Our first stop in the Taranaki region, Stratford NZ set the stage for our love affair with the area. Known by hikers, cyclists, and nature lovers as the staging area for exploring Egmont National Park, Stratford offers a unique blend of Shakespearean charms, artistic magic, and the majestic presence of Mt Taranaki.
Unless you have never read any of the works by William Shakespeare, you can’t miss the connection in this town. In fact, 67 streets in town are named after characters from his plays.
Even in the rain, the town captivated our imagination. From stunning parks and gardens to historical sites, there is an underlying creativity in this town that resinates from artistic, welcoming and friendly residents.
Often just a day trip by those staying in nearby New Plymouth or adventure seekers ready to tackle the mountain, we actually found plenty to do in Stratford NZ.
As American expats who have been living in and exploring NZ for over 20 years, we see things from both a local’s perspective and from that of a visitor. Therefore, we understand what it’s like to come here and have things be similar, but not always exactly what we are used to. We share the information on this page from this perspective.
Top 11 things to do in Stratford NZ
- King Edward Park
- Stratford glockenspiel clock tower
- Stratford Shakespeare Festival
- TET King’s Theatre
- Percy Thomson Art Gallery
- Fenton Street Arts Collective
- Taranaki Pioneering Village
- Te Popo Gardens
- Egmont National Park
- Dawson Falls Waterfall
- Forgotten World Highway
Map of the best things to do in Stratford
Click the expand / collapse icon in the upper left corner of the map for the details.
Shakespeare in Stratford NZ
I don’t know about you, but I was wondering which came first: Did they name it Stratford to honour Shakespeare, or did they honour him because the name was so similar to the name of his birth city?
As it turns out, the name was chosen to honour the man.
In the late 1800s, as per the prevailing trend in New Zealand, towns and streets were named to honour notable British figures. Stratford settlers chose Shakespeare, inspired by the resemblance of the Pātea River (Stratford NZ) to the Avon River (Stratford UK), connecting back to the birthplace of William Shakespeare, Stratford-upon-Avon.
As a result, a strong theme of Shakespeare in Stratford can be seen throughout town.
King Edward Park
We entered King Edward Park alongside the Malone Memorial Gates. It is New Zealand’s largest war memorial to an individual soldier, Lieutenant Colonel W C Malone of Stratford NZ, recognizing his exceptional bravery and leadership at the Battle of Chunuk Bair in Gallipoli. (erected In 1923).
Rain impeded us from spending much time in this lush green park nestled along the Pātea River and teeming with birdlife. But the rain brought out the bright colours along the trails. Enjoying our stroll, we turned and found ourselves staring at an impressive mural of William Shakespeare painted by a talented year 13 student.
Also in the park:
- A swingbridge (1902) commemorating the coronation of King Edward VII
- The colourful McCullough Rhododendron Dell
- A kauri tree planted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1954
- A playground for kids
Stratford glockenspiel clock tower
The only glockenspiel clock tower in the southern hemisphere stands proud along Stratford’s main street. But it doesn’t have the classic carillon bells; instead, four times a day, it comes to life.
The best place to enjoy the five-minute performance is from standing across the street. Here, we watched and listened to Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, emerge for their balcony scene as the words played through loudspeakers. The standing area is covered, which was a nice bonus, as you can see the rain coming down in the video.
It’s a bit hokey and dated, but it belongs on every list of things to do in Stratford New Zealand. The glockenspiel performs at 10am, 1pm, 3pm, and 7pm daily.
Stratford Shakespeare Festival
Of course, a town this entwined with William Shakespeare has an annual festival. In fact, some think of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival as the town’s theatrical soul. It takes place annually in early autumn (usually in April).
From classic plays to creative performances, the festival brings the timeless works of Shakespeare to life, enchanting audiences with each production.
Other things to do in Stratford
Everything isn’t Shakespeare. Stratford New Zealand also has plenty of art, history, food, and fun.
Percy Thomson Art Gallery
Often considered one of New Zealand’s top regional galleries, exhibits change monthly. We visited the Percy Thomson Gallery during a show featuring local artists. The talent in this town is incredible. In fact, we purchased two pieces of art here.
It’s located next to a lovely cafe, Sgt. Peppers, which has great coffee and did an excellent job on gluten and dairy-free treats for me.
TET King’s Theatre
Looking at it from the outside, I never would have imagined this 1917 building to be the first movie theatre in the Southern Hemisphere to feature a demonstration of a talking film (1927). But it is.
Inside, the upper and main level lobbies sported original decor and featured a display of old projectors. Today, the theatre is mostly run by volunteers, who keep it open to preserve its place in history.
While we didn’t see a movie here, we did get inside the theatre, which still has an original feel but added modern features like soundproof curtains, a new screen, and new carpet. Plus, the original lower-level entrance to the theatre itself is closed off.
Fenton St Arts Collective (art gallery, gin distillery, cafe and expresso bar)
Fenton Street Arts Collective has it all. Busy, yet somehow relaxing, I love this place. Five years into the business, the proprietors, Jo and Stu have created a real treat in a beautifully restored heritage building.
Initially, we came for the art and quickly discovered a traditional cafe featuring outstanding coffee, tasty meals and treats, and they could provide coeliac-safe, gluten-free food for me.
Before we ate, we looked around at the art hanging on the wall. It appeared to be mostly local, and again, the talent impressed us. Then we wandered upstairs, enjoyed more amazing art, and met Jo in her studio. Here, we also found two Shakespeare period costumes made by Jo’s sister for the festival.
Then there is the gin. They have created some interesting boutique gin varieties focusing on local, fresh and sustainable ingredients. Knowledgeable, they shared their fascinating history with us before a gin tasting.
Taranaki Pioneer Village
An opportunity to step back in time, explore the historic buildings, and get a glimpse of life in Taranaki’s pioneering days (1850-1950).
From the blacksmith’s shop to the old-school printing press, this living museum offers a unique experience. Open only on the weekends (everyday during school holidays). It is the largest of this type of museum in NZ. We didn’t get here.
Te Popo Gardens
The city’s largest private garden, Te Popo Gardens, is a 15-minute drive from Stratford. While day visits are allowed for a nominal fee, they are best known as a place to spend the night and spot the glowworms. Reserve your stay at Te Popo Gardens
A few more things to do in Stratford
- Follow the Stratford Heritage Trail through town.
- Stroll alongside Pātea River, streams, and over bridges on the Carrington Walkway.
- Play golf at the Stratford Golf Club.
Nearby things to do in Stratford New Zealand
Adventure seekers and nature lovers know Stratford as the gateway to both Taranaki Maunga (Mt Taranaki) and the Forgotten World Highway.
Taranaki Maunga (Mt Taranaki)
Egmont National Park is home to the majestic Taranaki Maunga, the official name of Mt Taranaki. Whether you are heading out overnight or just to a waterfall, it is a must-do when visiting Stratford.
Although it rained the first two days we were in the area, Jeff and I were in awe of the stunning landscapes, lush rainforests, and well-maintained trails once it cleared.
Getting to the Dawson Falls Visitor Centre was easy. Be warned, the last six kilometres of the well-paved, windy, narrow road barely allows for traffic in both directions.
Although the visitor centre itself is only open Thurs-Sun 9am-4pm, the hiking options are well signposted. We chose the first three: The Lookout, the Dawson Falls Waterfall, and the Dawson Falls Power Station.
- Lookout Tower
Located just outside the visitor’s centre, we enjoyed an impressive view of Mt Taranaki and seemingly endless views over the valley.
- Dawson Falls Power Station
One of the world’s oldest functioning generators is only a 5-minute walk from the trailhead marker that is 50m down Manaia Road from the visitor centre.
- Dawson Falls Waterfall
A fabulous New Zealand waterfall, this horsetail-type fall drops 18m. There is a lookout point with a moderate view about 10 minutes in, but the real magic comes from the base after walking down the 134 newly built steps (we manually counted on the way up, so we might be off by a few). Well worth the effort.
- More trails in Egmont National Park
Additional trails featured on the signage at the visitors centre include: Wilkies Pool Loop Track (1 hour 20 minute, walk through the goblin forest leading to impressive natural plunge pools); The Ridge Loop Track (a strenuous 1-hour return); Hooker Shelter (a strenuous 1 hour one-way); Waingongoro Hut (half-day/overnight tramp to a 16 bunk hut); and, Plateau – Enchanted- Waingongoro Loop (a 3.5-hour tramp to the highest swing bridge in the park with a steep descent).
Forgotten World Highway
In addition to the above, the town is also considered the gateway to the Forgotten World Highway, a lush green 155km drive (or cycle) along NZ’s oldest heritage trail. It runs from Taumarunui to Stratford, passing through four tunnels, over several hills with amazing views, and even through the Republic of Whangamomona.
While we had planned on driving this road, we learned that until sometime in 2024, there would be traffic controls (long delays) in place while they pave the previously unpaved 12km section. We took the magnificent coastal road through King’s Country instead as part of a road trip from Auckland.
Where to stay in Stratford NZ
We opted to try something new (for us), and it turned out to be a great choice. We stayed in a self-contained paradise called Barberry Hill.
This converted unit above a barn on a working dairy farm sounds rustic, but in reality, it leans towards luxury. Our huge unit featured a full kitchen, a comfortable bed, plenty of living space, a living room and a wood-burning stove.
We overlooked lush rolling pastures in our self-contained unit, which was set up for convenience. Farm-fresh eggs rested among the treats in our breakfast basket, and the wood burner was pre-loaded for the first night.
It’s a lovely place to stay. I would stay here again. Reserve your stay at Barberry Hill here.
Tips for visiting Stratford New Zealand
- Stratford’s weather can be unpredictable, especially around Mt Taranaki. Wear layers and be prepared for changes in temperature and conditions during outdoor activities.
- In Stratford New Zealand, like many smaller towns in the country, most local shops are closed by 2pm on Saturday and don’t reopen until Monday morning. Keep that in mind when you plan your visit.
- Embrace the local culture by attending a performance at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.
- When exploring Egmont National Park, follow designated trails to minimize environmental impact. Respect the flora and fauna, and adhere to any conservation guidelines provided.
- Don’t miss all the other amazing things to do in the Taranaki region, including our long list of must-sees in New Plymouth.
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Shakespeare or nature, what will bring you to Stratford NZ?
For more on New Zealand, start here: New Zealand Road Trips: Itineraries for North or South Island Adventures, or you might like …