Tranquil yet full of interest, this town is well worth a visit, writes Elisabeth Easther

Where is it?

Between Tongariro and Whanganui National Parks. Eleven kilometres west of Ohakune, 356km from Auckland and 280km from Wellington.

Origin of name: The town was originally called Makotuku and later named Raetihi which loosely translates as 'prominent summit' or 'as seen from above'.


Population: In 2013 it was 1002, down from 1071 in 2001.

Town slogan: Historic Raetihi or the more tongue in cheek Raeti-Vegas.

Town icon: The Ratana church on Ohakune Rd cuts such an impressive figure.

Interesting historical fact: The Theatre Royal was built in 1915 and is the oldest theatre in New Zealand, currently enjoying an ongoing process of renovation and refurbishments. It's recently had new flooring, carpets and a heat pump installed so the Phoenix Players, the local theatre company, can continue to put on their productions.

Famous local: Tammy Davis, (Munter from Outrageous Fortune) was raised in Raetihi.

Best website:
Main employer: Forestry, those trees don't chop themselves down.

Source of pride: The awa (aka the Whanganui River) and the maunga (aka Mt Ruapehu).

Town fiestas: For a small town Raetihi has a bit going on, from the Christmas Carnival in December to the A&P Show in February and The Waimarino Rodeo in March, which also happens to be New Zealand's longest running rodeo and the last in the circuit. There's also the Gut Buster Bike Ride (and pickled pork sandwich fest) over Easter and the Art Awards in July. And don't forget the Spring Show (in spring of course) and the Raetihi Ripper. Something for every taste.

Best reason to stop: Because your life won't be complete till you've had a famous Raetihi pie from Stellar Nova Cafe.

Best place to take the kids: Skiing on Mt Ruapehu is hard to beat. Or paddling on the Whanganui River

Here for a short time? Don't be silly.

Best place for a drink: The Cosmopolitan Club has a great atmosphere if you're after a beverage, plus delicious affordable meals — the steaks are epic and the salad bar genuinely tasty.

Best food: Raetihi Takeaways do everything from fish and chips to burgers. Heartlanz offers tasty home cooked meals, while the One Stop Dairy does amazing fried chicken and other yummy food.

Best flat white: Volcano Coffee roasts and blends their own organic, fair trade beans onsite and the aroma is intoxicating.

Best bakery: There isn't a bakery per se, but Angel Louise is an excellent cafe that does all manner of baked delights.

Best shop: The Barbed Wire Gallery showcases the work of local artists and is the brainchild of local photographer Leonie Cadman. Photographs, sculptures, up-cycled furniture, an amazing array of wares.

Best museum: Waimarino Museum, housed in the old railway station, jail cells and stables, is like taking a trip back in time. Learn about Raetihi's rich history, pre- and post-colonial, find out about the great fire, the railways and then look to the future - locals have big plans for this sweet little town.

Best walk: Alongside the Makotuku River, it's serene, not too taxing and so very scenic.

Best view: From the old hospital grounds. Or stay up till after dark and look to the heavens, the stars around here are out of this world. Also, leaving town on SH4, if you get a clear day, the mountains will bowl you over.

Best swim: The Raetihi Swimming Pool is a great place for a dip in the warmer months, and if you fancy an outdoor paddle, head for Ruatiti Domain.

Best mountain biking: The one-day ride to the Bridge to Nowhere is a newly-opened track and a real beauty. This historic trail was used by returned serviceman home from World War I who tried to farm some pretty inhospitable land on the banks of the Whanganui River. This epic cycle journey through Whanganui National Park is filled with history relics, awe-inspiring bluffs, rivers and vistas.

Best adventure: The three-day canoe journey on The Whanganui River is out of this world. Or if time's an issue, jet boat to the Bridge to Nowhere and kayak back down in a day.

Best place to pull over: The Museum on Raetihi's main street, right next to arguably the best toilets in the Central North Island.

Best park/playground: It's on State Highway 4 opposite the Makotuku Walk where you'll find the perfect spot for the kids to let off steam.

Most fabulous item of wildlife: Karearea — native New Zealand falcon live in Raetihi. There are an estimated 650 pairs of this particular breed left in the North Island and on the west coast of the south so this is a very special bird to see in the wild.

When a local has visitors staying: They take them to see the glow worms — ask a local to show you where.

Locals say: It's our happy place.

Visitors say: Wow — Raetihi is so close to the snow, rivers, hiking and mountain biking yet it's much more affordable than everywhere else. It's our happy place too.

Thanks to Sandy Waters for being so obliging about sharing Raetihi's secrets.