Kia Ora: Benneydale

This old mining town is finding a new fortune in the beauty of its forests, writes Elisabeth Easther.

One of the suspension bridges on the Timber Trail, part of the Nga Haerenga national cycle trail between Pureora and Ongarue (near Te Kuiti and Taumarunui). Photo / Elisabeth Easther
One of the suspension bridges on the Timber Trail, part of the Nga Haerenga national cycle trail between Pureora and Ongarue (near Te Kuiti and Taumarunui). Photo / Elisabeth Easther

Where is it? In the King Country, 35km southeast of Te Kuiti, three hours' drive from Auckland or 414km north of Wellington.

Origin of name: Coal was discovered here in 1931 and in 1940 the government bought the mine, thus creating the township, naming it for Mr Benney, (the under-secretary of mines at the time), and Mr Dale, (the mine superintendent) making it the only King Country settlement without a Maori name.

Population: When the mine was running at peak production it climbed to 2000 but today it's closer to 200, including those on outlying farms.

Town slogan: "Blink and You Miss It." Okay, that's not official but it does fit. "Benneydale - Gateway to The Timber Trail" also has a ring to it.

Town mascot: The kereru or wood pigeon.

Word to the wise: Phone ahead if you know you're visiting, to be sure things are open.

Famous local: Well known author and sports commentator Keith Quinn was a Benneydale boy.

Best websites: artdoc.co.nz, destinationpureora.co.nz and paharakeke.co.nz are all good.

Biggest business: Farming and, more recently, tourism thanks to the opening of the Timber Trail in the Pureora Forest Park. The meat works and DoC also employ a fair few people.

Source of pride: It's all about the outdoors and the magic of Pureora - not only is it a beautiful forest and the cycle trail is super, the bush is bursting with pigs, deer and wild goats so, if you're into hunting you'll love it here, and you'll be helping with conservation, too.

People come for: Hunting, birdwatching, cycling, segments of Te Araroa walk and the authentic way of life.

Centre of the universe: Pureora marae is called Te Miringa te Kakara and its history dates back to the middle of the 17th century when Pureora was named by a tohunga to mean "ritual of wellness". Today people come here from all over the planet to meditate because apparently it's ley-line central and people get the same kind of buzz they do at Stonehenge and the pyramids of Giza. This spot is thought to be the centre of the Southern Hemisphere and it's just a kilometre out of Benneydale. There's also a sign here that indicates the centre of the North Island, too - so although it may seem out of the way, it's actually the centre of the earth.

Town fiestas: Winter and summer solstice bring hordes of people to Te Miringa, and Benneydale is gearing up for a country fair the last Sunday of each month over summer.

Here for a short time: Knock off a portion of the Timber Trail then stop for cake, dinner or a bed at Artdoc Gallery. Pa Harakeke is also ka pai if you fancy indigenous culture, nature and adventure.

Best reason to stop: So you can meet Monica and Maurice, (aka M&M) the exotic proprietors of Art Doc Gallery. It's like stepping into another world and they are the perfect example of how easy the place is.

Best park: The great outdoors.

Best playground: You have two to choose from, one at the lovely little school and the other just off the Main St - ask a local to show you the way.

Best walks: There are several walks in Pureora including the Totara Walk, which is 30 minutes return. The Waihora Lagoon walk is 10 minutes one-way. Or do a portion of Te Araroa; there are three to four days of good tramping on it round here. Ideally start at the crack of dawn when the birdsong is turned up loud.

Green thumbs up: There are four gardens of national significance here and some people say Tapuwae Garden has the country's best collection of magnolias. All the gardens have super rhododendrons, making them especially interesting from October to November when things are blooming.

Best museum: Endean's Mill near Waimiha is a former steam timber mill that's like an open-air museum. It's like the timber mill version of Smash Palace, a trip back in time.

Best view: The world from the top of Mt Pureora is stunning, especially on a crisp day. Or turn off SH30 and drive between Benneydale and Waimiha for the most stunningly beautiful country roads - on a clear day you'll see Mt Ruapehu.

Base yourself: Benneydale makes a great base for day trips to Taupo, Rotorua, Waitomo, Tongariro and Matamata.

Best music: If you're lucky you may be around for an Art Doc house concert with Monica, the marvellous French jazz singer, her musician husband Maurice and Sarah Bradley of TVNZ fame. It's so groovy, you'll think you're dreaming.

Watch this space: Benneydale Lodge will be re-opening soon as a backpackers and B&B. This was the first licensed hotel in the King Country, built when mining was massive, and it'll be super when it's up and running again.

Best shop: The little dairy, anyone for icecream? Or how about a hot pie and chips?

Tops for coffee: Art Doc.

Best food: Stop in at Benneydale for cake at Art Doc, kiwi kai at the local shop or a home-cooked meal at The Wooden Heart (opening soon).

Bush tucker: Lew and Julie Pickens have a collection of bush memorabilia including Dutch camp ovens, the yoke of oxen, fishing gear and old machines. If you make an appointment they'll show visitors through the collection and, if it's convenient, cook you a meal on the camp oven. Phone: (07) 894 6188.

Wet your whistle: The Wooden Heart will be the spot when it opens at Labour Weekend

Best mountain biking: The Timber Trail - 83km of awesome cycling thrills. See epiccycleadventures.com and timbertrailaccommodation.co.nz to start planning your trip.

Wildlife: Birdwatchers flock here to see the 120 kokako couples, the largest population on the mainland. Plus you'll see loads of tui, fantail, tomtits, robins and kaka. Keep your eyes peeled at dusk for native bats, which dine on mosquitoes.

Locals say: Don't be surprised if you decide to move here.

Visitors say: Summon the real estate agent immediately.

Thanks to M&M, two excellent reasons to move to Benneydale.

- NZ Herald

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