Elisabeth Easther explores this picturesque town's rich history.

Where is it?

In the Manawatu-Whanganui region, 193km from Wellington or 45 minutes' drive from Palmerston North.

Origin of name: The town was settled by Scandinavians in 1872. Dannevirke is Danish for "Danes' Work" or "Danish Creation".

Population: 5376.


Town slogan: Used to be called "Sleeper Town" when the nearby forests provided totara sleepers for the Napier-Wellington railway line - at one stage there were 50 sawmills in the area. Now it's known as Danne-vegas.

Town mascot: The Viking.

Most famous locals: Joh Bjelke-Petersen, former premier of Queensland, was born here, as were Ewan Chatfield (cricketer), John Timu (rugby player), Lauris Edmond (poet) Sue McCauley (writer) and Sonny Wool (the psychic sheep who correctly picked the results of every All Blacks match at the 2011 World Cup).

Local hero: Phil Lamason, the Lancaster pilot who found himself in charge of 168 allied airmen who were taken to a to Buchenwald concentration camp during World War II; his leadership is the reason many of them survived. Raised in Napier, he moved to Dannevirke on returning home from war.

Best local website: dannevirke.net.nz.

Biggest business: The Tararua region is all about farming, while the Alliance Group is an amazing modern meatworks that employs loads of locals.

Source of pride: The Scandinavian heritage.

Town festivals: The Dannevirke Garden and Craft Expo is a very popular annual event, plus there's the Scandinavian Festival, National Viking Day, (like a market day) and Norway Day. Scandinavian and Maori culture are both very important here.

Best reason to stop: It makes a great travel break, with excellent cafes and shops. You'll also find the country's best fruit and vege shop, Shires, which has been selling produce for 90 years.

Best place to take the kids: Fantasy Cave brings nursery rhymes and storybook characters to life, and there's even a model railway. Run by volunteers, it's celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and is tremendous fun for all ages.

Best playground: The Upper Domain playground has a huge Viking ship as part of the play area as well as super rose gardens and walking tracks.

Best park: The Lower Domain has duck ponds and a deer park - this is a great chunk of land that's perfect for picnics and running around.

Best swim: Wai Splash has indoor pools for year-round swimming, while in the great outdoors, Waihi Falls has some amazing swimming holes and, after a good spell of rain, look extraordinary.

Wet your whistle: You've a few choices, but many say Mangatera Hotel (391 High Street) is the winner. Recently modernised, it's perfect for a cold beverage, and they also serve decent pub grub.

Best food: Barrelhouse Restaurant & Bar (10 Ward Street), filled with interesting artefacts, is top notch, as is The Black Stump (21 High Street). Both are open for lunch and dinner.

Tops for coffee: Red Sky Cafe and The Vault are your best bets. The Vault (113 High Street) is located in an impressive historic bank building, while Red Sky does a slice that's legendary.

Best bakery: Hungry Belly (10 High Street).

Best museum: The Dannevirke Gallery of History makes for excellent browsing as there are lots of stories to tell in this area and visitors are always impressed. The International Police Museum is also fascinating, stuffed with police-related memorabilia; it also offers bed and breakfast accommodation.

Car crazy: Dave's Den (363 High Street) is where you want to go if you're into model vehicles - there are hundreds of them on display.

Best walk: The Lower Domain Walk is a very pleasant one-hour leg-stretcher. Or, if you're feeling a bit more lively, try one of the heartier tramps in the Ruahine Ranges or Manawatu Gorge. This neck of the woods is bursting with walks, parks and reserves.

On your bike: Route 52 is a good old-fashioned winding road that snakes through the countryside, and it's loved by caravaners and motorcyclists as well as road cyclists.

Best view: It's hard to pick just one, but the Ruahine and Puketoi ranges are breathtaking. Try catching them in different light, morning and evening, to enjoy two very different displays.

Back to nature: Why not try the Akitio Glenora Walk? This two- to four-day walk across private land runs between two sheep and beef stations. The views are brilliant, including one vista that goes all the way out to Cape Turnagain. Open from October 1 to March 15.

Here for a short time: Dannevirke Gallery of History is a must-do, ditto Fantasy Cave - you can't really say you've done Danne-vegas until you've been to those two.

Wildlife: The deer park at Lower Domain is fun for Bambi fans, or go feed the ducks at Upper Domain where you'll also find an aviary, where talk is cheep.

Safety first: Always use a zebra crossing when crossing the main street - 8000 cars go through Dannevirke each day, so please be careful.

Smart move: You can still buy amazing houses in Dannevirke at sensible prices.

Locals say: You don't realise how friendly it is until you move here.

Visitors say: Thank you, I will have a nice day.

Thanks to Lianne Simpkin for being so full of enthusiasm.