The Secrets of Stratford

Words by Irena Brooks
Lake Rotokare Lake Rotokare

This Spring and Summer, as borders to New Zealand remain closed, no doubt many of us will embrace seeing different parts of New Zealand.

But what about if you want a quick break?

A day or weekend away from the ordinary.

How about a look at options in our own back yard?

At first glance, Stratford is an unashamedly agricultural town.

The main street, Broadway, is delineated by deep gutters on either side (yes it can rain quite heavily here), with a range of utility vehicles and SUVs lining up outside a myriad of farming businesses.

Mount Taranaki looks so much bigger this close up (Stratford is 10km from Egmont National Park) and offers quite a different profile than from the New Plymouth perspective — keep your camera handy!

One of 27 Stratfords in the world, Taranaki’s version has embraced the English Stratford-upon-Avon, best known as the home of Shakespeare. Names from The Bard’s greatest works have been woven into the criss-cross latticework of the Taranaki town’s streets, while a glockenspiel standing half-way down Broadway, spits forth figurines of Romeo and Juliet four times a day (10am, 1pm, 3pm and 7pm).

There are some lovely art deco buildings, like King Edward’s Theatre and Fenton St Arts Collective. Offering really good coffee, a delectable range of food (including gluten-free, dairy-free, and egg-free options), there’s also gin and vodka tasting from their own distillery, and changing exhibitions of art on the walls.

Gardens thrive here, like Shirley Greenhill’s, open for this year’s Taranaki Garden Festival (see page  20) and the beautiful King Edward’s Park — home of the famous white fantail (see cover).

It was here that last year the white piwakawaka was first seen. A mural has been done by local artist Phill Jones to commemorate the rare bird, which may still be around (piwakakwaka live for 2 — 5 years).

Prospero Place (opposite the Glockenspiel) boasts the Percy Thomson Gallery — well-known for its quality local art and touring exhibitions. The gallery turns 20 years old this December and will be celebrating with a birthday exhibition not to be missed.

The nearby Forgotten 43 Brewery is a cultural must-do — meet some of the locals over a cold craft beer.

Pop into one of the shops and you’ll find the real treasure of Stratford. People are old-fashioned friendly, there’s no parking metres (or traffic lights) and there’s some great shops and services here, including the Supreme Winner of Taranaki’s Top Shop competition for 2021, Stratford ITM.

If you’re constantly disappointed at stores where staff seem more interested in their phones than actually helping customers, you need to pop into ITM just for the service experience alone (see story page 86).

Even the drive along the main street of Stratford is beautiful, with the trees lining Broadway changing with the seasons.

On the southern side of town, just off the main highway, is the Taranaki Pioneer Village. It offers a unique opportunity to experience an outdoor museum representing the life of Taranaki pioneers from 1850-1950. The historic buildings are set in park-like surroundings over ten acres and include picnic areas.

Between shop and gallery visits, you can visit nearby gardens, hike on the mountain, play in the snow or go to native bird sanctuary, Lake Rotokare.

There’s also a range of walkways through the town: the Heritage Trail (encompassing historic sites and buildings), the Carrington Walkway that runs next to the Patea River dissecting the town, and the Discovery Trail, which takes you on a tour of Stratford’s best kept secrets and Shakespearean themes.

During the upcoming Taranaki Garden Festival (Fri 29 Oct — Sun 7 Nov), there’s the Scarecrow Trail as well, which is a great activity for families, along with the Greenhill Garden in Stratford and four more in the surrounding area (pick up a Taranaki Garden Festival Programme for details). There are also two Stratford Gardens in the Sustainable Back Yards Trail section of the festival. 

The Taranaki Arts Trail running concurrently with the garden festival, boasts four Stratford artists.

Call into the iSITE on Prospero Place to get detailed information and brochures about all the activities on offer. If you’re looking to escape for a bit longer, why not get lost in the wonders of the Forgotten World Highway, including the Republic of Whangamomona and informal Tunnel Tour. Or pop down to Eltham to explore the plethora of recycled goods shops and some more lovely examples of art deco. There are a couple of wonderfully restored buildings now operating as B&Bs — The Bank and the Old Eltham Post Office.

Itinerary Ideas

A DAY IN STRATFORD 1

Percy Thomson Gallery

Goblin Forest walk on Mt Taranaki

LUNCH — Ngati Ruanui Mountain House

Stratford Bike Park 

Heritage Trail through town

Forgotten 43 Brewery, open from 4-7pm on Broadway in Stratford.

A DAY IN STRATFORD 2

Fenton St Arts Collective

Wilkies Pools walk on Mt Taranaki

LUNCH — Dawson Falls Mountain Lodge

After lunch — 5 minute walk to Dawson Falls

Hollard Gardens and/or Lake Rotokare Bird Sanctuary

With Daylight Saving you may have time to play a round of golf at the picturesque Stratford Golf Course on Pembroke Road.

Go to the iSITE (opp the clocktower) for info on Mt Taranaki, the Forgotten World Highway (SH43), Whangamomona and Tunnel Tours.

You could book a night at one of the lodges on Mt Taranaki or the historic Whangamomona Hotel, or at one of the Whangamomona B&Bs, like the Butcher Shop. Next morning do a rail cart tour with Forgotten World Adventures.

UPCOMING EVENTS

The Stratford District Council is hosting a Summer Nights concert at the King Edward Park on the 19th February 2022.

In April 2022 the Shakespeare Society (with support from Stratford District Council) will be running a month long Shakespeare Festival with a number of activities/events for people to attend.

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