Kia Ora: Kihikihi

Elisabeth Easther looks at a small town with a fraught history.
Alphra Lavender farm at Kihikihi has more than 12,000 plants. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Alphra Lavender farm at Kihikihi has more than 12,000 plants. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Origin of name: Kihikihi is Maori for cicada.

Population: 1874.

Town mascot: The cicada statue at the northern end of town.

Town slogan: The town doesn't have one but the local school lives by the motto: "Kia Manawa Nui" which is Maori for "Be Big of Heart".

Best website: Kihikihi morsels can be found at teawamutu.nz.

Source of pride: The Kihikihi Domain is a multi-purpose sports centre. Home to extraordinary equestrian facilities, it is New Zealand's premier venue for horse trials, drawing crowds from around the world to events.

Revered leader: Ngati Maniapoto chief Rewi Maniapoto was a respected military leader in the Kingitanga (Maori King Movement).

Past times: Kihikihi was a crucial Maori stronghold during the land wars, the famous Orakau Battle of 1864 ending with heavy casualties and signalling the end of the Waikato Wars.

It is remembered as the last stand of Rewi Maniapoto and a memorial obelisk can be found on Arapuni Rd, 4km southeast of Kihikihi on SH3.

Streets ahead: Most streets were named for politicians and military personnel when the town was being laid out in the mid-19th century.

Famous pie shop: Viands Bakery has won more pie awards than most people have had hot dinners - with good old-fashioned favourites such as steak and cheese through to more exotic flavours like prawn and zesty scallop. And when it's time for dessert, spiced plum, port and apple is the answer.

Town fiestas: The many international horse events, including the Kihikihi International Horse Trails each April. Plus the polo at the Kihikihi Polo Club is intense.

Vroom: If petrol is your thing, Kihikihi Speedway is up there with any of the other racetracks in the country, pulling big crowds throughout the year.

Best reasons to stop: For equestrian events, the speedway and, of course, to chow down on Viand Bakery's award winning pies

Best place to take kids: Te Awamutu Space Centre is actually in Kihikihi and features interactive displays, space memorabilia, even a sun telescope, and is a hit with all ages. Created by space geek Dave Owen, entry costs just $3-$7. Check it out at spacecentre.nz.

Best park: Kihikihi Domain. Apart from the horse facilities, this magnificent grassy area has plentiful trees and open space. John Rochford Park is also a gem.

Best playground: The school playground is good fun for a frolic, or stop in the CBD, where you'll find a modest set of swings and slides.

Best walk: The 2.5km Kihikihi Heritage Trail sets off from the memorial hall and takes walkers past 17 spots of interest, all indicated by green and gold signs with graffiti-proof coating. Isn't that clever? Maps available online.

Best view: It's all quite flat round here, but up at the Old Police House is a pleasant lookout spot, with views of the bowling club and Mt Pirongia.

Best museum: Next door to the Old Police House is Temple Cottage, a historic settler dwelling where visitors can discover local stories. Open 2-3pm, the first Sunday of each month. Or head up the road to Te Awamutu's beautiful museum.

Looking back: Stop at Rewi Maniapoto's memorial; it is sobering to think of the brutal battles that took place in this region.

Top shops: Kihikihi is home to a handful of groovy second-hand shops, an award-winning butcher and the mouth-wateringly delicious Radar's Fish Shop.

Hair today: Cindy at Hairplay is known to be the best hairdresser for kilometres and is also great value for money.

Cream of the coffee: The Hummingbird does a superb coffee, plus they sell fresh flowers, artisan breads and groovy interior design whatnots.

Baked: Pies pies, pies, Viands is the region's premier bakery, hands down.

Wet your whistle: The Star Hotel (opened in 1882) is the only hotel in town since the Alpha Hotel closed. Rumour has it the Alpha has reopened as a brothel.

FYI: Once upon a time, Kihikihi was the last refreshment stop before people entered the alcohol-free King Country.

Best cycling: There's a new cycleway coming soon - it's been funded and approved by council and will provide an off-road connection between Te Awamutu and Kihikihi, eventually extending all the way to Pirongia.

Best kept secret: Kihikihi Mediation & Yoga is seriously sublime, run by a pair of former Buddhist nuns.

Wildlife: Thanks to Maungatautari Sanctuary Mountain just up the road, the local birdlife in the wider area has flourished over the past few years.

The verdict: Horses, pies and spiritual healing - what more could you ask from a small town?

Checklist

WHERE IS IT
In the Waikato's Waipa District, 35km from Hamilton and 5km from Te Awamutu.

- NZ Herald

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