Kia ora: National Park

Chill out where high adventure and relaxation go hand in hand, writes Elisabeth Easther

Mount Ruapehu. Photo / Greg Bowker
Mount Ruapehu. Photo / Greg Bowker

The Tokaanu pools and Mt Ruapehu (above) offer the best of hot and cold.

Origin of name: Originally called Waimarino, (translation: Calm Waters) but when the train came through in 1925 it was changed to National Park so as not to be confused with other settlements called Waimarino.

Population: 240 locals (last census), 600 holiday homeowners, and about 1000 visitors.

Where is it: On the North Island's Central Plateau, 330km from Auckland, 317km from Wellington - about a four-hour drive from either place. Or take the train. It is on the main trunk line.

The town slogan: Alpine Adventure All Year Round.

The town mascot: Volcanic cones are the region's icons.

Fancy this: At 825m, National Park Village is the highest urban township in New Zealand.

Fancy that: The area is a Dual World Heritage Site.

Famous for: Being an outstanding all-season tourist destination.

Feat of engineering: The township is at the top of the Raurimu Spiral, a train track like no other.

Wood rush: 33 sawmills once operated in the area at the height of the forestry madness.

Most famous locals: William Taylor, award-winning writer, and former mayor of Ohakune. Roy (Scruffy) Turner, most notable for setting up a ski area on Mt Ruapehu, also notable for disappearing with his family when flying his plane over the Southern Alps in 1983.

Best local website: nationalpark.co.nz

Most prominent industry: Tourism, no doubt about it.

Sporting challenges: The T42 trail run, The Goat Adventure Run and the Tussock Traverse.

Best reason to stop: It's such a special part of the North Island, with a handful of splendid volcanic cones to marvel at.

Best place to take the kids: Happy Valley. Get them skiing up at Whakapapa and watch their faces light up.

Best place to get a drink: Schnapps Bar, apres hike or apres ski, enjoy a quiet beverage by the open fire.

Best food: The Station Cafe Bar and Restaurant. Try their locally sourced venison, although everything is yummy.

Best accommodation: Alpine Apartments cater for every need from families to backpackers. Impeccable hosts, too.

Best flat white: Macrocarpa Cafe, dairy, postal and information centre - so much more than just good coffee.

Best bakery: The local gas station does excellent cakes they bake themselves, and tasty bread, too, from ciabatta to French sticks.

Best museum: There isn't one but The Station Cafe has a good bit of history on the walls.

Best walk: The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is world famous with good reason. On a nice day it's one of the most stunning things you may ever do.

Best view: From the air on a clear day, so grab a Mountain Air charter flight.

Best place to pull over: State Highway 4 near Schnapps Bar, there's a layby next to a beautiful sculpture of a kiwi made from driftwood.

Here for a short time: The Tupapakurua Falls is a four-hour walk, a pretty easy hike to a lookout. It's a bit more demanding if you go right down to the falls.

Best kept secret: The Marton Sash and Door Tramway is a cycle trail on an old bush tramway. At 16km it's a two-hour grade two track that intends one day to extend from the mountain to the sea, covering 40km. The expansion isn't fully funded yet so if anyone wants to write a cheque you'd be welcome. The route investigation is currently under way. Viaducts, scenery, heritage, what's not to like?

Best swim: It's not really a swimming environment, but there's Whakapapa River if you must and there are a few nice streams if you know where to go. If you fancy finding yourself in hot water, Tokaanu thermal springs, the largest hot water springs in the country, are a 30-minute drive. There's a walk, plus pools. Boiling mud and manuka - a winning combination.

Tokaanu hot pools near Turangi in the Central North Island. Photo / Alex Robertson
Tokaanu hot pools near Turangi in the Central North Island. Photo / Alex Robertson

Best mountainbike trail: Fishers Track, part of the mountain-to-sea trail, lets people ride all the way to the Whanganui River if they want to make a day of it. Most of it is downhill, so if you want be a lazybones and coast down - then have Rick from Kiwi Mountain Bikes return you to the village.

Best adventure: Pop up Ngauruhoe, if you're feeling adventurous, or have high tea at the Chateau, if you like to play it safe.

Wildlife: Tui, kereru and ruru all call the plateau home, as do deer, pigs and goats, if hunting makes you happy.

When a local has visitors staying: They take them on the Alpine Crossing or round Lake Rotopounamu, which is a lovely two-hour walk between National Park township and Tokaanu.

Safety warnings: Read the signs, heed the warnings, and don't take risks. Bring the right clothing, watch the weather and be prepared for alpine conditions.

Locals say: You're genuinely welcome.

Visitors say: Jealous.

Thank you so much to Jen and Murray for spilling the beans.

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