Kia Ora: Pirongia

Elisabeth Easther takes a closer look at New Zealand’s original frontier town.
The view from Mt Pirongia  towards Te Awamutu is glorious. Photo / NZME.
The view from Mt Pirongia towards Te Awamutu is glorious. Photo / NZME.

Origin of name: Established as a military base in 1864 and called Alexandra after the Princess of Wales, the town was later renamed Pirongia so as not to be confused with the South Island town of the same name. Pirongia is Maori for "like a bad smell" although Pirongia is pretty and not at all smelly.

Population: 11,000.

Town slogan: New Zealand's original Frontier Town.

Town tagline: Come for an hour, come for a day, come for a lifetime - don't just stop to use the loo.

Ethereal: Legend has it that fairy people known as patupaiarehe live up Mt Pirongia.

Magic in the air: The area is also thought to sit on ley lines. It's said tohunga, druids and shamans hold rituals in the woods.

Race relations: Pirongia is home to New Zealand's oldest horse racing club.

Famous locals: Though Pirongia has produced quite a few representative sports people, arguably the most famous locals would be the clydesdale horses.

Best website:

Main employer: Dairy farming drives the village. According to the last Census Pirongia has higher-than-average education and income levels and there's virtually no unemployment.

Town fiestas: Head to the markets, on the last Sunday of each month, for everything from lavender products, locally roasted coffee, bread and duck eggs to face cream. Every September is the Pirongia Craft Day or head to the Pirongia Races on Boxing Day.

Here for the weekend: Walk the mountain, tear up the MTB park, visit the gallery, play a round of golf, get a haircut, a massage, a facial, eat.

Best reasons to move there: Houses are affordable and even the smaller sections are huge. Plus there's ultra-fast broadband, a decile 10 school and arguably the best coffee in world.

Tie the knot: Pirongia has four wedding venues and a couple of celebrants based there.

Kids love: Aside from going up the mountain, Pirongia Clydesdales are always a winner.

The great outdoors: There are several green spaces, the sports ground has interesting trees to climb, and two redoubts for history buffs to explore.

Best playground: The school has a massive adventure playground. A couple of little preschool-friendly play areas are dotted around. The Village Green has interesting little hills and roads for kids to run around, and Te Ngahere reserve is well planted.

Best walks: From the short walk to one of New Zealand's most intact redoubts to the tracks up the mountain, the shortest walk is 20 minutes and the longest two days with a beautiful new DoC hut to stay in. Or head to nearby Te Pahu to tackle the three-hour nikau walk (compete with caves).

Best views: Either gaze up at the mountain, or go up the mountain and look out - everything is beautiful.

Best museum: Visit the Historic Society, based in an old restored church, learn about the village's martial and Maori history and agricultural roots. Open most days thanks to volunteers.

Best swim: Just 10 minutes' drive away at Te Pahu there's a fantastic swimming hole on the Waipa River.

Nice arts: Birdsong Gallery stocks the work of local artists including paintings, sculptures, and fibre art. Or pick up the arts trail brochure from the Historic Centre or on the Pirongia website.

Top shop: The Four Square sells Pirongia bacon, locally roasted Origin Coffee, Indian grocery items, and locally grown export-quality strawberries, blueberries and asparagus.

Cream of the coffee: The Nest has a gorgeous interior and great food. The coffee machine is a show-stopper - a copper and brass Elektra Belle Epoque.

Yum: Visit The Clydesdales Cafe for nutritious home-made fare. The Persimmon Tree is famous for its gluten-free almond lemon cake. Fish and chips from the hotel are reliably good.

Wet your whistle: The historic Alexandra Hotel serves craft beers, has an extensive wine list and a big family friendly outdoor space.

Best mountain biking: Waipa Mountainbike Park - grades 2-3 - is amazing and all thanks to the hard work of a bunch of local riders. There are hopes that one day Nga Haerenga: The National Cycleway might join Pirongia to Te Awamutu via Lake Ngaroto.

Best-kept secret: Lake Ngaroto welcomes walkers and cyclists. Featuring 6km of boardwalk, this is also the site of one of the Land Wars' heaviest losses, so it's a place to be respected.

Wildlife: Cows, native birds, possums and, in spring, the cherry tree lined streets are home to hundreds of tui but, most exciting of all, thanks to the mountain's restoration society, Pirongia is now home to kokako and toutouwai (North Island black robins).

The verdict: Almost all the locals you talk to reckon Pirongia is the best town ever.

Thanks to Susan Trodden.


In the Waikato, 12km from Te Awamutu and about 30km SW of Hamilton.

- NZ Herald

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