New Plymouth is an excellent choice for a city break without big city hassles: city culture, city cafés, city chic and city quirks – all in an easily digestible package. Liz French spent a happy weekend checking it out.
WORDS LIZ FRENCH PHOTOS MARK HARRIS
The Len Lye Centre was the catalyst for this visit. What other city, large or small, has a building dedicated to celebrating the work of a single artist – kinetic sculptor and filmmaker, Len Lye?
The Len Lye Centre is an extension of the well-respected Govett-Brewster Art Gallery but it makes no apology for not melding to it. In fact the solidity of the Govett-Brewster building seems to anchor the curved waves of stainless steel that roll out in a huge, undulating mirror which reflects the sky, the heritage buildings opposite and the many visitors who position themselves for multiple reflections.
While the exterior seems almost ready to launch itself into space, the interior keeps it grounded with matching concrete curves of lofty corridors leading to the exhibition rooms and cinema. The architecture is certainly worthy of the artist it celebrates, and the famous pieces of art it houses.
STAY + EAT + SHOP
We stayed with the Govett-Brewster for brunch at Monica’s Eatery, named for Monica Brewster, the founding patron of the gallery. You don’t get much more city than Monica’s, where chic-young-things with metro-man haircuts deftly deliver poached eggs and spicy meat balls.
They could have had their hair cut at the Jetcharm Barber Shop & Gentlemen’s Quarters, though when we walked past, there seemed to be a few ladies in there too, relaxing on retro-couches under the photo of Queen Elizabeth II. Jetcharm is a café as well but we ran out of time to test the charms of this seriously quirky setup. Much of New Plymouth is typical regional city; however you soon discover gems tucked between and behind the usual strip mall suspects. I found feelings of other cities too. The hilly streets are slightly reminiscent of San Francisco as are some of the older buildings like that housing Kina Art & Design on Devon Street. There were shades of colonial Singapore in the tropical pavilion behind the White Hart Hotel, where a lushly planted walkway leads into an interior store aptly named Plantation. The pavilion also serves as outdoor seating for the Public Catering Co.
Next door, the nice girls at Social Kitchen let me admire its moody dark and teal interior with an array of dead heads on the walls. We would have sampled its fairly meat-heavy menu had we had more evenings but because we were with a very casual group I felt that Prohibition Burgers would better hit the spot.
Good choice: great interior, fun, friendly people, amazing burgers from a menu with a sense of humour. These are no mass-produced Mcburgers, but individual works of art with fantastic flavours, presented on big paper plates, each with a sharp knife stuck dagger-like down the middle. We sampled the Shagger (yes, lamb based), The Fresh Prince (chicken) and were we vegetarian could have had The Tree Hugger, a choice of any combination on the menu, with the meat deleted.
New Plymouth excels in places to work up an appetite, even within the city. The Coastal Walkway is a triumph of urban design enjoyed by strollers, runners and cyclists. As you leave the city boundary you cross Te Rewa Rewa Bridge, angled exactly to encompass Mt Taranaki and a work of art itself, worthy of the scene it frames.
Pukekura Park is another visual feast on foot, a huge green space preserved in the city centre. Thousands visit every evening in summer when the entire park is lit up; however its paths through trees, round lakes and beside gardens are well worth a winter walk. As if we’d not had enough exercise we also headed to the Port district to take up the challenge of Paritutu Rock. Paritutu means rising precipice and it is all credit to the city that this 154-metre-climb – one third of it up rocks hanging onto a chain – is open to all, and hasn’t been ‘OSHed’ out of existence. Views for miles up and down the coast included the Okurukuru Winery that we had visited after a drive out to Oakura beach.
It’s an easy four hour drive to New Plymouth from my Tauranga home, though on the way home we decided to be adventurous and take the Forgotten World Highway which runs from Stratford to Taumarunui via the tongue in cheek ‘republic’ of Whangamomona. It’s nothing like New Plymouth!