Seven secrets of Taranaki | Stuff.co.nz

Kiwis love hidden gems, so we’re on a mission to find them. Undiscovered Aotearoa is a video-led series by Brook Sabin and Radha Engling to uncover the best bits of New Zealand you never knew about.

Taranaki is home to arguably the country’s most beautiful mountain, and that tends to absorb much of the attention if you’re visiting the region.

But look a little deeper, and you’ll find a collection of lesser-known attractions which includes a new luge track, fantastic food trucks, and wonderful coastal walks.

Here are Taranaki’s seven secret spots that won’t stay off-the-radar for long.

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1) An unexpected safari

Te Popo Gardens is one of the region’s best hidden gems.
Brook Sabin/Stuff

Te Popo Gardens is one of the region’s best hidden gems.

Tucked away in Taranaki’s hinterland, I’m staring at three elephants. Just around the corner, a hippo emerges from a pond.

No, I’m not in Africa. But Africa has come to Taranaki at Te Popo Gardens.

This sprawling 13-hectare garden and woodland is a 15-minute drive from Stratford and is a majestic wonderland of native and exotic trees and shrubs. But what makes it unique is 40 (many life-size) sculptures of African animals dotted around the property. Kids will love going on a safari to find them all.

There’s also a fairy forest with three large doll houses, where children can enter and play inside. If you have little ones with a sense of adventure, the $5 entry fee is perhaps the best money you’ll ever spend. Remember to bring cash, as it operates on an honesty box system.

2) Food truck heaven

There are no shortage of delicious options at Liardet Street Projects

Brook Sabin/Stuff

There are no shortage of delicious options at Liardet Street Projects

Hidden in central New Plymouth is one of the country’s best foodie secrets, known as Liardet Street Projects – it’s food truck heaven.

The small courtyard is home to everything from exceptional burgers, Spanish treats, poké bowls, Californian-inspired pizza, extraordinary South Indian and a popular Vietnamese option. You can eat your way around the world in just a few steps.

Make sure to try a burger from Gamma Ray’s – we tasted their “Take MOO to you leader” cheeseburger, and it rivals some of the best we’ve had in New York.

3) The post office palace

The Helena Suite at The Old Eltham Post Office.

Brook Sabin/Stuff

The Helena Suite at The Old Eltham Post Office.

The tiny inland town of Eltham is home to one of the country’s most extraordinary bed and breakfasts.

In the centre of town is a building known as “The Old Post Office” which goes back to 1905. Inside is a palatial suite, complete with grand chandeliers, a freestanding bath, an enormous shower and one of the comfiest beds you’ll find. The suite has been immaculately designed, effortlessly mixing the building’s character features with European flair. For example, a former telephone booth once used by the post office to allow customers to ring around the world now sits in the corner of the suite as a coatroom.

The extraordinary refit was completed last year by hosts David and Maria Hancock, who even offer to bring a home-cooked dinner to your suite. It’s one of the best bed and breakfast experiences you can try.

4) It’s playtime

A luge is one of Taranaki’s latest rides.

Brook Sabin/Stuff

A luge is one of Taranaki’s latest rides.

Taranaki is home to a new luge, especially popular with younger kids.

Hideaway Luge Taranaki can be found at the Hillsborough Holden Museum, which is home to the county’s largest collection of Holden cars and memorabilia.

Steve and Joy Fabish spent the past couple of years designing and constructing the luge, which is 240 metres long – so best suited for children.

The luge track is perfect for kids.

Brook Sabin/Stuff

The luge track is perfect for kids.

After the ride, the luge carts are ferried to the top courtesy of a ski lift, while you can catch a Thomas the Tank Engine train back to the start or walk up.

The mini-putt that runs alongside the luge is very popular, with a café to enjoy up the top of the course when your round is complete.

5) Keep your gin up

Gin cocktails are available for tasting on a tour at Juno.

Brook Sabin/Stuff

Gin cocktails are available for tasting on a tour at Juno.

New Plymouth is taking the gin scene by force, with a popular and fast-growing startup called Juno leading the charge.

It’s run by Jo and Dave James, who met at a New Plymouth kindergarten, and decades later, they are now a fast-growing force in the gin world.

Their small city-based distillery is open to the public for a tour and tasting – at just $25 per person, it offers exceptional value.

You’ll be taken on a sensory journey through gin making and gain a new appreciation of the botanicals that bring this drink to life.

You can also upgrade to the Full Distillery Tour, which includes cocktails, canapés, and a wider array of gins. At $59, it’s a fun-packed 90-minutes with friends.

Don’t miss trying their seasonal gins, such as the Juno Winter 2021. It’s described as “intense and juicy with tiny mandarins of perfection, matched with toasted coconut, lime blossoms and a whisker of cinnamon”. That’s not just marketing fluff – you really do get a sense of those flavours.

6) Luxury on a budget

Views from the deluxe waterfront motel units at New Plymouth’s Belt Road Seaside Holiday Park.

Brook Sabin/Stuff

Views from the deluxe waterfront motel units at New Plymouth’s Belt Road Seaside Holiday Park.

Fancy unwinding in a freestanding stone bath on the deck of your waterfront room while watching the sunset? Sounds like an expensive night away?

New Plymouth’s Belt Road Seaside Holiday Park has a series of deluxe waterfront motel units with a super king bed and a room that overlooks the sea. But the pièce de résistance is an outdoor bath, complete with bath bombs. And you can be here for less than $200 a night.

The units are also just a few minutes stroll to the city’s popular coastal walk, which will take you to the centre of town for dinner in just 15 minutes. Then return for a bath under the stars, before an early night.

7) Wonderful walks

The Three Sisters walk is spectacular.

Brook Sabin/Stuff

The Three Sisters walk is spectacular.

People travel from all over the world to visit Victoria’s Twelve Apostles – we have our own version in Aotearoa: The Three Sisters.

This short beach walk, which is only accessible at low tide, involves a stroll along an estuary to reach the beach, where you’ll find three towering rock formations. There are also several caves to explore, which the kids will love.

The Whitecliffs Walkway is spectacular – but care must be taken around tides.

Brook Sabin/Stuff

The Whitecliffs Walkway is spectacular – but care must be taken around tides.

Further south, you can explore the magnificent Whitecliffs Walkway loop. Head along the beach on the outgoing tide to enjoy the jagged cliff-lined beach before returning through a farmland track to your car. You must only attempt the walk on the outgoing tide, or you will get trapped. Ensure you read the Department of Conservation tips for the walk before attempting it. On a fine Taranaki day, you’re in for a treat.

Essentials:

Getting there:

New Plymouth is a 4.5-hour drive from Wellington or Auckland. Air New Zealand flies from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch to New Plymouth, with connections across the domestic network. See: airnz.co.nz

Staying there:

The Old Eltham Post Office from $305 a night. For best rates, go direct. See: theoldelthampostoffice.co.nz. Waterfront motel rooms at Belt Road Seaside Holiday Park from $189. See: beltroad.co.nz. Hosking House provides an elegant central city bed and breakfast from $220 a night. See: hoskinghouse.com

Playing there:

Te Popo Gardens is $5 per person. See: tepopo.co.nz Luge rides at Hillsborough Holden Museum start from $12 for adults and $10 for children. See: hillsboroughholdenmuseum.co.nz. Gin tours at Juno can be booked through: junogin.com. DOC has the latest track information for the Whitecliffs Walkway. See: doc.govt.nz

Carbon footprint: Flying generates carbon emissions. To reduce your impact, consider other ways of travelling, amalgamate your trips, and when you need to fly, consider offsetting emissions. To offset your carbon emissions, head to airnewzealand.co.nz/sustainability-customer-carbon-offset.

Staying safe: New Zealand is currently under Covid-19 restrictions. Follow the instructions at covid19.govt.nz.

The author’s trip was supported by Venture Taranaki. See: taranaki.co.nz. This story was produced as a part of an editorial partnership with Tourism New Zealand. Read more about our partnership content here.

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