Escape city life and discover the tiny Central North Island town of Raetihi, by Mt Ruapehu. It's on the doorstep of so many adventure activities, writes Rachel Grunwell
It's more than four-hours' drive to Raetihi, 11km west of Ohakune, so after a few hours I stop for a break at a cafe in the middle of nowhere, the Mapiu Store.
I request a trim-milk latte and a woman behind the counter tells me I can't have one. But she can make a latte with fresh milk taken from a cow just hours earlier. She vows it's "organic, preservative-free" and "this will be the best coffee you've tasted".
It doesn't disappoint, nor does the view outside to two wild rabbits on a stretch of green.
It's a peaceful outlook at Raetihi too, home to just over 1000 people, a school and a main street of charming shops. There's no traffic lights and cellphone reception is patchy, which helps with escaping chaotic city life.
I'm at Snowy Waters Lodge, a former Raetihi Hospital nurses' home that has been lovingly restored. This family-friendly place has magic views of Mt Ruapehu. It's a great place to stop for so many incredible adventure activities.
You can climb Tongariro, Ngauruhoe or Ruapehu; take on a world-famous walk through the Tongariro National Park or mountain-bike some national cycle trails. Three ski areas beckon and, of course, there's the Whanganui River to navigate. You could also fish, kayak, jetboat, discover world heritage sites, and more.
Visitors might recognise some spots from films like The Lord of the Rings, River Queen and Smash Palace.
Events are on every month, too, like rodeos, The Tussock Traverse and there's a fashion show in Ohakune in June.
I time my visit for December's Goat Big Kid adventure run through Tongariro National Park.
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of The Original Goat (21km), a challenging 16km trail run was held called The Big Kid, which includes some of the goat track. Some 767 "goats" entered in challenging weather conditions on the day.
I sign a form to accept I'm entering at my own risk and carry a bag with compulsory gear, including a survival blanket, thermal top and hat, a weather barrier jacket and water.
The run starts on a private farm at Horopito, on the western side of Mt Ruapehu. I run through bush, mud and swamps and sometimes cow pats and, to avoid my feet being grabbed by the marsh, I swing like a monkey on branches or leap frog-like from tree-stump to rocks.
It feels like the only way is up. It is. The race finishes at 1600m.
I lose count of how many freezing and fast-flowing streams I tackle but it's past the Mangaturuturu Hut that things get "memorable". My feet beat a drum over tiny wooden tracks built over swampy land and tussocky wilderness that is breath-taking.
Then there's the cascade waterfall to climb.
I clamber, crab-like on all fours, up the almost vertical Mt Ruapehu rockface, with a waterfall gushing to one side and an eye-watering drop to "doom" on the other. The landscape is barren, brutal, beautiful, and unforgiving if you make a wrong move.
The last mile is named "Mama's Mile" because you're bound to feel like begging for your mama during this gruelling incline to the finish at Turoa Ski Area (it's tougher this day with sleet and wind slamming me).
At the end, runners have delicious goat stew, burgers and beer, and the reward of finishing feels tremendous.
An awards ceremony later acknowledges the fastest goats including The Goat winner (for the fifth-time) Sjors Corporaal, a farmer from Galatea who loves pig-hunting. Event director Jason Cameron tells runners they should be darn proud of finishing. These events are designed to test even the toughest.
That night, I join runners celebrating at the Powderhorn Chateau in Ohakune. And the next day I reluctantly leave Snowy Waters and this peaceful and unforgettable paradise.
Stay: Rachel Grunwell was hosted by Snowy Waters Lodge; 10 rooms and a villa on 2ha of park-like grounds.
Coffee: Buy fresh coffee that's 100 per cent fair-trade, organic and made here at the Volcano Coffee and Pizzeria on Seddon St.
Eat: Great pizza at the above place too, but also Angel Louise Cafe.
Challenge yourself: See thegoat.co.nz for information on upcoming events.
Further information: See visitruapehu.com.