I must confess to not really stopping much in Taranaki. Fortunately for us, my parents bought a bach in Opunake and it’s allowed us to really start exploring this gem of a region. I’m sure we’ll provide you with 101 things to do in Taranaki over time! But let’s just start with 5 terrific things to do in Taranaki with kids.
If you’re like us, you may have whipped around the Surf Highway once or twice, and you may have visited Whanganui and New Plymouth. You may have even explored a bit of Mt Taranaki. But you probably haven’t spent a lot of time exploring the place.
Did you know that Taranaki is one of the most prosperous, but also one of the most affordable regions in the country?
Did you know the region, and especially Egmont National Park, is set to become the next big tourist location? Some have even suggested the Pouakai Crossing should be added to the list of New Zealand’s Great Walks.
I’m sure you know the Surf Highway (State Highway 45) provides access to some of the best surf beaches in New Zealand. But did you know this route also has beautiful lakes, rivers, thermal hot pools, and historical sites, including Maori Pa remnants?
It’s time to find out a little more about this magical part of New Zealand. And we’ve got some ideas that you may just never have heard of before.
5 terrific things to do in Taranaki with kids
1. Tawhiti Museum Hawera
First up is the Tawhiti Museum in Hawera. It’s just an hour’s drive from either New Plymouth or Whanganui, and it’s one of the coolest museums in New Zealand!
Located in the over 100 year old Tawhiti Cheese Factory, Tawhiti Museum is a labour of love created by Nigel Ogle. Apparently the whole thing started as a hobby. Nigel, an ex art teacher, began making miniature models of historical Taranaki scenes (or dioramas).
Public demand to see these amazing models soared, and life-sized models, cast from moulds of real people were added. All manner of historical machinery and artifacts filled up the museum, and the result is nothing less than awe-inspiring.
You really have to see the models up close to understand it. The scenes are just so life-like. Historical scenes include the Maori wars, Taranaki’s railway and logging boom, and the rich agricultural history of the region.
Then there’s the life-sized scenes. These rooms whisk you back in time. The exhibits are interactive, which helps keep the kids entertained (we spent a lot of time interacting with the ‘long drop’ exhibit). But they’re also a lot of fun for grown ups too.
There’s so much to see in the museum, we spent almost 3 hours there. But then there’s the whole Traders and Whalers and the Bush Railway.
In Traders and Whalers you drift by boat through a historical replication of Taranaki in the 1820s. The models are outstanding, and the scenes rich and dripping (literally) with history and story-telling of this disruptive period in New Zealand’s history.
2. Egmont National Park Short Walks
Ever taken your kids for a walk on a volcano before?
The Egmont National Park, with Mt Taranaki at it’s epicentre, has to be one of the best national parks in the North Island.
And there’s loads of options for seeing this majestic park, for all abilities. From multi-day treks, and the one day Pouakai Crossing, to 3-4 hour round trip hikes, and short walks for day-trippers. There’s a hike or walk option to suit your family.
The Egmont National Park Visitor Centre is just an easy 30 minute drive from New Plymouth, and it’s the best place to start a family day trip from. The visitor centre will give you all the advice you need on what and where to see, and how the weather’s fairing!
From the visitor centre there a 6 fantastic walks that take from 10 minutes return up to one hour return. The Ambury Monument Walk is a great little walk, including bush and views, with a fantastic picnic spot at the end, and great views of the mountain. This is perfect if you’re short on time, or have little ones with you.
There’s a few more great bush walks including the Nature Walk, and Connett Loop Track. For those with a bit more time, and older or fitter kids, The Ngatoro Loop Track takes about 1 to 1.5 hours. Parts of it will make you feel like you’ve just stepped into a scene from Lord of the Rings.
Taking a different entrance into the National Park, you can also visit the Dawson Falls Visitor Centre, and take the very easy 10 minute bush walk to the very majestic Dawson Falls.
3. Pukekura Park in New Plymouth
Based right in the heart of New Plymouth Pukekura Park is a real regional asset.
The park is spread over 50 hecatares, so there’s lots to do. Whether your kids are 4 or 14, there’s something for everyone here.
Pukekura Park’s Fernery is a really special place. The have free guided tours that run all day, and apparently there’s even a buggy service there for little ones. The collection includes ferns, orchids, begonias and natives and you’ll spend ages wondering around here.
From December through February, Pukekura Park lights up for the annual Festival of Lights. This is next-level awesome, and a definite must-see if you’re in the area around summer time. The park is full of day-time activities for families with young ones, twilight movies and night-time entertainment for adults and older kids. The Festival of Lights hosts over 100,000 people a year!
4. Brooklands Zoo in New Plymouth
For us though, the highlight of Pukekura Park has to be the free Brooklands Zoo.
We only have little ones, just 2 and 4 years old, and Brooklands Zoo was made for them really. It’s a fairly small, and enclosed space, with a lot green space for a picnic. It’s also really sheltered, which is great for spending a few hours in if the weather is a little iffy.
The ‘zoo’ is really a series of enclosures around the outside of the park. You can easily see all of the animals in about 20 minutes. But for little ones, it’s a real adventure where you get quite upclose to nature, especially in the bird house.
The assortment of animals they’ve packed into this tiny park is really amazing. There’s farmyard animals, reptiles, meerkats and monkeys. As well as an open air bird aviary.
They also have kid’s activities and ranger talks there. Or at least they did when we were there. The park ranger had set up a paddling pool full of mud for the kid’s to get their arms into, and fish out toys. She was there for ages, all alone looking a little awkward, until our brave Miss 3 dragged me over and got stuck into it. Of course, as soon as we’d broken the ice and been the first, kids arrived from all over. It was all very educational and interactive.
5. Cape Egmont Lighthouse
Built in London in the mid 1800s, and originally used on Mana Island off the coast of Porirua (where it was thought to be responsible for a couple of shipping accidents!), the Cape Egmont Lighthouse has been shining it’s light in Taranaki since 1881!
You get to the lighthouse by taking the awesome surf highway, and turning off onto Cape Road, just south of Pungarehu.
It’s a great little stop, right out on the coast on a rocky outcrop of farmland, with some amazing views of the mountain in the background on a good day.
You should also take the time to head back up north a bit to the replica lighthouse and the Historic Cape Light and Museum. There’s a great historical display of memorabilia, and on the top floor is the original Fresnil Prismatic Light from the original lighthouse. The kids will love crawling all over this real working lighthouse, and pretending to be lighthouse keepers from days gone by!
For more great travel ideas around New Zealand, and some of the best travel for advice for family adventures further abroad, check out our Family Travel section.