Kōrero: Taranaki region

Whārangi 11. Arts and heritage

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero


Early settler Jane Maria Atkinson left a valuable record of life in Taranaki through her letters. Taranaki ethnologist Stephenson Percy Smith co-founded the Polynesian Society in 1892 and edited its journal from New Plymouth. 

Fiction on film

John Brodie’s 1952 novel The seekers, a fictional account of Taranaki during the 1860s wars, was in 1954 made into a movie starring Jack Hawkins, Glynis Johns and opera singer Īnia Te Wīata. All four of Ronald Hugh Morrieson’s novels have been made into movies – The scarecrow (1981), Pallet on the floor (1984), Came a hot Friday (1985), starring comedian Billy T. James, and Predicament (2010), starring Jemaine Clement and Tim Finn.

Frank Anthony, writing in the 1920s, gained fame posthumously for his acute but often charming portrayal of the pioneer dairy-farming days, which included the Me and Gus comic sketches. In the 1940s and 1950s John Brodie, writing as John Guthrie, caused consternation among New Plymouth locals who thought they recognised themselves in his novels Paradise Bay and The little country. Ronald Hugh Morrieson caused a similar reaction in Hāwera when The scarecrow lifted the lid on the sordid, booze-ridden side of small-town Taranaki. Musicologist Allan Thomas’s study of music in Hāwera in 1946 was published in 2004.

Writer Fiona Kidman lived in Hāwera until she was nine. The area featured in her 2005 novel The captive wife, about Betty Guard.

In the 2010s poet and novelist Elizabeth Smither and columnist and writer David Hill lived in Taranaki.

Visual arts

Taranaki’s 19th-century artists included Emma Wicksteed, Edith Halcombe, Georgina Hetley, Martha King, and Hamer and Francis Arden. Charles Heaphy and Gustavus von Tempsky produced important early Taranaki work, but weren’t locals. Early settlers Edwin Harris and John Gully made a significant contribution, but moved to Nelson in 1860 when war broke out in Taranaki.

In the 20th century Bernard Aris produced over 600 sketches and paintings of Mt Taranaki. Michael Smither, Don Driver, Tom Mutch, Rangi Kipa, Fiona Clark and Janet Marshall have all lived and worked in the region.

New Plymouth’s Govett-Brewster Art Gallery opened in 1970 and quickly attained a national reputation for ground-breaking exhibitions of contemporary art. An extension, the Len Lye Centre, opened in 2015 to showcase the work of the internationally-known New Zealand kinetic artist.


New Plymouth is home to Puke Ariki, the regional museum, information centre and library. The Tāwhiti Museum, outside Hāwera, documents local history using life-sized figures and scale panoramas. South Taranaki District Museum is in Pātea.


New Plymouth City Band, whose origins lie in the Taranaki Militia and Volunteers band formed in 1859, is New Zealand’s oldest brass ensemble. The Pātea Māori Club’s ‘Poi e’, written by Dalvanius Prime and Ngoi Pēwhairangi and mixing poi with breakdancing, reached number one in the New Zealand music charts in 1984. Taranaki’s thriving punk scene in the 1980s included bands such as Sticky Filth, the Toxic Avengers and Nefarious.

The controversial ‘mushroom ball’ dances of the late 1980s and early 1990s, involving use of hallucinogenic ‘magic mushrooms’, attracted much public and police attention.

Contemporary musicians with Taranaki connections in the 21st century included Midge Marsden, Julia Darling, MC Talia, Mike Harding, Alan Muggeridge and Victoria Girling-Butcher of Lucid 3. The bands Goodshirt and Kitsch started in the region. Opera singer Dame Malvina Major lived in Taranaki for many years.

Festival time

Since 1988 the Taranaki Rhododendron and Garden Festival has attracted thousands of garden enthusiasts each November. The Taranaki Festival of Arts, Stratford’s Shakespearean Festival, WOMAD and the Parihaka Peace Festival each add a unique perspective to the region’s cultural programme.


The Taranaki Herald was founded in 1852 and the Taranaki Daily News in 1857. The two companies amalgamated in 1966, though both papers were still published for some time after this. The Daily News was the major regional paper in the 2010s.

Historic sites

The Taranaki Scenery Preservation Society, founded in 1891, was one of the country’s most active. Under president W. H. Skinner and an enthusiastic committee, it organised the protection of more than 15 important sites. Pā at Ōkoki, Urenui, Pukerangiora, Te Awa-te-Take, Koru and Turuturumōkai might otherwise have been destroyed.


Surviving buildings from the first two decades of European settlement include Te Hēnui vicarage (1845), the Frederick Thatcher-designed St Mary’s church (1845), the Gables Colonial Hospital (1847–48), C. W. Richmond’s cottage (1853–54), Harry Atkinson’s farmhouse, Hurworth (1855), and Inglewood railway station (1874) – New Zealand’s oldest station on its original site.

Taranaki was reputedly one of the first regions to make extensive use of concrete. One of its first recorded uses was for the support pillars of the 1859 Waiwhakaiho River bridge. The 1877 Egmont Brewery (now demolished) was an example of early industrial use of concrete, and New Plymouth’s 1924 Devonport Flats are metropolitan-style apartments.

The Hāwera water tower and the King’s Theatre in Stratford are important early 20th-century buildings.

Māori buildings of note include Kumea-mai-te-waka (Ketemarae, Hāwera), Whareroa (Taiporohēnui, Hāwera) and one of Apirana Ngata’s carved houses, Te Ika-roa-a-Māui at Ōwae marae, Waitara.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Ron Lambert, 'Taranaki region - Arts and heritage', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/taranaki-region/page-11 (accessed 21 June 2024)

He kōrero nā Ron Lambert, i tāngia i te 11 Dec 2009, updated 1 Aug 2015