Kia ora: Ohakune

With all sorts of gems, Ohakune takes the carrot, writes Elisabeth Easther.

Ski and snowboarding events dominate in winter. Photo / Christine Cornege
Ski and snowboarding events dominate in winter. Photo / Christine Cornege

Where is it? In the central North Island, on the outskirts of Tongariro National Park, 70km from Whanganui, 357km from Auckland and 287km from Wellington.

Origin of name: The meaning of Ohakune is up for debate but many sources say it means "the place to be careful".

Population: 1080.

Town slogan: The Mountain Town.

Town mascot: A 7.5m tall carrot - to symbolise the importance to the region of market gardening.

Most famous locals: The drummer from The Exponents calls the place home, Andrew Donald (former All Black) came from round here and loads of celebs have passed through including Kiefer Sutherland, Orlando Bloom and Burt Reynolds.

Best local websites: visitruapehu.co.nz and mtruapehu.com.

Biggest business: Market gardening and tourism, with summer almost as busy as winter.

Source of pride: The area's breath-taking beauty.

Town wing dings: Ohakune Mardi Gras, the Carrot Carnival each Queen's Birthday, the Snow Queen Wearable Art Awards, the Waimarino Art Awards, plus there are loads of ski and snowboard events throughout the season.

Best reason to stop: Not only is the region in a dual status World Heritage National Park, the sight of the mountains will delight the weariest soul.

Best places to take kids: The Yeti Childcare Centre up the Turoa skifield is super, or in town Te Pepe Pump Track is great for hooning around on your bike. The climbing wall in the town shopping centre is also cool and horse trekking is a great way to while away some hours.

Best place to get a drink: The Powderkeg with its roaring fire is perfect for apres ski, the staff are awesome as is the food - especially the haloumi salad.

Best food: During the day go to OCR Cafe, (stands for Old Coach Rd) they do a super big breakfast from about 7.30am; at night you'll want to go to The Powderkeg or The Bearing Point where the chocolate pistachio wontons are out of this world.

Best flat white: The Mountain Rocks, OCR and the Alpine Cafe at the Turoa ski area all do good brews.

Best bakery: Johnny Nation's makes a chocolate eclair that's world famous. They also do doughnuts, pink iced buns, bread, biscuits and mince and cheese pies.

Best museum: The National Army Museum in Waiouru is full of fascinating, often heart-breaking, collections covering our nation's military history and telling the stories of Kiwi soldiers who've participated in major conflicts throughout the world.

Art gallery: Barbed Wire over in Raetihi is the nearest gallery and well worth detouring for.

Best walk: Waitonga Falls Walk is a good short walk for younger trampers, approximately 80 minutes return. Or tackle The Tongariro Alpine Crossing and find out why it's one of Aotearoa's Great Walks. Taranaki Falls out the back of The Chateau is also gorgeous, as is Silica Rapids.

Best view: Either look up at the mountains or go up a mountain and look down, everywhere round here is beautiful. From Ohakune, if you look up at the ski area around 4.30pm you'll be dazzled when the mountain turns pink.

The Ohakune carrot welcomes visitors. Photo / WC

Best place to pull over: 9K Bridge on Ohakune Mountain Rd, there are a few places to stop along here to marvel at nature's majesty.

Best playground: Aside from Mt Ruapehu itself, Christie Park playground on Miro Street has swings, slides and flying foxes as well as climbing things. Not only is it very cute, it also offers views of the maunga.

Best park: Christie Park is a fab big space for hanging out in, with playing fields, picnic tables and basketball courts for shooting hoops. This is also the perfect place to learn to ride a bike.

Here for a short time? Ride your bike along The Ohakune Old Coach Road or go for a ski up Mt Ruapehu.

Another brilliant bike ride: The Bridge to Nowhere Track is amazing and pretty new so not overly populated. Cycle one way and jet boat back - highly recommended.

Best shop: Janelle Hinch is an amazing local designer with a showroom in her house. She makes groovy merino garments that are perfect for mountain living.

Best swim: In summer there are lots of little water holes. One of the best can be found at Ruatiti Domain where there's also a campground, so in summer you can make a night of it.

Wildlife: There are loads of kiwi in this neck of the woods as well as flock loads of other native birds including tui, whio and kereru.

When a local has visitors staying: In winter they'll take them skiing; in summer it's mountain biking plus the Waiouru Army Museum if there's time.

Safety first: The weather can change really quickly so be prepared for everything and ask a local what to expect. Also the roads can be dangerously icy in winter so do take special care.

Visitors say: I could so live here.

Locals say: What's stopping you?

Thanks to Annah Dowsett, Ohakune born and bred - she has left a few times but always comes back because there's nowhere finer to call home.

- NZ Herald

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