New Plymouth

The stunning symmetry of Mount Taranaki defines the landscape here. But there's a lot more to New Plymouth than its mountain.

The deepwater port and status as the capital of New Zealand's petroleum sector helps to underpin cosmopolitan influences. The rich dairy farmland of the region only adds to its affluence. And to cap it all off, New Plymouth boasts a thriving arts scene.

The Govett Brewster Art Gallery is New Zealand's first and only museum of contemporary art. The museum's latest addition, the Len Lye Gallery, celebrates local-lad-made-good Len Lye, who pioneered kinetic sculpture and filmmaking in the 20th century. It's his iconic work, the 48-metre high Wind Wand, that you'll see swooping and swaying in the breeze as you stroll along New Plymouth's Coastal Walkway.

The breezes can be bracing along the Tasman Sea coastline. For keen surfers, that's great news. Whether you're a nervous grommet or a seasoned wave rider, head out on Taranaki's Surf Highway 45 and discover a succession of breaks that draw surfers from around the world. Non-surfers will enjoy the trip too – there are some excellent cafés and craft shops along the way.

More placid pleasures are on offer in the region's parks and gardens. Pukekura Park is famous for its beautiful walks, picnic areas, birdlife, water features and is home to the award-winning Festival of Lights. Throughout December-February, Pukekura Park is transformed into a night-time wonderland of multi-coloured lights, attracting more than 100,000 visitors annually. More than 50 kiwi and international performers perform free concerts throughout the festival, while a fantastic mix of daytime activities for families and children are also on offer. Tupare Park is a hidden gem, while further out of town, the rhododendrons of Pukeiti Rhododendron Garden flourish in a microclimate on the side of Mount Taranaki. There's a nice café on site, too.

If you have only a short time in New Plymouth, we recommend a few hours exploring the Coastal Walkway. There's a constant procession of walkers, joggers, dog exercisers, cyclists and kids with fishing rods. With waves crashing and seagulls crying, you'll enjoy views up and down the coast. And of course, that incomparable mountain.