Easter weekend is a long weekend in New Zealand so with the extra time off of work and school we decided to meet up with some of our American friends who moved to New Zealand last year. We have seen a good portion of the North Island, especially the areas that are within a 3-4 hour drive, Tom and Robin haven’t seen much of New Zealand yet so they were up for anything. At first we thought about The Coromandel and Hot Water Beach because it is kind of a crime to live here and not go there, but we have been there 3 or 4 times already, and it can be super crazy on holidays, so we decided to head down to Taranaki, an area on the West Coast of the North Island, that we have not explored at all.
Taranaki or “The ‘Naki” as some people call it is was known to early European settlers as the “Garden of New Zealand” for it’s rich volcanic soil and plentiful rainfall. The region is dominated by the stunning Mount Taranaki, a near perfect cone volcano. According to Maori legend Mount Taranaki used to be located in the Central North Island near 3 other male mountain gods, Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu. All 4 of these mountains wanted little Mount Pinhanga, the only female mountain, for their own, and Tongariro and Taranaki engaged in a fierce battle for her attention. Taranaki lost the fight and fled to the West, carving the Wanganui River in his path. He stopped where he stands today, towering over the landscape of the Taranaki region. Mount Taranaki can be fickle to see without clouds capping his peak, the legend says that the clouds hide his tears.
The traffic on holiday weekends can be a nightmare getting out of Auckland because of our amazing, I mean, primitive, road system (seriously, one lane roads people!) so our 4.5 hour drive actually took the entire day. Yee ha! The first leg, Auckland to Huntly should normally take an hour and a half, but it took over three hours.
Good thing I sat in the back, sandwiched between the two kiddos, because prior to our trip, Mia had developed a severe hatred of driving in the car. If I hadn’t sat back there it wouldn’t have been pretty.
We drove straight from Auckland to New Plymouth without any stops other than lunch, but if you left early enough (and didn’t have hideous traffic) you could easily squeeze in a stop at the Waitomo Caves on your way. We didn’t add it on because we did them a few years ago, and if you read on to the end, you will find out where you can see glow worms for FREE!
We were barreling along trying to get to New Plymouth as quickly as we could, but as we hit the coast we just had to stop because it was so gorgeous. We timed it perfectly to see Mount Taranaki way off in the distance right before a wall of rain clouds swallowed it up. The rain clouds over the sea were just stunning.
We wanted our trip to be super kid friendly because between the two families we had a 7, 5, and 2-year old, plus baby Mia at 5 months. We decided we would split up our activities between things totally for the kids, and things we wanted to do that they kids may or may not enjoy (like hikes!). We stayed at 16 Northgate Motor Lodge and found it a good central location, and the room large enough to fit all 4 of us easily.
Saturday morning we lounged around and had breakfast in our rooms before heading off to the Brooklands Zoo inside of Pukekura Park. The Park seems like a nice place to spend an afternoon, we only visited the Zoo. I must admit I was a little skeptical of the zoo since we have a great zoo in Auckland, and this was just tiny New Plymouth, but I was pleasantly surprised. I would call it more like an animal park than a zoo because it is quite small, but the kids absolutely loved it.
It has a good playground area, an enclosed walk-through aviary, otters, and the kid’s favorite, monkeys. And one of the BEST parts about this place, especially if you have toddlers or runners, it is fully fenced in! This is gold to parents. The kids could play and we could chat without feeling like we had to follow them like hawks.
After the zoo we headed down to the Govett-Brewster Gallery. This is an absolute must! First off, you could just spend all your time outside and have a great time. Just watching the world and yourself reflecting in the wavy glass is mesmerizing, and sometimes hilarious. I could have spent a lot longer there than we did.
The Len Eye Centre is really why people flock to the Govett-Brewster. I had never heard of Len Eye before, but I was captivated by his work. Eye (1901-1980) was a prolific artist in the Modernist movement creating from a lens of the “art of movement,” including film and kinetic sculpture. In his own words,
“I’m interested in the business of energy and getting a feel of zizz.”
The Four Fountains exhibit was, I hate to use the same word again, but captivating. The fountains are made from “bundles of rotating stainless steel that twist, flex, and shimmer.” The movements are quite small and subtle, but with the lighting and the sound they make you could seriously stay for hours just enjoying the sensory experience.
Mia was enthralled. She loves shadows and movement, even when we first adopted her she loved when I would make shadows on the wall with my hand during our middle of the night feedings.
We ate lunch at the museum cafe, Monica’s Eatery. I love me a good New Zealand cafe! What a lovely space, light and spacious. The food was good, especially the fig gelato.
On a mission to hit up as much of New Plymouth as we could in a short period of time we walked down to the ocean and let the kids play at the playground for a little while. The Coastal Walkway runs through the area, so you see lots of people out and about, and the famous Len Eye wind wand.
Next it was just a short walk to the Puke Ariki museum, another gem for people traveling with little kids. It is a beautiful space, with lovely views of the ocean. The exhibits are interesting for children and adults, I loved learning about the geological forces at work to create the area.
The science area downstairs had to be the hit of the museum for the kids. We seriously had to force them to leave, they could have stayed forever, but alas the museum was closing and dinner was calling.
Oh wait, and Robin and I were playing too. Robin and I did our undergrad and grad degrees in Dance together, can you tell? It felt so Alwin Nikolais.
The next day we headed out to the Dawson Falls Visitors Centre to explore Mount Taranaki. It is actually a bit of a drive from New Plymouth to the East Egmont side of the mountain because you go all the way around the base of the mountain. Things to note about the drive, once you start heading up the mountain the road is very narrow and winding, so go slow, and be careful of parked cars along side the road.
It was Easter Sunday and the super magical, amazing, and prepared Easter Bunny managed to find us on top of the mountain to allow our children to indulge in some sugar overload before our little hike. Pat on the back and a high five for the Easter Bunny.
Dawson Falls Track
We did the Dawson Falls hike from the visitors centre parking lot. You can make it shorter if you park right next to the falls, along side the road, but I prefer the slightly longer route because it takes you through the magical bush for a longer period of time.
This hike is short but sweet, fairly easy until you get to the very steep stairs down to the base of the falls. Toddlers will need help or to be carried during this part.
The kids had a great time climbing on the rocks and playing in the water spray at the base of the falls. You can get a perfectly picturesque photo, but you will have to time it right to look like you are the only people there!
To make the way back easier on the Little People we went up the stairs and out to the road instead of going back along the trail.
Robin and Tom headed off back to their home after the Falls hike, but we hadn’t quite got our fix yet and decided to stay for one more hike. We got lunch at the cafe near the visitors centre at the Dawson Falls Lodge. It isn’t super flash, but had yummy soup, basic sandwiches, and of course hot drinks. I think my favourite part of lunch was when Mia let out a MASSIVE burp after her bottle and everyone in the cafe looked up at her and laughed. Epic. Oh no wait, my real favorite part was when Mia game me some seriously good smiles, some of the first really good ones yet.
Wilkies Pool Loop Track
We were in for a treat after lunch. We did the Wilkies Pool Loop Track which includes the Goblin Forest. It’s one of those moments, and you have them often in New Zealand, where you step on to the trail and go about 50 feet and feel like you are in a different world. The trees are covered in this magical, beard-like moss and it seems like a Goblin really could pop out from behind a tree at any moment.
As you branch off to the Wilkies Pool trail the greenery lightens up and you come across a stream of giant boulders which is an ancient lava flow that has been carved out by water and sand over time.
Mia was asleep in the Solly Baby Wrap so Clarke stayed at the bottom of the pools while Oliver and I scampered up a few levels. There is an area next to the pools where you can kind of boulder up rock steps. Oliver is 7 and did well with them, but younger children might need a bit of help.
It is definitely worth climbing up the layers of pools. It is amazing to think of the power of sand and water over time can create such beautiful shapes in solid rock. I think it would be fun to come in the heat of summer and play in the pools and water falls.
To head back to the car park you can either double-back the way you came or finish the loop. I recommend finishing the loop because you get to go back into the Goblin Forest and feel like you are walking through the land of Hobbits and fairies. There is a stream that you need to cross that is a bit slippery, but we managed just fine, even wearing a baby.
You must know something about our Oliver. He tends to be a bit of a Negative Nancy about going out adventuring sometimes, but we never take him seriously because he always ends up enjoying himself. So when Robin and Co. left he was grumpy and said he wanted to go back to the hotel (I think mostly because he had a lot of screen time on our trip down and he was thinking a hike vs. Clash of Clans, in your dreams Buddy!) but he quickly changed his mind when we entered the Goblin Forest and had a fantastic time.
Though one of our magic tricks for hiking with Oliver is playing the “Statue Game.” If he is getting whiney one of us starts to play and then he will take over. Here are the basics, one person runs ahead of the rest and freezes in a statue shape, when you come upon them you must be surprised and talk about how much you would pay for the sculpture. It may sound silly, or even boring after a while, but it never ceases to amaze me how much he loves his game. Try it next time you hike with your kids.
When we were finished with the Loop we headed back down the mountain and decided to drive the rest of the loop around the other side of Mount Taranaki to get back to New Plymouth.
The top of the mountain had been hidden in clouds the entire time we were there (which is pretty typical), so I was thrilled when the clouds cleared on the drive home. We decided to pull off the road a few times to catch a peek at the top while we could.
Ok, so this post is getting crazy long, and I still have the best yet to come….. glow worms! Check out part two of our New Plymouth/Taranaki Adventure here.