Kia ora: Tirau

Elisabeth Easther visits a small North Island town that's full of iron and ... more iron.

The Tirau Information Centre is one of two giant corrugated iron sculptures in town. Photo / Amos Chapple
The Tirau Information Centre is one of two giant corrugated iron sculptures in town. Photo / Amos Chapple

Where is it? In South Waikato, 50km southeast of Hamilton and 20 minutes south of Cambridge.

Origin of name: Tirau is Maori for the place of many cabbage trees.

Further back: On October 1, 1881, the Post and Telegraph Office was opened and the town was officially known as Okoroire. In 1890 the name was changed to Oxford but, to avoid confusion with Oxford in Canterbury, the name was Oxford North until 1895, when it took the name of Tirau, after a prominent hill in the area.

Population: 700, give or take.

Town slogan: Corrugated Iron Capital of New Zealand or Take a break, take in Tirau. Both work well.

Town mascots: Corrugated iron, in particular the giant sheepdog and the enormous sheep. Most impressive.

Popular for: Tirau is famous for many things, namely its corrugated iron sculptures and the lovely shopping.

Famous local: Readers are welcome to make suggestions, I spoke to a number of locals and no one genuinely famous sprang to their minds.

Best website: tirauinfo.co.nz.

Most prominent industry: Farming is the backbone, but tourism is starting to give the land a run for its money.

Source of pride: Locals describe Tirau as a vibrant little town that transformed itself with artisan awesomeness.

Town wingdings: There are regular craft and market days.

Here for a short time? Because you probably will be. It's a hub for travellers from Auckland, Wellington, Tauranga, Rotorua, Hamilton and Taupo all passing through.

Best reason to stop: The excellent eclectic shopping.

Best place to take the kids: The Castle Pamela - this toy and doll museum is quite something. Check if it's open though, as the hours can be sporadic.

Best park: Tirau Village Green has a little beauty of a playground and a barbecue area, too.

Best facilities: You have to cock your leg at the sparkling new public toilets inside the big corrugated iron dog, just to say you've peed inside a hound.

Best walk: For an urban stroll, meander from the bottom of town to the top because wherever you stop, you'll discover something lovely. Or 9km out of town you'll find Te Waihou, a 4.7km walkway through farmland, along crystal clear streams. It's the source of the famous Blue Spring and takes three hours return. It's accessible from Whites Rd (SH28)

Best swim: The hot pools at Okoroire Hot Springs Hotel. This is a super-charming "olde worlde" hotel built in the 1880s, 6.5km from Tirau. It also has a great restaurant, a nine-hole golf course and fishing nearby too. It's like taking a trip back in time.

More swimming: The public swimming pools are excellent for a dip, but they're outdoors so only in the summer.

Best museum: Tirau Early Museum and Honey Shop on State Highway 5 heading towards Rotorua, proudly home to more than one million items. Geoff, the curator, is a mine of information. Stay and chat a while.

Art gallery: Art on Main is technically a shop, but it's so beautiful it can pass as a gallery with its artworks, pottery and paintings.

Tops for coffee: There are so many coffee joints in this town, it's tricky to single out just one so we'll mention several. Beanz & Machines not only roasts the beans and sells the hardware, their coffee is top-notch. Cabbage Tree Cafe is also said to be super. Ditto Poppy's Cafe, The Loose Goose, The Honey Shop Cafe and The Enchanted Cafe.

Best food: The Loose Goose is a licensed restaurant and comes highly recommended; open for brunch, lunch and dinner.

Wet your whistle: Oxford Royal Hotel Steak House is the perfect place to rest your legs and watch the world go by.

Best mountain biking: The Waikato River Trails, 20 minutes from Tirau, consists of about 100km of picturesque paths through native bush, exotic forest, farmland and along water ways.

Best adventure: Lake District Adventures are your go-to company for all manner of excursions, from cycling to kayaking, even glow-worm trips.

Wildlife: Cows, sheep, birds and lots of rabbits.

Safety warnings: Do not run across State Highway 1 without looking both ways, several times. You have been warned.

Locals say: Take a break, take in Tirau.

Visitors say: How will we ever fit this life-size corrugated iron sculpture of a sheep into the back of the Mini?

Thank you to a bunch of locals, who all chose to remain anonymous. Tirau is a small town, which means you can't please all the people all the time and the last thing a local wants to do is put another local's nose out of joint.

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