New Plymouth’s West End

New Plymouth is a prime specimen of a provincial player punching well above its weight. There’s a confidence, a buzz, and a palpable sense of pride in the city’s new-found urban vitality. I’d heard big talk about the unfolding revitalisation of the West End, magnified immeasurably by the stainless steel traffic-stopper, the Len Lye Centre.

Like a gallery wrapped in a grand and glistening tutu, it will literally make you stop and reflect. Its curved façade is a composition of towering columns of mirror-like, marine-grade stainless steel; a spectacular and dramatic demonstration of destination architecture. It is absolutely New Plymouth’s answer to Bilbao’s Guggenheim.

I instantly fell under its spell, making a point to marvel at its reflective majesty, morning, noon and night. Trust me, your eyes will never tire of this mesmerising masterpiece and its shifting moods with the changing light. Within this gleaming exterior, adjoined to the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, the Len Lye Centre is New Zealand’s first institution devoted to a single artist, showcasing his world-famous work in kinetic sculpture, photography and film.

Our nation’s most prominent international artist, who died in 1980, left his life’s work to be housed in New Plymouth. Free to enter, take your time to explore the plethora of works, although the prize draw is unquestionably the Large Works Gallery, which displays the Four Fountains, vast bundles of rotating stainless-steel rods that twist, flex and shimmer. They are wondrous and whimsical – if not a little hypnotic.

Fountain IV, engineered by the Len Lye Foundation, is the new rock-star, reaching a staggering height of 8 metres. The Len Lye Cinema is a delightful boutique space which reflects the red and black colour scheme that was commonplace in New York arthouse cinemas, that Len loved so much. The centre is superbly geared at young people, with purpose built art learning centres and weekly family activities, every Sunday between 1pm and 3pm.

But as much as the gallery is the great anchor of the West End’s renewal, there’s a feast of neighbouring innovations and attractions to enjoy, accentuating the precinct into a cultural, food and entertainment hub. Directly across the road, on the corner of Devon and Queen Street, the colonial splendour of the historic White Hart Hotel, with its wraparound wooden verandah, has been meticulously restored, now home to variety of hospitality venues and inviting shops including the interior design concept store, Plantation.

Queen Street, which will soon be pedestrianised, boasts some divine cafes, including the new Monica’s Eatery, inspired by the life and spirit of the art gallery’s founding patron, Monica Brewster. They specialise in informal Italian fare. Don’t miss Ozone Coffee Roasters, housed in the old Dominion Breweries factory.

Locals are right to swear by their coffee – it is stupendous. Make a beeline to their on-site café, The Bean Store, adjacent to the roaster. Ozone is so popular that it has spread its wings across the other world. They have an outlet in Shoreditch, London and alongside their artisan coffee, they produce outrageously good hot chocolate. Their West Coast Cocoa range is so acclaimed, you’ll find it on the discerning pantry shelves of Harrods Department Store.

One of my favourite places for a casual lunch or dinner is Frederic’s, a playful, convivial restaurant and bar that crowns Egmont Street, with character by the caseload. It’s become a local institution. Opened just two months ago, The Social Kitchen is a very laid-back bistro, where the charcoal oven produces salivating menu options including Waiarapa lamb rack or Waikato angus eye fillet. Share plates and tasty bites include their must-try Zany Zeus halloumi and blue cheese gnocchi.

Also in the West End, cosy up in the Snug Lounge, a Japanese inspired restaurant and cocktail lounge. The Yakitori grill whips up a feast of delights – try the Chow-Down, a dining experience that lasts for the whole night, as you order in rounds off the ‘all you can eat’ menu.

As a self-confessed devotee of all things retro Americana, I had to make a date with the Deluxe Diner. Featuring classic red diner booths, an all-day breakfast and casual American-themed food, and extravagantly bedecked in rock ‘n roll memorabilia, this Leach St establishment is a hit.

A winning way to accentuate the atmosphere of the West End revival is to be royally treated at the King and Queen Hotel Suites. The Macfarlane and Boddington families’ have been instrumental in driving many of the precinct’s developments, including this magnificent luxury boutique hotel. Opened four years ago, the distinctive design theme blends light industrial chic with Moroccan and European décor.

There are some extraordinary decorative touches, like the beautiful main doors that previously graced the Alexandria police station in Egypt, and the commissioned art works that liberally adorn the property. Needless to say, the level of service is exemplary, highly personable and unfailingly attentive, discharged with typically unpretentious Kiwi informality. It’s not easy to offer immaculate service and be disarmingly down to earth at the same time, but King & Queen staff have nailed the juggle with aplomb.

I stayed in one of the brand-spanking Left Wing Spa suites, which have been artfully outfitted within the White Hart building. Loaded with comforts, enjoy a jet spa bath and spacious rain shower, tea & coffee making facilities ( freshly ground Ozone, naturally), a super king-sized bed, flat screen LCD TV, writing desk, private minibar, iPod docking station, plus complimentary extras including daily cookies, newspaper and free WiFI. Need a workout? Enjoy complimentary to Cityfitness gym.

You are richly blessed with effortless dining options where you can simply show your room key to charge back from eight venues, including Monica’s, Snug Lounge, Frederic’s and Social Kitchen. Some venues will also provide in room dining – just call reception to place an order. King and Queen Hotel Suites is a stellar experience, surprisingly inexpensive and where the art of standing-out from the pack is constantly being refined. King and Queen Hotel Suites website.

Air New Zealand operates an outstanding network of daily services, connecting Taranaki with the nation. Fly direct to New Plymouth from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Use the fare finder to bag the lowest flight price at Air New Zealand website. For more regional information, head to www.taranaki.info

By Mike Yardley.

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