The jury is in and the verdict is positive for one mountain retreat, writes Heather Ramsay.

"Approach the bench,'' said the judge sternly.

I'd spent the last couple of days in the courtroom and since I had a fair idea of what was coming next, I wasn't at all nervous as I stepped forward. He leant towards me, waving the main tool of his trade in the air.

"Do you want honey or vegemite on your toast?'' he enquired sincerely.

It was a closed session in court so my answer will forever remain secret, but if you have a hankering to be judge, jury, defence or prosecution — or just to make corny courthouse puns — you'll love staying in the Old Courthouse in Raetihi.


These days the Old Courthouse is rented to holidaymakers, but it was previously the local courthouse, and it's thought that it was built just after the fire that destroyed the entire town in 1918.

It was located in central Raetihi until 1984, when it was moved to a hillside in a quiet, leafy street on the outskirts of the village. Another storey was added in, keeping with the style of the original building.

With four spacious bedrooms, two bathrooms and two living areas, the Old Courthouse is ideal for families or groups of friends to go away together, but still have their own space.

The expansive downstairs living area was once the actual courtroom and is now a wonderful gathering place. It's an enormous space, but it's kept cosy by the retention and restoration of native timber, plus an ultra-efficient wood-burner that's connected to huge cast-iron radiators throughout the house.

Best of all, the imposing judge's bench has been retained in its original position and has been converted into the kitchen. From this elevated eyrie, the cook really does reign supreme — and can keep a magisterial eye on proceedings in the room below.

There are views of Mt Ruapehu from the courtroom window and it's the mountain's skifields that bring big crowds to the area. Raetihi is often overshadowed by nearby Ohakune, which moves into party mode during the winter season but if you're looking for a quieter base, Raetihi is within easy striking distance of both Turoa and Whakapapa.

While skiing is the obvious draw, the area offers many year-round activities. It's sandwiched between two scenically diverse wilderness areas — the World Heritage-listed Tongariro National Park that encompasses the central North Island volcanoes, and Whanganui National Park, which surrounds one of our most beautiful historically significant waterways.

Whether it's an easy stroll in a lowland forest or a demanding three-day tramp through alpine terrain, an energetic four-day canoe trip or a quick blast on a jet boat, there are options for everyone.

There are scenic flights over movie locations (several have been filmed in the area, including The Lord of the Rings trilogy, River Queen and Smash Palace), mountain cafes, horse trekking and mountain biking through the foothills, golf, and history lessons at the Army Museum in Waiouru.

And when you get back to the Old Courthouse, you can stoke up the fire, call the court to order and deliver your verdict on the day's adventures.

Getting there: Raetihi is on a crossroads, with SH4 leading north to Taumarunui and south to Wanganui via the Paraparas. SH49 leads east to Ohakune and Waiouru, while Pipiriki and the Whanganui River Road are to the west.

Where to stay: The Old Courthouse is on George St, Raetihi.