There are cultural symbols aplenty in the kiwiana capital of New Zealand, writes Elisabeth Easther.

Where is it?

In the King Country, 53km south of Hamilton or two hours' drive from Auckland

Origin of name: Thought to mean "food eked out" based on the legend of a chief who, when travelling to Taupo, carried only a small quantity of food which he made last the journey using magic.

By any other name: In 1986, the town changed its name to Harrodsville in support of Henry Harrod who called his restaurant Harrods. He was threatened with legal action by Mohammed Al Fayed, owner of Harrods in London but, when international media picked up the story, Al Fayed dropped the case.

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Population: 2592.

Town slogan: Make the Kiwi Connection.

Town mascots: The corrugated iron kiwi, the myriad kiwiana icons and the Pou Whenua totems that went up in 1998. These impressive carved poles tell the story of the ancestors of the local Maniapoto people and were carved by their descendants.

Kiwi as: The kiwiana theme was cooked up in the late 1990s and a certificate hangs in the local council building, presented by Sir Ed Hillary and signed by Helen Clark, corroborating the town's official kiwiana status.

Neighbourly: Otorohanga is also known as the Gateway to the Waitomo Caves, which are 15 minutes away.

Local hero: Arthur Cowan, one of New Zealand's top conservationists, spent his life saving and planting native forest. As a farmer, instead of just clearing land, he planted countless native trees that flourish today.

Best websites: otorohanga.co.nz, kiwianatown.co.nz and kiwihouse.org.nz.

Big business: The town is surrounded by dairy farms, so a lot of industries serve the farms. Otorohanga Timber Company, Giltrap Engineering, Giltrap AgriZone and Freight Lines employ loads of people too.

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Source of pride: The Otorohanga Kiwi House & Native Bird Park, of course, and the town also takes pride in its appearance; it's such a pretty place, with hanging baskets filled with flowers and kiwiana public art everywhere.

Here for a short time? The Ed Hillary Walkway is lovely to wander through and read the kiwiana stories. Various displays sport audio buttons, even one of Sir Ed singing.

Best reason to stop: The Kiwi House is famous for being the first place in the world to have live kiwi on display. Otorohanga also makes a great place to stop for food and to stretch the legs on a road trip.


The Kiwi House in Otorohanga. File photo / NZ Herald
Best place to take the kids: Aside from The Kiwi House, Harvest Rock, just off the main street, has an indoor climbing wall and is a super place to let off steam when kids have been trapped in the car.

Best park: Rotary Park opposite the Kiwi House sports a super redwood plantation and picnic tables, and the walking track to Mountain View Rd offers superb views across the town. And a mini-golf course is under construction, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Best playground: Windsor Park, one street back from Maniapoto St, the main street.

Best walks: Ed Hillary Kiwiana Walkway and the Rotary Park Track are grand and if you're feeling more vigorous, hike up Mt Pirongia; it's only a 30-minute drive away and has swags of fabulous walks. Further afield, Ruakuri Caves & Bush Scenic Reserve just west of Waitomo Village is said by some to be the best short scenic walk in New Zealand; if you go at night you'll get glow worms. Or head to the scenic Marokopa Falls.

Best views: The main street is pretty as a postcard with public art and hanging baskets filled with colourful flowers. And the aforementioned vista from the top of Mountain View Rd.

Best swim: The Otorohanga Memorial Pool Complex has indoor and outdoor pools. The council is also developing a place for people to swim in the Waipa River.

Best museum: The Otorohanga Historical Society Courthouse Museum includes a handful of historic buildings and exhibits. The hours are limited, so check ahead and it can be opened by appointment. Next door is the climate-controlled Waka House that contains a partially completed waka found in the Waipa River about 10 years ago and thought to be 150-200 years old.

Top shop: Haddads Menswear is an experience. The owners are quirky - their patter alone is worth stopping for - and their prices can't be beaten. They sell a huge range of bloke-wear and have also designed a wide-brimmed felt hat that a lot of the locals wear and a great many visitors stop and buy.

Coffee nirvana: Origin Espresso Bar in the restored railway station is divine. It roasts its own coffee and the aroma is intoxicating.

Best bakery: Village Green Bakery and Cafe (44 Maniapoto Street) sells rolls, pies and sandwiches and everything is fresh and delicious.

Best food: Huhu in Waitomo is amazing, every time. In town, try The Thirsty Weta, while Castle 91 does nice Indian food and Lavish has opened recently and is growing in popularity.

Wet your whistle: The Thirsty Weta keeps a good range of beer and wine including craft beers and cider brewed in Waitomo.

Best adventure: Waitomo Caves is where you'll head for adventure - there's so much to do there, from all-day cave trips to stunning free walks.

Fan zone: Hobbit fans love Hairy Feet Waitomo, near Piopio, for film-location tours, offered twice daily.

Also: Visit piopio.net.nz for excellent touring ideas.

Wildlife: Aside from the Kiwi House, shining cuckoo, tui, korimako and kereru can be seen in the wild.

Locals say: Wherever you go in the world, someone always seems to know someone from Otorohanga.

Visitors say: I met a chap from Otorohanga once ...

Thanks to Liz Cowan from luxurious Kamahi Cottage, the only 5-star rated farmstay in the country