Taranaki deserves the endorsement of Tom Cruise, writes Elisabeth Easther.

Where is it?

In the Taranaki region, 360km from Auckland or 354km from Wellington, with the broader region sitting on the remains of three volcanic cones.

Origin of name: Named for Plymouth in England, where many of the early colonial settlers came from. Taranaki is Maori for shining mountain.

Population: 68,900.


Town slogan: Taranaki - like no other.

Town icons: Len Lye's Wind Wand or Mt Taranaki.

War and peace: Taranaki was hotly disputed between Maori and early settlers, with bloody battles throughout the 1860s and 1870s. At Parihaka a peaceful protest entered the history books when government troops invaded the settlement, evicted the locals and confiscated land.

Famous locals: Melanie Lynskey (actress), Derryn Hinch (broadcaster), Katie Wolfe (actress/director), Jim Hickey (weatherman), Paige Hareb (surf champion), Beauden Barrett (All Black), Dave Loveridge (All Black), David Hill (writer).

Infamous local: In 1892 The Highwayman became famous for stealing from the rich. He was eventually caught and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Best websites: taranaki.info and visitnewplymouth.co.nz.

Big business: Oil, gas and farming.

Blooming marvellous: The region boasts several gardens of national and international significance including Pukekura Park, Te Kainga Marire and Pukeiti.

Town fiestas: Womad, Taranaki Powerco Garden Spectacular, Festival of Lights, the biennial Taranaki Arts Festival, surfing competitions and the ITU World Cup.

Here for a short time? Take a scenic helicopter flight.

Best place to take kids: Brooklands Zoo in Pukekura Park is not only awesome, it's free to visit.

Best park: Pukekura Park is 52ha of botanical beauty, filled with bush walks, play areas, lakes and a tea house.

Best walks: The 11km Coastal Walkway has won swags of awards. You can walk, skate or cycle from Port Taranaki in the west, past the Wind Wand to the stunning Te Rewa Rewa Bridge which looks like a breaking wave or a skeleton of a fish depending how you look at it. And you can take a great shot of the mountain and beyond to Bell Block. Check out Goblin Forest or the viewing platform at North Egmont for super views.

Best view: Cape Egmont Lighthouse is stunning or go up Paritutu Rock - it's only 20 minutes to the top.

Best place to pull over: Burgess Hill on SH3 gives a good mountain view where you'll be sure to say "wow".

Best swim: The Todd Energy Aquatic Centre is super for all-season swimming with indoor and outdoor pools, a diving pool, a wave machine, hydroslides, spa, sauna and gym. And the best beach is Fitzroy Beach, it's safe, you can swim between the flags and there are picnic areas.

Best museum: Puke Ariki - the world's first purpose-built, fully integrated museum - tells the stories of Taranaki using a variety of interactive media. You'll find the i-Site and library there too.

Finest art gallery: The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery is a contemporary art museum, home to the collection of Len Lye, film maker and kinetic artist. It's being rebuilt this very minute and is due to re-open in May.

Best shop: Kina sells quality New Zealand giftware by local artisans and also does exhibitions.

Tops for coffee: Try Ozone Coffee Roasters' Beanstore, their coffee is amazing. Bach On Breakwater by the port is perfect for sea views and Chaos Cafe is also highly spoken of.

Best bakery: Piccolo Morso at Fitzroy Beach for sweet treats, savoury delights, coffee, juices and smoothies.

Best food: Arborio is open for lunch and dinner, their fettuccine and pizzas are delicious. Mexico is muy delicioso, and Portofino does great food and atmosphere. Or stop in at Cafe Espresso & Wine Bar (17 Brougham Street) for views across the stream.

Wet your whistle: Frederic's provides decor from days gone by, a tribute to Frederic Carrington, the early surveyor. And there are loads of other bars, so you'll not go thirsty.

On your bike: New Plymouth has been voted one of the most bicycle friendly cities in New Zealand. Aside from cycling the coastal walkway, there are splendid mountain bike tracks at Lake Mangamahoe where there are trails for all levels of ability.

Best adventures: Choose from surfing to fishing, kayak trips to chopper rides, hike your heart out or climb to the summit of Mt Taranaki - in summer you could do it yourself but in winter it's best you go with a guide.

Best kept secret: Koru Pa is thought to be one of the first Maori settlements in New Zealand, settled about 1000AD. It's a 30-minute drive from town and on a 10-minute walk you'll find extensive terracing, rua pits and visible former dwellings.

Wildlife: There's loads of sea and bird life; or for caged encounters go to the Pouakai Zoo for white tigers, Inglewood's Stoney Oaks Wildlife Park for exotic and farm animals, or Brooklands Zoo for monkeys and aviaries.

Safety warnings: Black sand on a hot day? Wear Jandals.

Visitors say: When Tom Cruise was shooting The Last Samurai here he said: "It's absolutely stunning here, breathtaking, how could any one not want to be here?"

Locals say: What Tom said.

Thanks to Karen Moratti from the New Plymouth i-Site for sharing the love.