In Taranaki, Elisabeth Easther finds a town with a playful history.

Origin of name:

Founded in 1872, the town was originally called Moatown, then Milton, but in 1875, to prevent it being confused with the South Island's Milton, it was renamed Inglewood after the Inglewood Forest in Cumberland.

Population: 3243.

Town slogan: Go the moa.

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Town emblem: The aforementioned moa.

Old news: Each September, between 1952 and 1972, The Greatest Show on Earth would draw tens of thousands of visitors to Inglewood. With all manner of entertainments on offer, there'd be athletics, wood chopping, magicians, musicians, circus acts — even a skating rink one year, although the sun shone a little too brightly and the rink was put on ice thereafter.

Famous locals: Writers David Hill and Fleur Beale, All Blacks Dave Loveridge, John Major and Chris Masoe, artist Michael Stevenson and Henry Brown (saw-miller and Member of Parliament). Loveridge was regarded by many as the best blindside running halfback New Zealand ever produced.

Infamous local: Steve Crow of Boobs on Bikes fame, who has made a business in the red-light trade.

Best website: inglewood.co.nz
Big business: Aside from farming and oil, Taranaki Civil Construction provides lots of jobs.

Watch this space: The Taranaki Traverse will be a major semi-alpine walk around the Pouakai Ranges, with views right across to Kawhia.

Source of pride: Aside from being home to the largest rhododendron tree in the Southern Hemisphere, Inglewood is also very proud of its historic buildings, from the town hall to the band rotunda, not to mention the railway station and yard (listed with the NZ Historic Places Trust as Category 1).

Town fiestas: The annual Lions Christmas Parade (second Saturday in December) is Taranaki's most popular Santa parade, drawing huge numbers. In February each year, the town plays host to Americarna, when more than 600 American cars roll into town, attracting more than 10,000 visitors. In January, the first Town Picnic was held at Joe Gibbs Reserve, and it was so successful it's going to be an annual event.

Here for a short time: Go to Fritz Reuter Place, in the middle of town, and experience the Scented Garden and the Polish Memorial Fountain that commemorates the important contribution made by Polish settlers — the large bronze eagle is most impressive.

Why stop: To enjoy the town's genteel pace, poke your nose into the shops and refuel at the cafes.

Best place to take the kids: Fun Ho! Toy Museum, once New Zealand's biggest toy manufacturer had a staff of more than 200 at its peak and featured on a set of nostalgic postage stamps in 1999. Opened in 1939, you can still watch toys being made, including the popular 80 Racer, which is still made using the original mould.

Kids also love: Seven minutes out of town, Stony Oakes Wildlife Park invites visitors to come and enjoy close encounters of the animal kind, and you can get your hands on everything from yaks to rabbits, pigs to donkeys, goats, possums and deer. Or pop into the North Taranaki Visitors Centre for more inside information.

Best playground: There are three small playgrounds in the town, all of them lovely. Inglewood is also proud of its Mondo all-weather athletics track - this is a very sporty town.

Best park: Everett Park Scenic Reserve on the banks of the Manganui River has lovely strolls and space to play.

Best walks: Joe Gibbs Scenic Reserve has a 500m track through native bush, and you'll find something similar in Percy Nopps Reserve. Or how about doing the Windsor Walkway, a 4.5km loop - and when you've done the walk you can buy the T-shirt at Caffe Windsor to prove it.

Best view: Try the lookout at Jubilee Park, where you can gaze straight across town to Mt Taranaki. At the main gates of Inglewood High School, you'll be greeted with yet another aspect of majestic Mt Taranaki.

Best swims: The heated outdoor town baths are open November to April or head to Everett Park to take a dip in the swimming hole in the Manganui River.

An 80 racer, made by Fun Ho! Toys. Photo / Supplied
An 80 racer, made by Fun Ho! Toys. Photo / Supplied

Best museum:

Fun Ho! Toy Museum is the place to view examples of over 3000 toys. Once New Zealand's largest toymaker, today you can check out the onsite foundry and watch the toys being made. Also the

Taranaki Aviation Transport and Technology Museum

is filled with gems, from planes to farm equipment, taking up over six vast buildings.

Cultural outings: Cue Theatre is the home of Inglewood's Dramatic Society. For nearly 60 years they've made an extraordinary contribution to town life.

Nice arts: Fritz Reuter Gallery hosts local artists and their works, a regularly changing array of art and crafts.

Top shop: Inglewood is known for its great shops including fashion boutiques and, best of all, there are no parking meters.

Cream of the coffee: Caffe Windsor regularly wins awards, plus it does a fine bacon-and-lettuce sandwich. Aside from coffee, Kiwi Kafe's hot apricot chicken salad is delectable. Fern Lodge also does a great brew and good food. Housed in the Inglewood Hotel, the building is over 100 years old and has recently been revamped.

Baked: Nelsons Bakery and Kiwi Kafe are famous for their pies.

Best food: On top of the previously mentioned establishments, there's also Funk Fish Grill, Xpressions Pizzas and Takeaways, and Bhukara for Indian food.

Wet your whistle: Fern Lodge is fine for a tipple, while The Hairy Dog not only does drinks it has a small TAB and cafe. The bar at the Inglewood Club is welcoming to visitors and also has a restaurant, and Funk Fish and Caffe Windsor are also licensed if you're still thirsty.

Best mountain biking: Lake Mangamahoe is the most picturesque spot, plus it offers mountain bike tracks and bridle trails — or you can walk it.

Best adventure: Climb Mt Taranaki and play in the snow, then head to the beach for a surf all on the same day, if you're hardy that is. Gliding round here is also spectacular and the Taranaki Gliding Club, just a little way out of Inglewood, provides one-off scenic flights, or you can take gliding lessons.

Best kept secret: Pukerangiora was the scene of a bloody battle in the Musket Wars of the early-1800s, today it's an historic reserve where visitors can contemplate the past among the trenches and fortifications.

Wildlife: With 13,000ha of land in Purangi, the East Taranaki Kiwi Reserve has seen kiwi numbers increase significantly. In fact, there's all sorts of birdlife around these parts.

Thanks to Richard from Fun Ho! Toys.