Te Kuiti on the main trunk line exists in a charming time warp. The trains still toot with regularity as they pass through town, and a siren rings every weekday at 5pm to denote knock-off time for the workers.
Heading south on the big red NZR Da class train for the holidays and stopping in Te Kuiti for a cuppa in Crown Lynn cups is one of my early memories.
Te Kuiti, as any good Kiwi would know, is the shearing capital of the world. I'd only been in town 10 minutes when I lamented not having my camera handy. I was meandering past the old train station, and I turned to see a young bloke walking towards me wearing a hat, green Swannie, black shorts and gumboots.
A refreshment at Te Kuiti is one thing that has never changed for me. In recent years the industrial chic Bosco Cafe at the north end of the town has become a compulsory stop whenever we head to Ruapehu.
Accommodation has stepped up a notch too in the 21st century and we stayed at the 4+ star Qualmark rated Waitomo Lodge. Our super-modern, comfortable unit looked out on the Mangaokewa stream, the main trunk line, and green fields.
Our first afternoon was spent on a leisure drive along SH3 through the stunning Awakino Gorge, up the remote and scenic Manganui Rd, over the Pomerangi Range, simply because we were warned off the single track road, and finally through the Marokopa area after a short back track.
The main reason for the trip was to enjoy this remote corner of the world. But there are several sights along the way in this limestone country with its caves, rivers, gorges and waterfalls. The first sight is the Waikawau Beach Tunnel, dug out by three men using pick and shovel, then the stunning Marokopa Falls, Piripiri Caves and Mangapohue Natural Bridge, which were all within 10 minutes of each other and well worth visiting.
Next morning it was back into the car to a new Maori tourism venture, Pa Harakeke, on land bordering the Pureora Forest Park .
Pa Harakeke offers a variety of eco and Maori tourism experiences from its processing centre which doubles as a visitor centre. There is also a recreated pre-European style pa and two nearly complete wharenui-style two-bedroom chalets.
We, however, hired shiny new mountain bikes at Pa Harakeke to cycle the just opened Maraeroa Cycleway, a 26km off-road circuit that passes through native bush, past the base of Mt Pureora and through a mixture of mature, and logged exotic forest. The ride takes three to four hours for slow riders like us, or two hours for the super-fit. We were very grateful for our comfy beds at the Waitomo Lodge that night.
On the way back into Te Kuiti we took a short detour into the Mangaokewa Gorge Scenic Reserve which is just a few minutes southeast of town. The gorge is exceptional in New Zealand because it was never logged, making it pristine bush. We jumped out for a 40-minute walk along a section of the Te Araroa walkway beneath the limestone bluffs. There are free camping and flush toilets in this reserve. The only other local tenting option is the tiny Te Kuiti Domain campsite in Hinerangi St.
Back in town Bosco was closed and we headed to The Riverside Lodge, once the Te Kuiti Gentleman's Club, which offers pub-style fare. The pan-seared scallops came recommended and lived up to their reputation. What's more, a short-lived bar brawl over a woman's affections provided some unexpected entertainment.
Amazingly, after 48 hours in Te Kuiti we left not having tested all the attractions. The town has quite a number of parks for its size, and immediately behind Bosco at the north end of town is Brook Park, a farm park with sheep and both 60 and 90-minute walking trails.
Just before leaving town we dropped in at the lovely little Heritage Cottage in Rora St.
Te Kuiti has lots of interesting local events, a list of which can be found here.
Where to stay: Waitomo Lodge Motel, 62 Te Kumi Rd Waitomo 3910, New Zealand. Phone: (07) 878 0003.
What to do: Pureora Cycle festival is on this Saturday from 9am-4pm, has spot prizes, cycling and food. Pa Harakeke Eco-cultural Centre, 138 Maraeroa Rd, Pureora. Phone: 07 929 8708.
Further information: Click Te Kuiti Visitor Information Centre. Address: Rora St, Te Kuiti. Phone (07) 878 8077.
* Diana Clement was hosted by the Waitomo Lodge and Pa Harakeke .