Kia ora: Taihape

Elisabeth Easther finds comfort in gumboot capital

Mokai Gravity Canyon satisfies thrill-seekers with its flying fox. Photo / APN
Mokai Gravity Canyon satisfies thrill-seekers with its flying fox. Photo / APN

Origin of name:
Originally called Otaihape, the place of Tai the Hunchback, later shortened to Taihape.

Population:
About 1800 (and shrinking).

Where is it:
Central North Island at the confluence (love that word) of the Hautapu and Rangitikei Rivers, about 500m above sea level. Expect about five hours' driving from Auckland. Or take the train; the Northern Explorer stops here.

The town slogan:
Gumboot capital of the world.

The town's defining mascot feature:
The enormous corrugated iron gumboot sculpture as you come into town.

Is there a town competition?
You guessed it: gumboot throwing. This year it's on Saturday March 9.

Source of pride:
The community spirit. It's the people who make the place - everyone talks to everyone.

Best reason to stop:
The adventure activities, the secondhand shops, the beauty of the hill country and the rivers. There's so much to see off SH1.

Famous locals:
Fred Dagg came from Taihape, as did Moke Bellis, one of the first All Blacks. Morton Coutts, of Coutts beer, was a local and began the Main Trunk Brewery here (remember Joseph Kuhtz Beer?) and became famous for his continuous fermentation method. He also set up a wireless link between San Francisco and Taihape in 1924.

Best place to take the kids:
Memorial Park (also called The Rec) in town has play equipment, a swimming pool and skate ramps.

Best place to get a drink:
Le Cafe Telephonique, overlooking the cenotaph, has a great wine list and their French-style food is tres magnifique. Many visitors have declared it the best meal they've had in New Zealand.

More great food:
El Centro's menu hasn't changed in 20 years and you can always get a great steak, with your choice of chips or pompoms.

Best flat white:
Brown Sugar Cafe has been serving amazing coffee and cafe food for decades - an oasis when cafes of this calibre were few and far between along SH1.

Best bakery:
Alex Wong at the Four Square does a wonderful pie and amazing baked goods. Check out the steak pie.

Best local websites:
taihape.co.nz or rangitikei.com.

Best museum:
Taihape Museum and Rose Cottage. Small, charming and interesting to visitors young and old, with its fascinating historical and photographic exhibits.

Best walk:
Mt Stewart Native Forest Reserve is perfect for a short stroll. There are a number of tracks that lead to the viewing tower. Path starts at the giant gumboot.

Best view:
Mokai Gravity Canyon provides spectacular vistas, and you can choose to either travel at 160kmh on the 1.1km flying fox, do the bungy or take the more sedate swing. Or just watch people scream from the safety of the viewing area.

Here for a short time:
Browsing around the town's nooks and crannies is a fascinating adventure in itself.

Best shop:
The Wool Company in Utiku is a neat place to stop. Loads of woollen garments and mountains of yarn. The secondhand shops are grand too, all specialising in slightly different stuff.

Best swim:
The Meetings of the Waters, south of Taihape, where Hautapu and Rangitikei rivers meet. This is a popular swim spot for locals, as are the Taihape Pools in Memorial Park.

Most fabulous item of wildlife:
If you're on a river, you might be lucky and see a whio (the endangered blue duck). Jerome Kavanagh, (Mokai Patea) was building a whare raupo at River Valley Lodge recently when he found a feather that DoC believe belonged to a kiwi. Great news and possibly in part because of increased predator control in the region.

Great adventure:
The 136km Gentle Annie cycle trail starts at Taihape and ends in Fernhill in Hawkes Bay. Gorges, views, history, heaven. You need to be fit but it's worth it. You can also drive it as it's all tar-sealed, but that'd be lazy. For great cycling all over the region, visit: rangitikei.com.

When a local has visitors from abroad staying ...
They take them to River Valley for rafting, horse trekking and the real country atmosphere. Or Mokai Gravity Canyon for some extreme scream experiences.

Thanks to Brian Megaw from River Valley and Denis Robertson from Property Brokers Taihape for imparting their specialist knowledge.

- NZ Herald

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