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New Plymouth: so much better than the old Plymouth. This pretty, progressive city is the urban heart of Taranaki - a district popular with surfers, nature-lovers and people who meant to go north but accidentally missed the State Highway One turnoff at Bulls.
The star of the show is undoubtedly Mount Taranaki, which is shaped so perfectly it's ranked the third most conical mountain in the world (we can't believe New Zealand even gets bronze at the mountain Olympics). Travel around, up or over it according to your budget and appetite for adrenaline, or just take a photo from a distance and tell the people back home "that's the mountain I would have climbed if I didn't have that dodgy knee/ankle/spouse".
There are plenty of less challenging walks than the mountain itself, like the 15 minute scramble up Paritutu Rock in town, or the track through the terrifying-sounding "Goblin Forest" and on up to spectacular Dawson Falls. It's worth hiring a car, by the way, for attractions like these and for a couple of awesome road trips in the area: the "Surfers'" Highway 45, and "Forgotten World" Highway 43 featuring the Whangamomona Pub - New Zealand's most remote country hotel (but knowing our luck probably only the third most remote country hotel in the world).
But even if you're not into exploring the area, New Plymouth is a cool city. It makes the most of it's beautiful coastal location with a 10km walkway along the sea side, while the CBD has heaps for visitors to wander round and see - Len Lye's 45 metre high Wind Wand is a must, and you should definitely make time for the famous Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. The Gallery has enough quirky exhibits that we're confident you'll get something out of it, even if you're one of those people who would rather stick forks in their eyes than spend an afternoon looking at art.