Situated between Auckland and Wellington, Taranaki is the westernmost province of the North Island. Its major city is New Plymouth, a busy port on the coast of the Tasman Sea. Taranaki is a leading dairy-farming region, an energy center with major reserves of natural gas and oil, and home to Mount Taranaki. The region is also famous for its lush gardens, beautiful parks, and world-class surf breaks. In 2008, the United Nations-endorsed Liveable Communities Award named New Plymouth the best city of its size in the world, and the city's Coastal Walkway the world's best environmental project.

Southeast of Taranaki is Wanganui, one of the major towns of the area now known as the River Region, which includes the provinces of Manawatu, Horowhenua, Tararua, Whanganui, and Rangitikei. Until recently, Wanganui did not play a significant part in overseas visitors' itineraries, but its leading light - the broody Whanganui River, the longest navigable river in New Zealand - is worth exploring. A number of good outdoor activities center on the river, and the town will give you an idea of the workings of small-town New Zealand.