The North Island's West Coast encompasses a diversity of landscapes: top surfing beaches; world-renowned limestone caves; and two national parks, one centered on a volcanic mountain, the other on a wilderness river.
The land is generally rural, ranging from tidy thoroughbred horse stud farms to sheep-and-cattle farms located in remote, rolling hill country and a jumble of forest-covered mountain ranges. The long coastline is captivating; world-class surfing breaks meet sandy swimming beaches and craggy cliffs. Small cities and rural towns throughout the region provide a high level of sophistication for their size; they may have started as service communities, but delve closer and you'll find galleries, art studios, farmers' markets, designer stores, museums, and funky cafes.
Waikato and Waitomo is a region of surprises. Gently rolling dairy farms and thoroughbred horse studs emanate from Cambridge, a genteel, English-style town with tree-lined streets. Then things get wilder. To the west are the famed surfing beaches of Raglan, guarded by ancient forest-covered volcanoes. In the south, 30 million years of Mother Nature's handiwork have created the Waitomo Caves, an underground spectacle that thousands of visitors now explore each year, be it by foot, boat, or rappelling rope.
The Taranaki region sprang from the ocean floor in a series of volcanic blasts, creating that distinctive curve along the West Coast of the North Island. The cone of Mt. Taranaki is the province's dramatic symbol and the backdrop for climbing routes and hiking tracks (trails). Agriculture thrives in the area's fertile volcanic soil, and the gardens around Taranaki and New Plymouth are some of the country's most spectacular. The mythology and historic sites relating to the local people are an integral part of Taranaki, too.
Farther south, the Whanganui River wends its scenic way through the forest-covered ridges and valleys that encompass Whanganui National Park. The river is steeped in history, for centuries forming the "road" for the Māori who lived on its banks, then a major route for tourists traveling by steamer. Today it draws canoeists, hikers, and other outdoor enthusiasts. As you veer inland, from river city Wanganui through to the Manawatu region and Palmerston North, the land gives way to prosperous sheep and cattle farms.