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Road Trip New Zealand: Go Taranaki, Whanganui & Manawatū

How does a road trip passing through destinations rich in history, culture, and the arts sound? And all against a picture-perfect backdrop? Sounds wonderful to us, which is why we’re super amped to bring you our road trip recommendations for Taranaki, Whanganui, and Manawatū.

How does a road trip passing through destinations rich in history, culture, and the arts sound? And all against a picture-perfect backdrop? Sounds wonderful to us, which is why we’re super amped to bring you our road trip recommendations for Taranaki, Whanganui, and Manawatū.

6-Day, 300km: Go Taranaki, Whanganui & Manawatu Road Trip

The Coastal Arts Trail is our most artistic road trip to date! Start your celebration of the arts journey in New Plymouth, famed for its top-notch art scene. No visit to New Plymouth is complete without visiting the contemporary Len Lye Centre with its iconic mirror façade. Make time for New Plymouth’s Coastal Walkway. It combines natural arts (the epic scenery) with public art.

Start your journey in New Plymouth, one of the largest towns in Taranaki, and visit New Zealand's only dedicated modern art gallery.
Start your journey in New Plymouth, one of the largest towns in Taranaki, and visit New Zealand’s only dedicated modern art gallery.

Next, drive the iconic surfer’s playground, Surf Highway 45, popping into the vibes-galore towns of Ōakura and Ōpunake en-route to Hāwera.

Day two is all about the mountain and the arts. Head up the Hāwera water tower for the best views in Taranaki before exploring Hāwera’s local galleries and award-winning museums. Be sure to pit-stop at the Fenton Street Arts Collective. Overnight on Taranaki Maunga at the Ngati Ruanui Stratford Mountain House (the Goblin Forest is nearby).

Day three, Whanganui calls! Get your bearings up the Durie Hill tower before exploring the Whanganui arts scene and a yummy lunch in the arts district. Conclude your day at the arts-and-chill Castlecliff Beach.

Waimarie Paddle Steamer on Whanganui River
Waimarie Paddle Steamer on Whanganui River. Image credit: DiscoverWhanganui.nz

Spend day four on Te Awa Tupua – the Whanganui River. Did you know the river is so integral to the wellbeing of Whanganui, it’s legally classed as a person? True story! The best way to connect is on an authentic riverboat. After, learn more about Whanganui’s history at the regional museum.

Day five, head to New Zealand’s most beautiful town: Feilding. Located in Manawatū, it’s home to galleries, studios and even pottery in the nearby village of Ashhurst. In Palmerston North, enjoy a peaceful lunch at The Herb Farm Café before visiting Wildbase Recovery, a shelter for local wildlife. Conclude your day with hearty laughs at the Centrepoint Theatre.

Te Manawa Art Gallery. Image credit: ManawatuNZ
Te Manawa Art Gallery. Image credit: ManawatuNZ

Your final day fill up your soul at the quirky Square Edge Arts Centre, contemporary Zimmerman Art Gallery, and free Te Manawa Art Gallery. Conclude your day in Foxton, where the Te Awahou Riverside Cultural Park allows you to experience the lives of Māori in Aotearoa.

Here’s our top five things to do.

1. Immerse yourself in nature

Dawson Falls, Taranaki Maunga National Park. Image credit: Taranaki.co.nz
Dawson Falls, Taranaki Maunga National Park. Image credit: Taranaki.co.nz

We could not talk nature without having Taranaki Maunga – and all its incredible tracks and trails – at the top of the list. Walk to Dawsons Falls for an alpine dip, or tramp to the spectacular Pouakai Tarns. See the seals at Taranaki’s Sugar Loaf Island Marine Reserve with Chaddy’s Charters.

Spending time on the Te Awa Tapua (Whanganui River) is highly recommended. A canoe trip is the most immersive way to experience its magic. For spectacular views, walk the ridgeline on the Atene Sky Link Track. The Whanganui beaches are also pretty spesh.

One of Manawatū’s hidden gems is the Limestone Creek Glow Worm Caves. Head there at dawn or dusk for the free light show! Manawatū has some great hikes. Our pick? Tramp the ridgeline on the Rangiwahai Hut Track, or wind your way to waterfalls and rock pools on the Sledge Track. The main star here is the stunning Te Āpiti – Manawatū Gorge. Walk, bike, observe, and learn the Māori history of this legendary land.

2. Head outside for some family fun

Awastone. Image credit: ManawatuNZ.co.nz
Awastone is ideal for family adventures. Image credit: ManawatuNZ.co.nz

There is so much entertainment for all ages in Taranaki. The Pukeiti Kids Tree House Trail is informative and fun, along with boating in Pukekura Park. Get close to cool animals at Stoney Oakes, Brooklands Zoo, and Pouakai Zoo.

In Whanganui, explore the Durie Hill tunnel and underground elevator. For historical entertainment, a riverboat cruise on the Te Awa Tupua suits all ages. Or walk the trails at Tarapuruhui Bushy Park, a forest sanctuary filled with native birds.

Manawatū does outdoor fun like a boss. At Awastone, raft, kayak or camp along the Rangitīkei River and uncover the mystical Whitecliff Boulders. Enjoy thrills at Off the Loop, a cable wakeboard and water park or why not race a Blokarting land-sail?

3. Experience true culture & heritage

Whanganui Regional Museum
Whanganui Regional Museum

The region is rich in culture and history. Learn New Plymouth’s stories on a guided history walk. Make time for Taranaki’s Aotea Utanganui Museum and the fascinating Traders and Whales Exhibition at Tawhiti Museum.

Discover the 40+ generations of Māori and European settlement at the Whanganui Regional Museum, famed for its Taonga Māori Collection. Admire the beauty of the Māori carvings at St Paul’s Memorial Church, and you can stay the night at an Edwardian-era heritage building.

Manawatū has no shortage of cultural and historic drawcards, too. Like Te Manawa, Palmerston North’s museum, art gallery, and science centre. Sports fans, don’t miss the New Zealand Rugby Museum. For an unusual attraction, consider a guided tour of the Feilding Livestock Sale Yards.

4. Get off the beaten track

Arapuke Mountain Bike Park. Image credit: ManawatuNZ
Arapuke Mountain Bike Park. Image credit: ManawatuNZ

In Taranaki, find peace at Cape Egmont’s Lighthouse and its nearby museum. Hāwera’s how-did-this-get-here KD’s Elvis Museum is too quirky to pass by. For a ye-olde-worlde experience, take a petrol rail cart at Forgotten World Adventures.

Whanganui’s Bridge to Nowhere is accessible by jet boat and a 45-minute bush track. The Waitahinga Trails are off-the-beaten-track, offering Taranaki and Mt Ruapehu views from the look-outs. The exotic Paloma Gardens are ‘gardens of national significance’ and filled with plants from all over the globe.

For a real off-the-beaten-track Manawatū road trip, take The Country Road into ‘real’ New Zealand. Along the way, stop at Makoura Lodge to experience true Kiwi country hospitality and a ton of cool activities. Alternatively, get your heart racing at the Arapuke Mountain Bike Park.

5. Discover the art scene

Brown & Co. Image credit: Discoverwhanganui.nz
Brown & Co. Image credit: Discoverwhanganui.nz

If there’s one thing the Coastal Arts Trail highlights is that they are a creative bunch in this region. Taranaki has an internationally renowned art scene, with the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre leading the charge. Also notable is New Plymouth’s Koru on Devon, Stratford’s Percy Thompson Gallery, and Hawera’s Lysaght Watt Gallery.

In Whanganui, wander the arts precinct, plus enjoy the ceramics at Quartz and blown glass art at Brown & Co and Te Whare Tūhua O Te Ao.

Alongside the Manawatū gems mentioned in the Coastal Arts Trail, visit Joe McMenamin’s contemporary Kiwiana art in Feilding. If jewellery is your thing, pop into Cameron Jewellery. Make time to wander the inspiring street art in Palmerston North, too!

Get Inspired

If you’d like a taste of the awe-inspiring landscapes, plentiful attractions, and unique destinations of Taranaki, this video is the teaser you need.

Week stressing you out? Check out this Weekend in Whanganui video to take a (mental) load off.

Experience the pride of the Manawatū – the people, the nature, the innovation – in this video.

Driving in Taranaki, Whanganui & Manawatū

With the Forgotten Highway, Whanganui’s River Road, and Manawatū’s Country Road, renting a car is one of the best ways to experience the region. Thankfully, it’s simple to navigate the country roads, hilly bends, and mountain switchbacks.

In winter, a quick check online before setting off allows you to stay up-to-date in case of road closures due to snow.

Get the Road Trip Playlist

The Whanganui playlist is a vibe! All 19 songs connect to Whanganui, from Stan Walker’s Te Arohanui to Forest by the Douglas Liiburn and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Check it out!

Travel Advisor? Gain Access to the Marketing Hub Toolkit Here

Join Tourism New Zealand’s Australian Trade Team on a virtual road trip through Taranaki, Whanganui, and Manawatū! For one informative hour, you’ll learn everything about this sweet-as pocket of New Zealand.

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