Lonely Planet Writer

Pathfinder pics: exploring Taranaki

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Lonely Planet Pathfinder Daniel Clarke takes us on a road trip around the less travelled region of Taranaki in New Zealand.

Framed by black-sand beaches and the mountain from which the region takes its name, Taranaki isn’t always on the average New Zealand road-trip itinerary. In fact, only 2% of international visitors venture here.

I’m sure this was one of the many reasons it made it into Best In Travel as one of the best regions in the world to visit in 2017. With fascinating new museums, miles of near empty beaches and an impressive national park you could spend days exploring, I was excited to discover an area 'like no other'.

Plan ahead and join the party

In New Zealand's summer months, Taranaki comes alive with a programme of events that could rival any major destination. The free Festival of Lights (December – February) sees Pukekura Park host bands, light displays and daytime activities while Womad, the international music festival, arrives in town in March. The weather tends to have a mind of its own here but there's lots to explore come rain or shine – so grab your guidebook and sketch out some plans in advance so you don’t miss a thing.

Ride the waves

Winding along Taranaki's coast, the SH45 has earned the name 'Surf Highway' thanks to its impressive collection of surf breaks. Hike Paritutu Rock for great views across the region; pitch a tent on the beach and sleep under the stars; or tick off the popular hot spots such as Cape Egmont Lighthouse and the SS Gairloch shipwreck.

Soak up 52 acres of pristine parks

Right in the heart of New Plymouth sits Pukekura Park, 52 hectares of pristine gardens, boating lakes, wildlife and waterfalls. You can easily spend a day taking in the serenity of this city space. If museums are more your style, the new and impressive Len Lye Centre boasts a range of kinetic art while Puke Ariki serves up a great insight into the local area and its Māori culture.

Cruise along the coastal walkway

With 10km of waterfront walkway, New Plymouth coastal path is a great way to spend the day. Start the morning at the port with a boat tour of the Sugar Loaf Islands and keep an eye out for the impressive marine life. Take a stroll past the iconic Wind Wand before heading along Fitzroy beach, stopping at the truly Instagram-worthy Te Rewa Rewa Bridge for a perfect shot of Mount Taranaki. If cycling is more your thing, nip into Cycle Inn in the city and hire a bike for the day to go beyond the walkway.

Live the cabin life

Mount Taranaki is so impressive it stood in for Mount Fuji in the film The Last Samurai. While the summit climb is a popular option, the Poukai crossing is earning its place as one of the best walks in the country. The trek can take anywhere from one to three days and takes in moss swamps, waterfalls and a diverse mixture of native plants. To really experience Egmont National Park book yourself a night in one of the huts for a digital detox.

Drive the forgotten highway

The long and winding road leading out of Taranaki earns its title as the 'forgotten highway' for good reason. Passing through rolling hills and into dense lush landscapes, the journey will take you through the Republic of Whangamomona which voted itself ‘independent’ after a dispute over regional border changes.

Every two years the township hosts their presidential elections and holds a day full of entertainment which draws thousands of visitors. Past presidents have included a poodle and a goat, so you know you're in for an entertaining ride!

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