Chill out where high adventure and relaxation go hand in hand, writes Elisabeth Easther

The Tokaanu pools and Mt Ruapehu (above) offer the best of hot and cold.

Origin of name: Originally called Waimarino, (translation: Calm Waters) but when the train came through in 1925 it was changed to National Park so as not to be confused with other settlements called Waimarino.

Population: 240 locals (last census), 600 holiday homeowners, and about 1000 visitors.

Where is it: On the North Island's Central Plateau, 330km from Auckland, 317km from Wellington - about a four-hour drive from either place. Or take the train. It is on the main trunk line.


The town slogan: Alpine Adventure All Year Round.

The town mascot: Volcanic cones are the region's icons.

Fancy this: At 825m, National Park Village is the highest urban township in New Zealand.

Fancy that: The area is a Dual World Heritage Site.

Famous for: Being an outstanding all-season tourist destination.

Feat of engineering: The township is at the top of the Raurimu Spiral, a train track like no other.

Wood rush: 33 sawmills once operated in the area at the height of the forestry madness.

Most famous locals: William Taylor, award-winning writer, and former mayor of Ohakune. Roy (Scruffy) Turner, most notable for setting up a ski area on Mt Ruapehu, also notable for disappearing with his family when flying his plane over the Southern Alps in 1983.


Best local website:
Most prominent industry: Tourism, no doubt about it.

Sporting challenges: The T42 trail run, The Goat Adventure Run and the Tussock Traverse.

Best reason to stop: It's such a special part of the North Island, with a handful of splendid volcanic cones to marvel at.

Best place to take the kids: Happy Valley. Get them skiing up at Whakapapa and watch their faces light up.

Best place to get a drink: Schnapps Bar, apres hike or apres ski, enjoy a quiet beverage by the open fire.

Best food: The Station Cafe Bar and Restaurant. Try their locally sourced venison, although everything is yummy.

Best accommodation: Alpine Apartments cater for every need from families to backpackers. Impeccable hosts, too.

Best flat white: Macrocarpa Cafe, dairy, postal and information centre - so much more than just good coffee.

Best bakery: The local gas station does excellent cakes they bake themselves, and tasty bread, too, from ciabatta to French sticks.

Best museum: There isn't one but The Station Cafe has a good bit of history on the walls.

Best walk: The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is world famous with good reason. On a nice day it's one of the most stunning things you may ever do.

Best view: From the air on a clear day, so grab a Mountain Air charter flight.

Best place to pull over: State Highway 4 near Schnapps Bar, there's a layby next to a beautiful sculpture of a kiwi made from driftwood.

Here for a short time: The Tupapakurua Falls is a four-hour walk, a pretty easy hike to a lookout. It's a bit more demanding if you go right down to the falls.

Best kept secret: The Marton Sash and Door Tramway is a cycle trail on an old bush tramway. At 16km it's a two-hour grade two track that intends one day to extend from the mountain to the sea, covering 40km. The expansion isn't fully funded yet so if anyone wants to write a cheque you'd be welcome. The route investigation is currently under way. Viaducts, scenery, heritage, what's not to like?

Best swim: It's not really a swimming environment, but there's Whakapapa River if you must and there are a few nice streams if you know where to go. If you fancy finding yourself in hot water, Tokaanu thermal springs, the largest hot water springs in the country, are a 30-minute drive. There's a walk, plus pools. Boiling mud and manuka - a winning combination.

Best mountainbike trail: Fishers Track, part of the mountain-to-sea trail, lets people ride all the way to the Whanganui River if they want to make a day of it. Most of it is downhill, so if you want be a lazybones and coast down - then have Rick from Kiwi Mountain Bikes return you to the village.

Best adventure: Pop up Ngauruhoe, if you're feeling adventurous, or have high tea at the Chateau, if you like to play it safe.

Wildlife: Tui, kereru and ruru all call the plateau home, as do deer, pigs and goats, if hunting makes you happy.

When a local has visitors staying: They take them on the Alpine Crossing or round Lake Rotopounamu, which is a lovely two-hour walk between National Park township and Tokaanu.

Safety warnings: Read the signs, heed the warnings, and don't take risks. Bring the right clothing, watch the weather and be prepared for alpine conditions.

Locals say: You're genuinely welcome.

Visitors say: Jealous.

Thank you so much to Jen and Murray for spilling the beans.