliner weisse.
An incisive and utterly enthralling way to dip deep into Taranaki's bountiful platter of producer verve, foodie flair and culinary wizardry is to take a tour with Taste and Tales. Cathy Thurston's guided, behind-the-scenes taste trails artfully showcase some of Taranaki's top food and beverage producers, over the course of several hours.
The highlights reel from my guided tour included Juno Gin, an industry darling, boasting a stirring collection of award-winning New Zealand premium gins, powered by a Taranaki husband and wife partnership, Jo and Dave James.
They launched their award-winning premium gin venture in 2015 after shifting back to New Plymouth from Melbourne. They are a delight to meet and alongside their extra-fine signature Juno Gin, their seasonal releases are delectable.
Relentlessly enterprising, Jo and Dave have been at the forefront of seeking to establish a commercial industry of New Zealand-grown juniper berries, after leading the hunt for the most viable plants to propagate here, rather than importing them from the Northern Hemisphere.
Another irresistible stop is G, Giles Chocolatier in St Aubyn St, where Gavin Giles creates artisan handmade chocolates. Using Belgian chocolate, Giles Chocolatier makes the traditional, the novel and unusual — including a collaboration with Juno Gin.
His recent co-venture with Egmont Honey to create New Zealand Manuka Honey Chocolate is a smash-hit.
Back in the day the chocolaterie was a butcher's shop belonging to his grandmother's family — Harvey's Butcher, from the 1930s. His grandmother's brother owned the butcher's shop until 1969. Nearly a century later since the store began life as a butcher, it remains a going concern for the family, again.
It took a lot of will power to resist gorging myself silly on Gavin's wonderful truffles and tablettes, and the incredible flavour range, from bacon chocolate and coconut cinnamon chocolate to black doris plum and pineapple cashew chocolate.
New Plymouth's abundance of artisanal produce will bowl you over. Stay longer, graze heartily.