3 Days in Taranaki - feature photo - Mount Taranaki volcano view from Pouakai Tarn hike with cloud across the centre

3 Days in Taranaki | New Zealand

It really feels like I took a lot of long weekend trips within my first couple of months in New Zealand! Just a few weeks after my Taupō trip, there was another public holiday at the end of April. It fell on a Thursday, so although I actually spent 4 days away, I had to work on the Friday. This still left me 3 days to explore Taranaki though! Taranaki is the region on the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island, best known for the vast volcano in the centre, Mt Taranaki. New Plymouth is the largest town, on the northern coast of the region, and my base for the weekend. Travelling in late April meant changeable weather, but I had a mix of indoor and outdoor activities on the docket to juggle around. It also ended up being a weekend of highs and lows, with some unforeseen complications…

3 days in Taranaki - second feature photo - New Plymouth Coastal Walkway, ocean view with black volcanic rocks at golden hour

Day One


My 3 days in Taranaki began with an early start from Wellington, driving north in my brother’s old car again. It would take a little over 4 hours to reach New Plymouth, but I’d planned some stops along the way. I powered through the first few hours of driving, with just a quick bathroom break in Bulls. It’s a noteworthy town simply because of its numerous bull statues and the number of businesses with names playing on the word “bull”. They really ran with the theme!

I made a longer stop in Hāwera next, one of the larger towns in the south of Taranaki. The water tower is its most well-known landmark, a white stone tower built over a century ago. You can buy an entry ticket from the visitor information centre next door and climb to the top, though I skipped this. I took a wander along the town’s main street, which was pretty quiet with a lot of businesses closed for the holiday. I ended up at King Edward Park, taking a stroll around its flowers, trees, pond and statues. Heading back along the main street, I stopped in the only open cafe for lunch, before jumping back in the car and driving on.


After leaving Hāwera, the drive took me north through the region, and my first views of Mount Taranaki appeared. The volcano is staggering in both its sheer size and its near-perfect symmetry! It’s also crazy how the surrounding land is relatively flat and it just rises up from nowhere in the centre. I’m sure there’s a geological reason behind it that I just haven’t looked up yet. Anyways, I had to stay focussed on the road, but it was certainly a breathtaking sight!

My next stop was the town of Stratford, named after the English town of Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. As such, the streets here are named after characters from his plays. The town’s centrepiece is the Glockenspiel, a tall black and white clock tower. Every few hours, it comes to life as a “dancing clock”, with windows opening up to reveal a performance of Romeo & Juliet by wooden models. I had timed my day to arrive in town shortly before one started. But I waited with several other people until nearly quarter past with no signs of the clock coming to life. We guessed it was due to the public holiday. But I tried again at the weekend, on my way to Dawson Falls, with the same result. I’m not sure why it wasn’t playing, but I was rather disappointed (English lit nerd that I am).

Puke Ariki

I arrived in New Plymouth in the early afternoon, just as it began to rain. So, I headed straight for an indoor activity, the Puke Ariki museum. It’s free to visit and has various exhibits about the Taranaki region. I started on the ground floor, which explores the history of European settlers in the region, particularly looking at their everyday lives. Upstairs was mainly focussed on natural history, including local wildlife and the geology of the region. Most striking to me was the realisation that Mount Taranaki is still very much an active volcano and likely to erupt within the next few decades! I’m not sure I could live near it, knowing that.

Finally, there was an exhibit of Māori artefacts, or taonga in their language, which roughly translates as “treasure”. Due to their cultural significance, photos aren’t allowed in that room. The museum was a little loud and busy with kids since it was a holiday, but I still spent an enjoyable hour or so there. Certainly an attraction worth stopping in to see while in New Plymouth.

New Plymouth & Liardet Street Projects

By the time I left the museum, the rain had let up though it was still overcast. I had just under an hour before the hostel was open for check-in, so I went for a wander around New Plymouth. The town is full of street art and murals, as well as some interesting architecture. So although most of the shops were closed for the holiday, there was still plenty to see as I roamed the main streets. I made sure to pass by the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. I wasn’t really in the mood for visiting the gallery, but the building is covered in wavy-patterned mirrors, like a funhouse, so it was cool to see from outside. The clock tower and building across the street had some fun architecture too, so it’s an interesting junction all around!

After finally checking in, I headed out again to grab some dinner from Liardet Street Projects. This is a little courtyard tucked off Liardet Street, where several food trucks are set up, next door to a bar. It’s strung with overhead lights at night, and there are picnic benches to dine at. Honestly, from the description online, I expected it to be bigger. There were only three food places and the juice stand open when I went, perhaps because we’re in the low season at this time of year? Nevertheless, I got a tasty space-themed veggie burger from Gamma Ray’s, which seemed to be the most popular place there.

Day Two

Wilkies Pools & Dawson Falls

After a day working at the hostel, the second of my 3 full days in Taranaki started with a drive into Egmont National Park. As mentioned, I stopped in Stratford but to no avail with the glockenspiel, before continuing on to the Dawson Falls visitor centre car park. It’s a fairly steep, narrow, twisty road to get there, which wasn’t my favourite driving experience! The weather was a bit drizzly and overcast, but this is a mostly forested hike.

From the visitor centre, I followed a circular trail first up to Wilkie Pools, then across the river and downstream to Dawson Falls. There are other trails in the area too, so I did need to check the map a few times to make sure I didn’t take a wrong turn! The forest is full of gnarled, twisted trees covered in lichen, which made for a mystical, eerie sort of atmosphere, especially combined with the drizzle. I emerged from the tree line at a small bridge over the stream, overlooking Wilkie Pools. The water flows down over rock formations, too small to be considered a waterfall really, but still a scenic spot. You can climb down to the river’s edge and across some of the rocks for a closer look.

Then I walked downhill following the river for about half an hour, until I reached Dawson Falls. This is a much larger waterfall, plummeting down over a cliff edge. There’s a viewpoint from the trail, or you can hike down all the stairs to its base. You’ll have to come up the same way again though! From there it was only a short walk back to the car park again. While I would have liked better weather, it was a pretty good hiking option for a gloomier morning.

Disaster Strikes

I left the visitor centre again and the plan was to head back to New Plymouth and explore the coastal walkway. I decided to drive the long way around Mount Taranaki, to see the other side of the national park. The volcano was hidden in thick cloud cover the whole way round, but I got glimpses of the coastline and blue skies starting to appear!

Then disaster struck. About 10 minutes’ outside of New Plymouth, the car broke down. The engine just cut out, so I pulled off the side of the road (luckily there was something resembling a hard shoulder nearby!), where it wouldn’t start again. I called roadside assistance, who then called a tow truck to take the poor thing to a garage in New Plymouth. Not before I spent close to 3 hours in total waiting for each of them! My entire afternoon was lost, stuck on the roadside. Oh, and I’d dropped and smashed my phone screen earlier that morning, so my mood was only getting worse.

And because it was the weekend, the garage wouldn’t be open again until Monday for them to take a look. Which meant I had to book to stay extra nights, and work remotely for another day. The diagnosis? It was done for. The engine had overheated and would need to be replaced, which isn’t worth doing on a 19-year-old car. I spent a couple of hours running around taking care of admin: calling a scrapper, returning the licence plates. Then booking a bus back to Wellington for the next day! It certainly cast a lot of gloom and frustration and stress on my trip.

Day Three

Despite the car troubles, I still had the whole of Sunday to explore while it was parked at the garage. Today had the best weather forecast so my plan had always been to tackle the hike to Pouakai Reflective Tarn. I was hoping for clear volcano views, to see the famous reflection shot in the water! I set off later than planned, as I had to change rooms at the hostel first. There’s no bus to the trailhead either, so I had to pay for an Uber, which wasn’t cheap. None of the Ubers would accept my ride request for the return journey either, so I had to call a taxi, which cost even more…. Frustrating, but I’d have been even more annoyed if I’d missed the hike altogether.

Pouakai Circuit Reflective Tarn

Anyway, the hike takes about 2 hours to reach the tarn, then a little less to come back. Unless you’re staying at the Pouakai Hut overnight to tackle the multi-day circuit trek. The trail isn’t super exciting to be honest – it’s stairs. Hundreds and hundreds of stairs up through the forest. The second half has a few breaks in the foliage as you curve around the mountain side, but still more stairs. Going down afterwards somehow felt even longer than the ascent! Plus, I tripped on a tree trunk and fell in a mud puddle. As if my luck couldn’t get worse!

But the scenery at the top was spectacular! I made it just in time, catching a couple of shots of the volcano before a cloud came along to obscure it. You actually have to drop downhill a little ways and follow a boardwalk down to the tarn, which is smaller than expected! By the time I reached it, the cloud had covered the peak. Although I briefly glimpsed the peak a couple of times, I didn’t get the perfect reflection shot. I sat for a while in case it lifted, but also to just enjoy the area. It’s still a beautiful location, this wide, flat plain with Mt Taranaki beside it. And you get views across the rest of the Taranaki region below as well. It was worth spending some time on the top, before facing the stairs back down again too!

Between the stairs, the taxi fare and the mud, the hike itself wasn’t my favourite. But I’m still glad I went in the end for the view. Seeing the vastness and the majesty of the volcano was my main reason for visiting Taranaki, and it’s just as impressive in reality as photos!

New Plymouth Coastal Walkway

When I eventually made it back into town, I was pretty exhausted and took some time to rest. But I still wanted to try and see a little more of the area before I left! I headed out again to explore the New Plymouth Coastal Walkway. It’s a pretty long route, and I’d originally planned to make it as far as the Te Rewa Rewa Bridge, but I cut it short in the end. Starting from near Puke Ariki, I headed east as far as the East End Reserve, where the Te Henui stream meets the sea, before circling back through the town.

The Wind Wand might have been my favourite feature, a tall, bendy red pole that sways in the breeze. There was something a little comical about it, but I just loved how fun and unique it was. The walk was mainly along a paved path overlooking black, volcanic rocks spilling down into the sea. Since it was late in the afternoon, the sun was starting to set as well, casting a pretty golden hour glow over the ocean. There was a beach on the far side of the stream near where I ended my walk as well, with plenty of people enjoying the warm, dry autumn weather. It was a very scenic, peaceful and easy walk to explore for a little while.

3 Days in Taranaki

All in all, it was a very mixed bag of a weekend. Such chaos occurring and the resulting stress and exhaustion made it hard for me to enjoy my 3 days in Taranaki fully. I definitely took it easy and allowed myself time to rest given the circumstances, so I didn’t do quite as much as I’d hoped for. However, that certainly doesn’t mean it’s not a region worth visiting! Mount Taranaki is as stunning as I’d hoped for, and New Plymouth has a fair amount of things to see and do. I wish the weekend had panned out differently, but some things are beyond your control and I’m still glad I visited Taranaki. Hopefully my next trip in New Zealand won’t be quite so dramatic!