From fantastic museums to the great outdoors, Taranaki has plenty to entertain children writes Alexia Santamaria
Taranaki is one of my favourite regions for a family holiday. With that mountain as the ever-present backdrop (there are really few North Island sights better than a snow-capped Mt Taranaki on a blue cloudless day), it's an area of immense beauty. But it also ticks all the boxes when it comes to things to see, do and eat, and, every time we leave, our kids can't wait to get back. Here's a quick round-up of some of my picks for family fun in Taranaki.
There are so many quirky, fascinating places that provide fun for kids, but also great interest for parents.
The Len Lye Centre in New Plymouth is as magnificent as its international reputation would have you believe. The shimmering stainless-steel facade with its dramatic curves is a work of art itself and the kids loved the moving, vibrating, extremely lively installations as much as we did.
We all loved Tawhiti Museum, regularly rated in Tripadvisor's top 10 travellers' choice of museums in New Zealand. Owner Nigel Ogle is passionate about using art to re-create our history through intricate models of past life in New Zealand.
The sprawling 4000sq m museum contains almost 100 of these scenes (some with up to 800 figures) plus many life-sized mannequins in settings from a bygone era.
Any young tractor fans will be in heaven when they see the enormous collection of farm machinery, and there's a bush railway train ride too. The other part of the museum is a canal boat ride that takes you through the times of the traders and whalers in the Taranaki region. This Weta Workshop creation vividly portrays the sights and sounds of inter-tribal and settler conflict.
Puke Ariki in New Plymouth is also fantastic. This wonderful interactive museum with beautifully-presented modern exhibits was fascinating for us all. Our children loved the activity trails with the reward of a badge after finding everything on the sheet in each section.
There are plenty of other quirky and fun museums and if you are there on a weekend, it's worth dropping in at Manutahi Museum to see John Ward's collection of thousands of taxidermied animals. He's a collector rather than a hunter and is very enthusiastic to share all his knowledge on animals of the world.
There are endless places for kids to get active in Taranaki — our children especially loved Kawaroa Park playground in New Plymouth, right at the water's edge. Great for little ones.
If you can time your trip for the TSB Bank Festival of Lights, definitely do. Illuminated bridges and waterfalls and vibrant installations line Pukekura Park and the playground is adorned with glow-in-the-dark art. It's a truly magical night-time walk for young and old.
Biking the 13km Coastal Walkway in New Plymouth is magical too, with the power of those west coast waves so close and forceful. If your kids are older and capable of a little climb, Paritutu rock provides stunning sea views.
And if you get the chance, definitely get out on the water with Chaddy's Charters, as much for his entertaining banter and dad jokes as anything else. We loved being out on the magnificent turquoise blue harbour and spotting gorgeous baby seals on the rocks and in the water around the islands.
If you're keen for some surf or swimming action, Surf Highway 45 is hard to beat. The kids will love Ohawe, Oakura and Opunake beaches.
If time permits, stay in Stratford and get up to Wilkie Pools and Dawson Falls on the slopes of Mt Taranaki. Stunning New Zealand at its best.
It's definitely no struggle to find good food in New Plymouth itself: exciting breakfasts like brioche doughnuts and kedgeree at Monica's, outstanding shared plates at Social Kitchen, cocktails and Asian inspired innovative morsels like bao, skewers and Japanese tacos at Snug, incredible cabinet food at Public Catering Company, great coffee at Jetcharm, Proof and Stock and Ozone, great Indian at Arranged Marriage plus so much more.
If you decide to drive the gorgeous Surf Highway, don't miss the fish and chips at Opunake. Life-changing.