Coast |

Back to the sea.
New Plymouth


New Plymouth’s coastal walkway can be described in three moves: connect the coastal dots, connect to the city and focus on the Huatoki. Connecting the dots meant creating destinations along the coast even when there wasn’t a budget for the entire scope of works.

Below This concept drawing illustrates some of the key interventions on the coast – finger piers, sea decks and platforms – and the way in which they have been aligned intentionally to extend the city’s urban street grid right out to the Tasman Sea.

In pre-European times, New Plymouth, sitting in the shadow of Mount Taranaki, was known as Ngā Motu, the Islands, after the Sugar Loaf Islands that sit just off the coast. Māori have occupied the area for hundreds of years, and the city’s Pākehā heritage dates back to the 1820s, when whalers started hauling their boats ashore. The 1850s would see in the erosion of the beach and, eventually, across the subsequent decades, a small town would be established, a breakwater port built, railway yards constructed on reclaimed land across the mouth of the bay and a railway line built to run along the foreshore. In time, an arterial road would amplify this barrier and the foreshore reserve would sit abandoned behind a deteriorating sea wall. This city really had turned its back to the wild Tasman Sea.

Left New Zealand’s wild west is revealed in this circa-1870 view, by an unknown photographer, of the foreshore of New Plymouth. The Huatoki Stream mouth is visible in the foreground, and a surfboat base and the Terminus Hotel can be seen in the background. In the distance are the local landmarks of Paritutu and the Sugar Loaf Islands.

New Plymouth remained hunkered down against the coast until 1995, when the Taranaki District Council commissioned a masterplan to reverse the city’s inland bearing. ‘Mountain to Sea’ it was called, and it proposed a number of physical and visual links between the city and its waterfront and guided the implementation of several major projects.

The implementation of the city’s now-famous coastal walkway – initially six kilometres of pathway and boardwalk, and later, following public affirmation of the project, extended to 11 kilometres – was the first project commissioned. In the years following, a sequence of works was undertaken to reorganise the city centre. The Huatoki Walkway, a series of spaces connecting city with sea along the path of the reintroduced Huatoki Stream, eventually established a strong link with the foreshore and created a higher profile for the cultural centre of Puke Ariki.

The overall strategy applied at New Plymouth involved extending the city grid across road and railway to the coast. At the edge, the street grid dissolves into finger piers, the largest of which is an extension of the Puke Ariki Landing, which cantilevers out eight metres over the Tasman Sea.

While New Plymouth’s collective spaces allow for a number of civic and recreational experiences, the coastal walkway is the city’s most evocative built landscape. At the intersection between shoreline and city, marked by the ceaseless shifting of Len Lye’s Wind Wand, the walkway extends out, protected from the sea by a deep and wide boulder wall. At certain points, when enough protection is not offered, the walkway ducks inland to provide shelter, but at all times the vast expanse of water and horizon is maintained.

“The interface between city and sea could be a space left natural with minimal human presence. Tangaroa, the sea-god, is said to be eternally at war with the land; hence, the sea is forever reacting with and nibbling at the coastline. This dynamic could be an intrinsic feature of the foreshore development in that the human presence is not obtrusive and dominating.”

– Billie Biel, on behalf of the tangata whenua, Ngāti Te Whiti Hapū Society, 1999

New Plymouth’s coastal walkway is a result of a design that seeks to enhance the relationship with the sea. The materials stand in stark contrast to those found in more cosmopolitan waterfront upgrades. There are no patterned pavers, just volcanic rocks, timber and textured concrete, accompanied by robust unpainted seating elements, and galvanised steel balustrades. On the finger piers, the timber boards are aligned so they project out towards the water.

“All along the walkway, one thing becomes obvious. People enjoy just being there: the view, the sounds and the smell of the sea.”

— Grant Porteous, New Plymouth District Council

Team Members
David Irwin, Helen Kerr,
Past Team Members

Nik Kneele, Philip Henderson, Tim Fitzpatrick

Richard Bain Landscape Architects

Consultant Team
Tonkin & Taylor
Apex Consultants

Fletcher Construction (New Plymouth Foreshore, Woolcombe Terrace);
Kerb & Driveway Specialists (Coastal Walkway East); Whittaker Civil Engineering (Coastal Walkway Extension to Bell Block)

New Plymouth District Council

2006 NZILA George Malcolm Supreme Award
2006 NZILA Gold Award Urban Design
2005 Ministry for the Environment Year of the Build Environment, Highly Commended