The Best of Winter Fest: 6 Must-See Shows & Where to Go in Between

A man and woman playing musical instruments on a stage.

Words by: Maggie Worthington

Photos by: Anna Briggs & Supplied. Feature image by Bruce McKay.

As the cooler days close in, there’s a sense that hibernation mode has hit many pockets of the country, where leaving the house past 5pm starts to feel worthy of a standing ovation. But over in Taranaki, things are only just warming up as the arrival of winter brings with it one of the most exciting cultural festivals in Aotearoa’s calendar. 

Winter Fest plays host to award-winning homegrown talents, who set the town alight with a wonderland of ideas, words, and stories told through a kaleidoscope of genres, from comedy to music to theatre. 

With over 30 shows across 10 days (6-16 June), there’s something for everyone – but we’ve gone ahead and picked six events we’re most looking forward to. And, in keeping with the spirit of Neat Places, we’re inviting you to make a day out of each spectacle, with bonus recommendations for pre-show dinners, daytime cultural fixes, independent boutique shopping, and cosy nightcaps in New Plymouth and the wider region.

Wilson Dixon Regional Performance - Saturday 8 June, 7.30pm

Ohangai, Hāwera

The performance: Swapping the Rocky Mountains for Mt Taranaki, Wilson Dixon brings his country music performance of cowboy comedy all the way from Cripple Creek in Colorado to Ohangai. With plenty of awards under his belt, Dixon’s new show is a hilarious ride of country music mixed in with witty philosophy and tales of his horse named Andrew.

Pair with: If you’re driving from New Plymouth to Hāwera, warm up for the Wild West at Fenton Street Art Collective & Distillery in Stratford. Peruse the local artworks, grab a coffee or sip on something stronger courtesy of the onsite gin distillery. For dinner and cocktails before or after the show, book a table at the neighbourhood’s favourite bar and restaurant, The Burnt Place. This lively spot is loved for its delicious sharing plates inspired by worldly destinations, as well as signature cocktails to keep you extra toasty. Stick around and make a weekend of it with a visit to Tawhiti Museum on Sunday. Regarded as one of the best private museums in New Zealand, the space houses thousands of life-size exhibits and scale models that tell a captivating and immersive tale of Taranaki’s past.

Prima Facie - Friday 7 June, 7pm

TSB Theatre, TSB Showplace

The performance: Written by Suzie Miller and starring Mel Dodge, Prima Facie is a one-woman show that has sold out across Australia, the West End and on Broadway. It’s a gripping, thought-provoking and witty play that tells the story of Tessa, a criminal defence lawyer at the top of her game until the tables turn and she finds herself at the mercy of the legal system she has dedicated her life to. We’re hooked already.

Pair with: Wrap up and head for an early bite at Liardet Street Projects, an open-air food hall just around the corner from the theatre. The communal courtyard plays host to a range of food trucks and stalls offering authentic street food and cheap eats, from Vietnamese to Spanish and Hawaiian. If you have a hankering for a burger, Gamma Ray’s has a big reputation about town for their 10/10 patties accompanied with just the right amount of sauce, salad and pickle (so good it’s almost criminal – an appropriate lead-up to the show).

Back to Black - Saturday 8 June, 6pm & 8.30pm

TSB Theatre, TSB Showplace

The performance: To follow the release of the latest Amy Winehouse biopic at the cinema, a supergroup of New Zealand musicians have joined forces to pay tribute to the singer’s legendary music. Expect an electrifying showcase of songs from the Grammy award-winning albums Frank and Back to Black.

Pair with: Admire the diverse works of over 120 regional artists at Gover Street Gallery, an independent not-for-profit hub that offers an open platform for any local talent to display their creations. For a pre-show tipple and nibble, swing by The Hour Glass for great tapas, craft beers and a perfectly executed espresso martini in their heated conservatory or snug indoor bar area. Now with “Valerie” in your head for the next week, take a short walk over to Social Kitchen for a delicious shared dinner inside the former Salvation Army Citadel. With a warm and low-lit interior and a focus on food cooked over fire, we can’t think of a cosier place to end a winter’s evening.

Tea with Terrorists - Saturday 8 June, 7.30pm

4th Wall Theatre

The performance: What started as a stand-up comedy show from award-winning talent Sameena Zehra, has since morphed and transformed into a new theatre show. Expect a rollercoaster of dark comedy and delicious storytelling, as Sameena shares stories about navigating two very different cultures, being an atheist in a religious, liberal family, planning the perfect murder, and having tea with some terrorists in Kashmir (a real hoot, surprisingly).

Pair with: No time in New Plymouth is complete without exploring the internationally renowned collection of experimental film and kinetic art exhibitions at Govett-Brewster Art Gallery + Len Lye Centre. While you’re there, catch an afternoon film as part of the Cinema Italiano Festival. Cross the road from the gallery and stop in for a pre-show cocktail and cheese board at Itch Wine Bar, one of the town’s most stylish and sophisticated cocktail lounges. After applauding Sameena, wander over to Table Restaurant, inside the boutique Nice Hotel, for a luxurious meal in a rather opulent setting.

Mansfield in Her Own Words - Saturday 15 June, 7pm

Theatre Royal, TSB Showplace

The performance: Inspired by the vivid tales of Katherine Mansfield, some of Aotearoa’s best musicians have transformed her timeless poetry into a breathtaking contemporary concert. The performance is narrated by Michèle A’Court, curated by Charlotte Yates, and features New Zealand talents Julia Deans, Lawrence Arabia, Will Ricketts of Phoenix Foundation, Tanea Heke of Cousins, Lorina Harding, and French for Rabbits.

Pair with: Enjoy a fun and informative tasting and tour at Juno Gin in New Plymouth’s Westown neighbourhood, a local distillery known for crafting award-winning artisan spirits. For a cool and casual bite before the concert, head to Ms White’s pizza and beer garden for authentic Italian pizzas and over 40 craft beers to choose from (the pizza oven makes for a great heater in winter). You’ll be wanting to debrief the magical melodies you just witnessed over one or two more glasses of wine – so pop into House Wine on your way home for their beautiful selection of Known Unknown organic wines.

Modern Maori Quartet - Friday 14 June, 7pm

Theatre Royal, TSB Showplace

The performance: Taking the best road trip mixtape to the stage, the Modern Māori Quartet invites you to jump into the backseat for a joyful ride through the greatest 80s hits. From Earth Wind & Fire and UB40 to Bon Jovi, Dave Dobbyn, and more, get ready to boogie like it’s 1986 with the most suave Māori showband in Aotearoa.

Pair with: Spend the day enjoying art and design-inspired retail therapy at some of the neatest local independent boutiques. Kina and The Collaboration are both beautiful gallery spaces that not only showcase exhibitions from local artists but also house a well-curated design store brimming with unique treasures to take home. Just one street over is The Virtue, an extraordinary perfumery with a library of stories behind each scent. Break up your shopping excursion with an Allpress brew and a bagel from Bleached, a cool industrial specialty coffee shop that also happens to have an equally delicious lifestyle store attached. As showtime begins to roll around, pop into Shining Peak Brewing for an elevated pub dinner and a craft beer brewed onsite (5% of all their beer revenues are donated to a different local Taranaki organisation each month, so you’ll be contributing to a lot of good). 


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