Ohakune had always been the town I'd pass through on the alternate route between Auckland and Wellington. I'm not a skier so I hadn't made use of its proximity to Mt Ruapehu's Turoa and Whakapapa skifields. But then an invitation to stay at a friend's place got me thinking about what Ohakune can offer outside the ski season, and to non-skiers like me.
A leisurely, scenic, five-hour drive from Auckland transported us to the country's carrot capital in time for evening drinks.
The next day we could have been adventurous and taken a scenic helicopter flight to gaze down on the peaks of Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro, or paddled a canoe down the Whanganui River, or gone horse riding.
But, as I am a fairly sedentary sort, we started the day at Ohakune's Station Gallery and Railway Museum. We learn about the area's history, its connection with the main trunk line, and see images of local wildlife and landscape. Ohakune's railway station was built in 1908 and has been wonderfully restored.
We wandered into The Station Cafe, where owner Jo Bolter has created a relaxed atmosphere, and a menu that is mainly free range. Fresh baguettes with scrambled eggs and mushrooms, a substantial pork-filled sausage roll in crunchy pastry, robust Allpress coffee, hot chocolate and, of course, carrot cake, fortified us for a bush walk.
There are several easy bush walks in the area, including the 20-minute Jubilee Walkway, and the 30-minute Mangawhero River Walkway, which begins at SH49 and winds 2.5km to Ohakune Junction. For those wanting more, Ohakune Coach Rd, from Ohakune to Horopito, will take you on the same route horse-drawn coaches used before the railway line was completed more than 100 hundred years ago. This 14km trail takes four to five hours, and incorporates railway history through native bush, with views across the Waimarino Plains.
We chose the Mangawhero Forest Walk, which begins opposite the ranger station at the base of Mountain Rd and meanders for about an hour through the tranquil magnificence of the Ohakune podocarp (native pine) forest. This walk and an adjoining 15-minute Rimu Walk seem popular with young families who have little legs that weary quickly, and for writers in need of more coffee.
We head briefly to the other end of the township to explore shops and top up on coffee and a snack at Cafe Utopia. I've decided a massage would be perfect after what has been a busy work schedule back in the big smoke so, acting on a recommendation, I go to Manuka Natural Therapies for a deeply relaxing hour-long treatment. Heaven.
Back at our friends' house, we are greeted by the smoky aroma of a hangi, and the sight of children enjoying a trailer-load of snow fresh off the mountain. Their snowballs find the occasional adult target. Come twilight we gather around the fire for delicious hangi food, wine, and conversation late into the night.
The next day our van breaks down, meaning we end up back at the train station, waiting for the Overlander to pick us up on the way through to Auckland, and so depart Ohakune as many travellers have during its varied history.
The Station Cafe: Ohakune Train Station, Thames St. Phone 06 385 9010. Open 9am-3pm.
Utopia Cafe: 47 Clyde St. Phone 06 385912. Open for breakfast and lunch.
Manuka Natural Therapies: 14 Manuka St. Phone 06 385 8507, 027 274 4282. Open 7 days, 9am-10pm. email: email@example.com.
Station Gallery & Railway Museum: 62 Thames St. Phone 06 385 8240 or 021 727112. Open daily 11am-3pm.
Overlander Tranz Scenic Trains: Phone 0800 872 467.
Further information: See ohakune.info.