Taranaki: home to New Zealand’s quirkiest tourist stops

From the air, Mt Taranaki looks as if a giant has taken a huge school compass and drawn a full 360-degree line all around the mountain. There’s the white snow-capped peak in the centre, followed by the dark, dense perimeter of rainforest greens, before the lighter greens of the gently tapering plains of farmland beyond.

Not long ago I learned that the rainforest of Mt Taranaki is colloquially known as “the Goblin Forest” due to the enchanted feel of the twisted, moss-draped, kāmahi trees that dominate the slopes. A forest so fantastical it makes you think the trees might come alive? Count me in!

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I’d also heard that no trip to Taranaki was complete without also visiting Hāwera on the province’s southern coast to experience two very different, but completely unmissable museums.

The best museums in Taranaki

Let’s not beat around the (native) bush, there are a fair few of us who like to think we’ll do the whole museum thing while on holiday, but when push comes to shove, we end up going, “yeah, nah”. And is Hāwera – population 10,000 and an hour’s drive south of New Plymouth – really worth going out of the way for? All for a couple of museums? While on holiday?

Well, let’s just park those misconceptions because we’re talking about arguably the single greatest private museum in the country, the jaw-dropping Tāwhiti Museum with its miniatures and wax figures depicting the complicated history of Taranaki. And then, for a complete change of pace, what may just be the most significant collection of Elvis memorabilia anywhere in the world outside of Memphis, KD’s Elvis Presley Museum.

And so my wife and I mapped out our Auckland to Taranaki road trip.

On the itinerary? Having already established that the Goblin Forest was an absolute Taranaki must-do, we can now vouch for there being no better launchpad for the unforgettable, fairytale-like walks that comprise Egmont National Park than the historic Dawson Falls Mountain Lodge.

Built in the late 1890s, the lodge has 12 rooms with a charming old wooden Suisse-ski resort kind of vibe. Located 900m up the 2500m high mountain, just getting to the lodge is a huge part of the adventure. We drove through endless farmland in foggy, mountain-obscuring weather, then all of sudden we hit that perimeter of forest.

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