Kia Ora: Levin

By Elisabeth Easther

Levin has produced plenty of superstars, writes Elisabeth Easther.

Origin of name: Maori called the place Taitoko or "ray of light". It was later changed to Levin after William Levin, a director of the Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company.

Population: 19,550 (2012 estimate).

Where is it: 90km north of Wellington, 50km south of Palmerston North, in the Horowhenua district.

Town slogan: The Nature Coast.

Most famous locals: Suzy Clarkson (broadcaster), Joy Cowley (writer), Rebecca Gibney (actor), Darren Hughes (former politician), Carlos Spencer (former All Black) - and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Best local website: Oddly there isn't a dedicated Levin website - but check out horowhenua.govt.nz, it's pretty flash.

Source of pride: It's not too small and it's not too big, plus it's close to rivers, the beach, lakes and mountains.

Best Festival: Organic River Festival in February is like Glastonbury, but smaller with lots of yoga as well as music. The Santa Parade is pretty cool too.

Stellar fun: The Horowhenua Astronomical Society host regular heavenly events.

Best drink: Manukau Pub is a quaint two-storey pub with character, and Fat Boys is good for an urban bevy, with Cobb & Co. conveniently attached. Or visit Celtic Winery on Hokio Beach Rd, especially if you like ginger beer, Black Doris Plum Port or libations made from feijoas.

Best food: Focal Point Cinema - and have a movie with your meal. There are two small boutique cinemas with sofas and a bigger cinema too.

Best flat white: Other than Focal Point, Whispers does a good cuppa and the new joint creating a buzz is Quarter Acre, a few kilometres south of Levin.

Best bakery: Sponge Kitchen does yummy baked goods, coffee and a range of food too.

Best art galleries: Studio 202, Artscape and the Horowhenua Arts Society Gallery. Te Takere, Levin's lovely library, also has lots of things worth looking at.

Best walks: Kohitiere Trig Track offers excellent walking and biking tracks, up at the trig, on a clear day, you can see from Mt Ruapehu to the South Island. The Mangahao Makahika Track from Levin to Shannon is an epic bush walk, about five to six hours, but the views will take your breath away. Prouse Bush Reserve has shorter tracks.

Best view: See above, or try the lookout on Arapaepae Rd and gaze out over Levin and the lake.

Best place to pull over: Lake Horowhenua is gorgeous and covers nearly 4sq km. Play at the playground, feed the ducks, paddle your own canoe. But no swimming until 2015, it's become a bit dirty.

Best park/playground: Levin Adventure Park on Oxford St. There's lots of ground to run around, clean toilets and facilities, even an indoor picnic area. And the playground has outstanding equipment for kids of all ages, and disabled visitors, too. Plus there's sometimes a miniature train kids can ride for free.

Another park: Jubilee Park with its toddler pool and Disney theme is heaps of fun. Levin is spoiled for parks.

Best shop: Levin's second-hand shopping is second to none and the Arohanui Hospice Shop is always worth a look see, or try Taitoko for good old-fashioned used fun.

Best swim: Gladstone River is popular, as is Kimberley River. Levin Aquatic Centre provides all-weather dipping and hydroslides. Or nip to the ocean for a swim at Waitarere. The coast here is stunning.

Get a load of this: The town had its centenary in 2006, and the bowling club celebrated their ton in 2007. Today more than 20 per cent of Levin's population is aged over 65, which is higher than the national average. And with so many parks and activities, it's great for growing up, too.

Wildlife: Deer and pigs can be found in the Tararuas, and lots of birdlife. Fish are abundant off the coast.

Regional park: Tararua Ranges are super for day tramps or major hikes.

Safety warnings: Look both ways crossing the road, that's State Highway One running through the middle of town.

Locals say: Lovin' livin' in Levin, never leavin'.

Visitors say: Lovin' Levin, loathing leaving.

A PLACE TO GROW OLD IN

Novelist Janet Frame described Levin in The Carpathians (1988):
'The houses are arranged neatly east and west of the main highway, in streets named by the English settlers after rivers and towns they would never see again ... Puamahara, known as a "good" place to retire in, has more than the usual number of homes and hospitals for the aged where the flower gardens, the mountains, are there to gaze at, the distant sea to dream about'.

Thanks to Celaya, Steph and Malcolm for sharing.

- NZ Herald

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