Former OHbaby! staffer Andrea Bennett and her family discover Taranaki's rugged west coast is the perfect setting for a weekend escape, whatever the weather.
Excitement was high in our house as we set off from Auckland to Taranaki. It was our first family holiday since our daughter Olive was born and we were all looking forward to the change of scenery. Olive had never been in a car for longer than 30 minutes and our four-year-old son, Mackay, was prone to car sickness, so I was quite anxious at the thought of a four-and-a-half hour car trip. I planned the drive around nap times, charged up the iPad and stocked up on animal biscuits –miraculously the kids napped, ate, and spent a couple of hours looking out the window in relative peace.
We arrived in New Plymouth late in the afternoon and checked into the Fitzroy Beach Motel. Our lovely unit had a fully equipped kitchen, which is always a must when we travel, as I like the flexibility of preparing meals ourselves. Most impressively, for Mackay especially, the unit also had a spa bath with jets.
After the long journey we all needed to stretch our legs, so we took a quick stroll down to Fitzroy Beach. The black sand beach is breathtaking and, on a windy day with the waves crashing, it lives up to its name of the wild, west coast.
The fresh sea air stirred up our appetites so we headed out for dinner to the Deluxe Diner, a 1950s-themed restaurant serving delicious burgers and hotdogs. They had a great kids' menu and gourmet burgers for the grown-ups, and I’m happy to say they didn’t skimp on the pickles! The staff members were well practised in dealing with families, which all added up to a stress-free dining experience.
On Saturday morning, we woke up to a steady drizzle of rain. Undeterred, we wanted to check out the famous Coastal Walkway, so we put on our raincoats and wandered down to the beach. Even the gloomy weather couldn’t diminish the beauty, and we walked along the winding wooden path that follows the coast for a few hundred metres, stopping to chat to the local duck-rescue lady and help her feed the ducks. On the way back, we strolled past an old shipping container that had been turned into a café –ingeniously named Paris Plage (Paris beach). After our 'Parisian' morning tea of flat whites, fluffies and almond croissants (hands down the best croissant I have ever eaten!), we stumbled upon a skate park and the kids burnt off some energy running up and down the ramps.
After blowing away the cobwebs on our walk, we were off to the Fun Ho! Toy Museum in Inglewood. Inglewood was once the site of the Fun Ho! manufacturing plant and produced some of New Zealand’s most iconic die cast toys. The factory closed in the 1980s but the museum was created to preserve some of the wonderful toys. Mackay loved the displays and ran around checking out the classic toys and pushing every button while Olive happily played in the sandpit. And we couldn’t leave without taking a bit of classic Fun Ho! with us –Mackay choose a cool toy car, which he named his top secret spy car, and Olive left with a spade.
From there we drove to the VolcaNoView café and, on a chilly misty day, the café offered us a lovely respite with its cosy and warm atmosphere and a fire burning in the corner. Run by a Dutch couple, the restaurant has a uniquely European flavour; the house speciality is, of course, pancakes, but the menu had a delicious array of wholesome home-cooked food. We settled on a warming soup while Mackay ordered a pancake. Three seconds after eating it, he proclaimed “These people really know what they are doing, the pancakes are delicious”. The family-friendly vibe isn’t just limited to the menu, the grounds are great for kids with a flying fox, playground and pedal cars too.
After our lunch stop, we headed to the Tawhiti Museum. It’s a privately owned museum that chronicles New Plymouth’s settler history. Although, describing it as merely a museum is not really doing it justice –it has an interactive boat ride, a bush railway and life-size exhibits that give you a realistic idea of what life was like in Taranaki in the 1800s.
We enjoyed the Traders and Whalers ride, which took us on a boat trip following the story of the conflicts between the Maori and the European settlers, complete with gun fire and explosions. Mackay loved it, and even Olive was riveted as the drama unfolded.
Our next stop was Farmpower hall, which houses an enormous collection of farm equipment –everything from tractors to tin cans, with a few army vehicles thrown in. Both the kids were in heaven and ran around the hall climbing all over the equipment. I love museums where you can relax without worrying if the kids are going to break something.
After our lesson in New Zealand history, we drove back to New Plymouth for a swim in the New Plymouth Aquatic Centre. The centre has three different areas for different age groups; Olive and I hung out in the shallow pool, while my husband and Mackay jumped all over the slides and inflatables in the younger kids’ area. The area for older kids has a climbing wall perched over the pool and the longest inflatable pool toy I’ve ever seen.
After an action-packed day, we grabbed an Italian pizza from Arborio and ate back in the motel.
A taste of Taranaki
The next morning was bright with clear skies, a beautiful Taranaki day –finally! With the memory of the almond croissants still fresh in our minds, we hunted down the source, Petit Paris in Currie Street, for our morning fix –the deliciousness of these croissants cannot be overstated; it is worth a trip to New Plymouth just for one bite. Outside, a farmers’ market was in full swing. It had a great selection of fresh produce, and Mackay (who refuses to eat avocados) decided that the ones from Taranaki taste different to the ones I had been giving him for four years and promptly gobbled one up.
Next, we went to explore the city's famous Pukekura Park. Nestled in native bush is a beautiful lake and an ingenious waterfall which you can control by the push of a button, turning it from a gentle flow into a torrent of water. Mackay could have stayed there all day happily demonstrating it for passersby out for their morning walk.
As we continued through the park, we reached the Brooklands Zoo. This free zoo has an impressive collection of monkeys, birds and farm animals. And the best bit? It’s completely fenced with a playground in the middle, so you can relax while the kids run around.
Ready, set, go!
After the relaxing stroll through the gardens, Mackay and his dad headed off for some high-octane fun at Naki Nitro Go Karting. Mackay was strapped in safely next to his dad and they went so fast Mackay told me he thought his head was going to come off!
After an action-filled weekend, we reluctantly packed up the car and headed back to Auckland. We had a great break. Taranaki is full of activities and very family-friendly. It really does live up to its nickname of Taradise!
The Bennett family travelled courtesy of Venture Taranaki Trust. They ran out of time to do everything on their itinerary and were especially sad to miss lion feeding at Pouakai Zoo! Check out taranaki.info/visit/ to plan your own family's trip to the 'naki!
Photography: Andrea & Jamie Bennett