New Zealand’s west coast city of New Plymouth has been on my Bucket List for a little while now, only really because I hadn’t been before and I also fancied a road trip from Auckland down the North Island’s rugged black sand beaches and rolling farmland.
But with the new addition of the incredible Len Lye Centre wrapped in stainless steel and attached to the Govett-Brewster Gallery, there is no better time to visit New Plymouth than now!
Where to stay in New Plymouth _______________________
We arrived at The Devon Hotel at about 5pm after a morning spent hiking through the glow worm caves at Waitomo (about a 2.5 hour drive away) bedraggled and cold, only to find our suite had a spa bath! I turned the taps on almost before I put my bags down, opened a bottle of red and while my husband sat in the lounge to watch the rugby on TV (!), I wallowed in a bubbly tub like a marshmallow in a capuccino.
The Devon is a Heritage Hotel and is loved by locals as well as visitors. Their incredibly popular buffet restaurant, Marbles, (no I don’t know why it’s called that either) is about to be refurbished. But as well as this restaurant, there is a bar with a gas fireplace and TV to watch as much rugby as a rugby-mad Kiwi can watch. There are other reading and sitting nooks too and it’s all very stylish with sumptuous looking couches for a wine and a natter. They do lots of conferences and events here, so check them out for your next one.
A heated outdoor pool is covered for winter, but the spa pool is available. I didn’t need it (see above!)
Located just a couple of blocks back from the beach, The Devon has bicycles free to use for hotel guests who fancy a whiz along the 13km coastal cycle way, past the Len Lye Wind Wand (installed for the millennium) with the wind in their hair. Or in their helmet.
You’re about 1 km from the main drag for eating, shopping and checking out the new gallery.
What to do in New Plymouth _____________________
The first thing on your list will probably be the Len Lye Centre. This has been a long time coming, as the locals will tell you. Many were opposed to its highly unusual design, completely wrapped in stainless steel and reflecting everything in sight. Including me.
“How do you keep it clean,” I asked curator Simon Rees. “God cleans it,” he replied. Fair enough. Although twice a year they will get a cherry-picker and give it an acid wash, “lemon juice, basically.”
It’s attached to the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and together this is a must-visit when in the Naki. Entrance is free. FREE! There is a small state-of-the-art cinema for events too.
School groups come through and get hands’ on learning (although I did note the lack of signage about not touching any of the incredible sculptures imagined by Len Lye – and some that he did create. Not that you can touch. You can’t. It’s just that the curators reckon you should know that (parents, tell your kids) and don’t expect you need signs and ropes everywhere. I like that. I just hope it doesn’t end up biting them in the bum.
Who was Len Lye? ______________________________
I’m embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t heard of Len Lye until the hooha erupted over this new gallery.
Born in 1901 in Christchurch, he left school at 13 to help support his widowed mum and educated himself through public libraries, becoming one of New Zealand’s leading oracles on modern art while still in his teens. He went to London in 1921 as a self-taught artist with influences from Maori and Aboriginal art.
Art and motion was his thing. Kinetic sculpture. Experimenting with sound and art. His animated films are what made him famous in London as he spliced images with sound together. You could say he was the grandfather of MTV! He pioneered a new way of making a film without a camera winning awards and screenings all over the world with “A Colour Box” in 1935 set to Cuban dance music. Make sure you see Len Lye’s “Jam Session”.
But film was a hard sell, so from 1958, by now in New York, he worked with motorised steel sculpture which were included in exhibitions all over the world. He loved movement and once described his sculptures as dancers.
The 45m high Wind Wand down on the New Plymouth ocean front was his dream that was eventually created for the millennium. He died in 1980 after becoming an American citizen in 1950, but most of his work was sent to New Zealand.
Govett-Brewster Gallery ___________________________
In all the hoopla surrounding Len Lye and his new shiny centre, one could overlook the original building and art gallery. Once you’re here you won’t because they are interconnected and your journey will take you past these other important pieces of New Zealand modern art.
“Our hearts of darkness” is currently showing (it runs until 25 November, 2015). It’s moving and poignant as various artists have so cleverly captured how violence is embedded in our New Zealand identity.
Where to eat in New Plymouth ________________________
A great new burger joint with a fun nod to the prohibition era in that your beer is served in a paper bag. With tattoo art on the walls, it’s not the booze you come here for, but the monstrous burgers served with a dagger of a knife in this former bank which has seen a few businesses come and go through its doors before now most famously L’escargot before becoming Mexico for less than a year. I went for the Mother Clucker – a satay chicken burger with a tempura mushroom and red slaw. The husband had Notorious B.O.B. with double meat and onion bhaji. We had no room for dessert, as you can probably imagine!
This sharing plate restaurant is meant to be an extension of the owners homes, and if it is then I’d love to visit their homes! The decor is cool with chandeliers and wall art that includes a bunch of hands and a massive bull’s head. It’s South American inspired with a charcoal oven producing great tastes.
We started with small plates of scallops served on sliced blood sausage and the pork and chicken meatballs, then graduated to a delicious venison osso bucco which just pulled apart and the pork belly with crunchy as well as sticky crackle. The special vege of the day was peas with tomatoes, onion and feta which was so great I’m going to add this to my own culinary repertoire.
For coffee near the Len Lye and Govett-Brewster (they are in the same building!) wander across the road, to Ozone which has a great vibe and came highly recommended. They roast their own beans, offer coffee making workshops and have a really low key, share tables if you want, kind of vibe.
What about the mountain?! ___________________
Funny you mention it… Mt Taranaki has a naughty habit of hiding behind the clouds, but I did have a moment of spotting it in time to Snapchat my sister who has visited four times and never seen it. We decided to drive up for lunch at the cafe where lots of hiking tracks depart from. Remnants of snow lined the road like polystyrene and when we got to the carpark the fine day in New Plymouth was sleeting. We had soup and garlic bread and headed back down again!