Arriving in New Plymouth, I instantly felt at home. Everything about this place called to me, from the surrounding ocean to inland views of Mt. Taranaki towering over the region. While I could just sit and relax here, there are also plenty of fascinating things to do in New Plymouth.
It’s a hidden gem that offers a delightful mix of natural beauty, cultural attractions, and outdoor adventures. Here, Jeff and I discovered a place brimming with unique experiences and warm hospitality.
Located on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island, it’s a region too often skipped by tourists and visitors. In fact, I am a bit guilty of this, having lived in New Zealand for over 20 years and this being my first visit.
But it won’t be my last. I might even live here for a while, I liked it that much. It’s no surprise to me that it has been named the World’s Most Liveable city twice.
Below, we highlight the best things to do in New Plymouth. I’m sure you’ll find them just as enchanting as we did.
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.
Fun things to do in New Plymouth, New Zealand
- Wander through Pukekura Park and include a visit to Brooklands Zoo
- Discover the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre
- Stroll, cycle, or jog along the Coastal Walkway
- Walk across the Te Rewa Rewa Bridge
- Surf, swim or play at the beach
- Bring the family to Puke Ariki Museum
- Take a Puke Ariki historical walking tour
- See eels at Huatoki Plaza
- Stroll through the Tupare Gardens
- Have fun at Lake Rotomanu
- Visit nearby attractions like Mt Taranaki, Pukeiti, and Tawhiti Museum.
Map of things to do in New Plymouth
Click the expand / collapse icon in the upper left corner of the map for the details.
Wander through Pukekura Park
An impressive oasis in the heart of the city, Pukekura Park was granted the international Green Flag award for the eleventh year in a row on the day we arrived.
Jeff and I wandered the verdant gardens, which took us over bridges, through a fernery, to a small waterfall, and past a fountain on the tranquil lake. The enchanting walkways created a peaceful retreat.
Although we were here in springtime, the park is famous for its Festival of Lights during the summer, where it transforms into a magical wonderland.
I imagine if I do live in this town at some point, Pukekura Park will quickly become one of my favourite things to do in New Plymouth.
At the park’s far end, we found Brooklands Zoo and TSB Bowl of Brooklands.
- Brooklands Zoo
This small, free-to-enter zoo surrounds a giant playground making it perfect for families, especially those with small children. We were impressed by the unusual nature of the residents, like capybara, meerkats, and capuchin monkeys. Yet, my favourite exhibit was the open-fly bird aviary.
- TSB Bowl of Brooklands
They often have live concerts and events here, but we didn’t attend any.
Discover the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre
The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth is a showcase of contemporary art, film screenings, and performances. Jeff and I were intrigued by the gallery’s architecture, a work of art itself, even before entering and discovering so many thought-proving pieces on its walls.
Inside the gallery is the innovative Len Lye Centre, where art comes to life through motion. It features stop-motion animation films and avant-garde kinetic sculptures of renowned New Zealand artist Len Lye.
We arrived just as a docent activated one of his new pieces, and over the next hour, we saw performances of each of four of his kinetic works.
We spent another hour enjoying the rest of the gallery’s 900 pieces from 270 artists, with a current focus on contemporary Māori art collected by the museum over the past 50 years. We even participated in one of the artworks.
Stroll, cycle, or jog along the Coastal Walkway
Being a coastal community, spending time on a beach or along the walkway is one of the best things to do in New Plymouth on a sunny day.
Stretching for 12.7 kilometres along the New Plymouth coast, we found it a perfect way to enjoy the fine weather once the rain stopped. Regardless of whether you prefer a leisurely stroll, a scooter, a bike ride, or a jog, this picturesque pathway offers breathtaking views of the Tasman Sea.
We actually enjoyed it in sections: crossing the Te Rewa Rewa bridge, walking along a clifftop overlooking the sea, being impressed at a stunning surf beach, and passing the iconic Wind Wand (created by Len Lye) on separate adventures.
Walk across Te Rewa Rewa Bridge
This iconic bridge, designed to resemble a breaking wave, is a testament to New Plymouth’s love for nature and art. Offering a magnificent backdrop of Mount Taranaki, it is close to the centre but in the northern half of the Coastal Walkway.
Surf, swim or play at the beach
There are plenty of beaches to choose from, although we only visited two.
- Fitzroy Beach
I could sit and watch the waves and surfers here for hours, and in fact, I did. This beach is one of my favourite outdoor spots in the city.
- Ngāmotu Beach
A gentler beach, we noticed more families at this beach, but we found the view of the port less desirable for our short-term visit. However, on the first Sunday of the month, it hosts the Seaside Market, where you can find fashion and crafts, coffee and food, live music, and more.
- Bell Block Beach
Located north of Te Rewa Rewa Bridge, we didn’t get to this lovely beach, best known as a swimming beach in the summer.
- Back Beach
Another beach we didn’t get to, Back Beach, is best known for its dramatic cliffs and wild waves.
Bring the family to Puke Ariki Museum
With so many interactive exhibits, this is the ideal family museum to immerse yourself in the history and culture of New Plymouth. Its engaging exhibits provide an insightful journey through the region’s past, from the arrival of Māori settlers to early European exploration and natural history.
I spent the most time here (no photos allowed), but it was more the hands-on interactive environmental displays for Jeff.
Also housed in one of its two main buildings are the library and the visitor information centre, where we booked our historical walking tour.
Take a Puke Ariki historical walking tour
This is one of our top recommendations for interesting and unusual things to do in New Plymouth. The 2-hour private tour brought the town to life with often untold stories and legends of the past.
Our guide took us to significant historical sites, hidden gems, and even Marsland Hill, an old pa site (Pūkākā Pā) that now offers impressive views of the city and Mt Taranaki.
We also spent some time on the grounds of Taranaki Cathedral, a remarkable example of Gothic Revival architecture and a place of spiritual significance. It is currently closed for earthquake retrofit for at least a few more years. We walked through both the cemetery and the famous lychgate.
My favourite hidden gem was Hempton Rose Garden, gifted to the city in 1957. This lovely rose garden located at the end of Hempton Street nest to the Huatoki stream. We booked our tour in person at the iSite on the ground level of Puke Ariki Museum, or check out the tour’s official webpage here.
More things to do in New Plymouth
- Mt Moturoa Reserve
This is the place to go for a fabulous view of the city, Paritutu Rock, and Sugar Loaf Marine Park.
- See eels at Huatoki Plaza
Often used for special events, activities, and the Sunday farmers market, it’s worth a stop here any time to see the eels.
- Stroll through the Tupare Gardens
Nestled along the banks of the Waiwhakaiho River, Tupare Gardens is a horticultural wonderland that we didn’t leave time to visit. We have been told that it is beautifully landscaped gardens adorned with vibrant flowers and towering trees that create a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
- Lake Rotomanu
A popular spot for watersports and picnics, it seemed quite popular amongst the freedom campers. We only stopped to take a photo.
Nearby things to do in New Plymouth
Here are our four favourite nearby things to do in New Plymouth:
Mount Taranaki – the regional highlight
Taranaki Maunga (the official name) can be seen from just about everywhere. Located in the heart of Egmont National Park, the majestic stratovolcano (composite cone) is surrounded by lush forests, waterfalls, and hiking trails.
Dawson Falls, Egmont National Park
Starting at the Dawson Falls visitor centre (open Thursday to Sunday only), we enjoyed three of the options from here: the lookout tower, the Dawson Falls power station, and the Dawson Falls waterfall, one of so many stunning falls in New Zealand.
Pukeiti Rainforest and Trust Gardens, Pukeiti
With about an hour of main walking track and plenty of side trail options, this amazing New Zealand garden is an explosion of colour featuring one of the world’s most diverse collections of rhododendrons and other exotics.
Tawhiti Museum, Hawera
One of the best historic museums we have ever been to, it is one man’s passion project and well worth a visit.
Named after William Shakespeare’s birthplace, this picturesque town embraces its cultural connection to the renowned playwright. Stratford has a burgeoning artist community and hosts the annual Shakespeare Festival.
For a comprehensive list of things to do in the region, read 34 Fantastic Things to Do in Taranaki Region.
Where to eat in New Plymouth
There are plenty of great restaurant options in New Plymouth, and we haven’t even begun to try them all. But from the ones we did try, these were our standouts.
- Ozone Coffee Roasters
Drawn in by the aroma of the roasting beans, my cappuccino was smooth and delicious. Although there were plenty of food choices in the cabinet, we were not hungry at the time.
- Shining Peak Brewing
A microbrewery with delicious food and specialty brews; it was the service that really set them apart, with the manager taking extra care to match my meal and my gluten-free diet. I enjoyed an amazing GF-DF bacon-wrapped chicken breast in a pea puree while Jeff had a burger and fries.
- Social Kitchen
Delicious and creative shared meals, it is the fun atmosphere and unusual artwork that will bring me back here. There are plenty of gluten-free options, but note that they don’t make substitutions.
- Haukai Bistro and Bar
Located in the Novotel Hotel, it was super convenient for us to eat here, and it turned out the food was delicious and perfectly prepared. They were careful about my gluten-free diet.
Why we stay at Novotel in New Plymouth
We spent three nights in five-star luxury. While the sleep was amazing and the massive rain shower a treat, it was the service that made Novotel New Plymouth special. Friendly smiles everywhere, and that go-the-extra-mile attitude that gave us a feeling like we were home.
It was small things like my mention of a long day followed immediately by the offer to drive us to dinner so we didn’t have to do it ourselves.
Our immaculate, spacious executive room offered us sustainable options. We had a refrigerator, jug, and plenty of storage space. The only thing missing was bathrobes, but we rarely use them in hotels and didn’t really notice.
There is onsite parking, a gym, a sauna, and a restaurant with a huge buffet breakfast, the kind we more often see when travelling in the States. Reserve your stay at Novotel New Plymouth here.
How to get to New Plymouth
As North Islanders, we drove our own vehicle here from Auckland, but had we been visitors, we would have rented a car, either to get there or once we arrived.
Bus or plane
We always use RentalCars. As an aggregator, they offer a comprehensive list of agents, ratings on specific car types, and agency ratings. Whether we rent from them or not, it’s still the perfect place to begin our search. Start your search or reserve your rental car here.
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Which are you are your favourite things to do in New Plymouth?
For more on New Zealand, start here: New Zealand Road Trips: Itineraries for North or South Island Adventures, or you might like …