Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Te Aroha: Finding our romantic centre

There are quite a few things to love about Te Aroha, writes Rachel Grunwell.

Rachel Grunwell enjoys the view from Mt Te Aroha. Photo / Supplied
Rachel Grunwell enjoys the view from Mt Te Aroha. Photo / Supplied

A mate who is a jewellery designer has harped on for years that I should come to her "cool town" Te Aroha, which translates as place of love.

So when she announced "I'm up the duff" (twin boys, blimey!) I figured it was a good time to finally get my butt there.

So I told hubby Damien we were off for a romantic weekend away to a place of love.

He thought I was fibbing, but I assured him there is such a place.

First we had to find it - Google says it's just two hours' drive from Auckland.

Then we tapped our keyboard to find some digs and the internet unearthed some novel choices: an old nunnery and 130-year-old former school were two options. But we fell for the charm of the Mokena Restaurant and Boutique Hotel, a former boarding house in the gold mining days.

Manager Karen Gidall beams as she welcomes us to Mokena, which she affectionately nicknames "Fawlty Towers".

She promptly introduces us to "Basil Fawlty", owner Allan Johnstone, who regales us with tales about how the 150-year-old historic building arrived via bullock train from the Waikato - to anecdotes about being an engineer on oil rigs.

Gidall books us in for a dinner date at the on-site restaurant at 7pm as she boasts how she made it into the first intake of TV's MasterChef show. But she says she won't be cooking for us as that's the job of Justin Page-Lawrie. She says ignore the fact "he's a skinny chef" as his food is "a dreeeeeam".

Well, Te Aroha turned on sunshine and a show. The annual Aroha Cruise In was on - a line-up of classic cars all the colours of the rainbow. I fell for a blue Chevrolet beauty, while Damien wished he could take home a smokin' hot red Mustang.

Live music played in the town as we rambled through antique shops and admired our Edwardian surrounds.

In the afternoon we eyed up Mt Te Aroha and I declared, in Sir Ed Hillary style "we should knock the bastard off!" However, a sign at the foot of the mountain said it would take about a four-hour round trip so, given it was almost dusk, I realised we could realistically knock-off the first lookout, roughly an hour round trip.

Well, the lookout over the plains was a high totally worth some huffing and puffing over.

We next tried to book into the Mineral Spas at the forest edge, but all the time-slots had been snapped up. Darn.

Back at the hotel for dinner, I'm gutted when a waitress raves it's unbelievable at the top of Mt Te Aroha - the view takes in Hamilton, Bombay, Thames and even Tauranga and the sea. Thankfully our spirits are lifted with some bubbles and a mouthwatering meal.

The skinny chef really can be trusted, especially with whipped potato and lamb-shanks. I think my belly rivalled that of my pregnant mate's after eating all the chef's chocolate mousse and cheesecake...

Hubby and I hobbled our way up the creaking staircase to our suite and spa that looked over Mt Te Aroha.

The next day the mountain was shrouded in moody cloud, but by midday she was showing off her full sunlit curves.

Damien says his favourite pick the following day was nearby Wairere Falls. Sadly, we ran out of time to experience the Mokena geyser (the world's only hot soda water geyser) or do some mountain biking or more of the bush walks that give this town a great name.

So we've vowed to return. We've got some cute twins to coo over soon, but there's also a lot to love about Te Aroha that's worth coming back for.


Best coffee and kai on the way: Pukeko's Nest Cafe and Gifts on2276 State Highway 2, Maramarua, Waikato.

Where to stay: Mokena Restaurant and Boutique Hotel, two hours drive south ofAuckland, 6 Church St, Te Aroha, ph (07) 884 8038. Room rates range from $85-$150.

Best high: Scale the 952m Mt Te Aroha. Check out tramper.co.nz for more information.

Hot point: Te Aroha Mineral Spas ($15 adult, $8 child), ph 07 8848717. Or splash in a pool at Te Aroha Leisure Pools ($6 adult, $4 child), ph 07 8844498.

Hit the track: Great mountain-biking tracks are at the foot of Mt Te Aroha. Get maps from the local information centre.

- NZ Herald

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