where 2 wear it

Kinetic New Zealand

There’s more to New Zealand than sport and sheep! And I’m off down the Forgotten World Highway in the North Island to prove it.


A scenic five-hour drive west from Taupo – where I’m visiting my sister and her family – lands me in New Plymouth, capital of the Taranaki region and rapidly becoming one of the hippest places in New Zealand.  So of course that’s where I want to be!

Like many out-on-a-limb spots this seaside city has always attracted artists and has championed contemporary art at the Govett-Brewster Gallery since 1977. But it’s the shiny and softly-folded façade of the Len Lye Centre that’s currently put it on the art map since opening two years ago. New Zealand-born (1901-1980), Lye’s kinetic sculptures need precise engineering and his association with local expert and fan John Matthews is a key reason why his archive ended up here and some of his eye-catching outdoor pieces are now dotted around the city.

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Its mirrored façade is ideal for a ‘Marilyn’ moment in my KINETIC SKIRT, a simple circle of printed nylon voile from renowned Joel & Son Fabrics in London, UK. The print is a work of art in itself. Click here if you’d like to make one for yourself and I’ll explain the maths!

Outside the Len Lye Centre New Plymouth NZ

Inside the gallery the star of the show is Lye’s famous Flip and Two Twisters, a kinetic sculpture which several times a day contorts and screams in such an alarming way that headphones are recommended for sensitive souls. In another room six more kinetic works spin and hum in more gentle lyrical fashion which evoke flights of birds, ripples on water and shooting stars.

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Len Lye may be the star attraction but there are many other artists who choose to work in New Plymouth’s convivial environment and I have a great time meeting Reuben Patterson – glitter artist extraordinaire.


Reuben works exclusively with multi-colour glitter. Being a colour-chart addict I’m immediately attracted to his paintings which seem kitsch at first glance – but look more closely and you discover his painstaking technique of building up layers of colour from dark to light which is reminiscent of the Old Masters and pointillism. I wish I could take one home.

A short drive out of town, sculptor Steve Molloy has converted a disused dairy factory into a studio and gallery.

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It’s a great location to show off his bold and colourful metal pieces – Steve and his  partner Anna Korver, also a renowned sculptor, have set up a small campsite there if you really want to get immersed in their works.

Camping’s not really my cuppa tea so I put up at the Nice Hotel

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Here Terry Parkes, the effervescent owner/manager, has his own eclectic art collection and loves taking visitors on walking tours to show off the variety of sculptures and installations commissioned by this enlightened city.


This includes Len Lye’s iconic Wind Wand which is 25 metres tall with a crowning red glow-in-the-dark full stop that hovers idly over the seafront.


This piece by John Reynolds called Big Wave Territory is a tongue-in-cheek play on road signs and a homage to the sights of Taranaki.

Kathy Thurston of Discover Taranaki, another energetic New Plymouth resident, introduces me to the Lushington Boutique where Belinda Hunt and her daughter Louise create funky bespoke jackets and coats with quirky embroidered details. After all, you need something posh to wear to all those gallery openings!

We have a quick pattern cutting session and I introduce her to the brilliant Telestia system which I teach at Ray Stitch in Islington, London. Click here for classes.


Here I am modeling one of her coats – I would have happily bought this one if I’d had any room in my suitcase.


If all this culture makes you hungry, and it does me, Social Kitchen serves up meaty sharing plates…

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I go for the spiced wild goat and it’s so good I gobble it all up myself!

After two nights discovering the arty side of Taranaki, it’s time to head back to Taupo.  And guess what? On the drive back we have to stop for some sheep…


All images © nigeltisdall.com

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