Elisabeth Easther explores a small North Island town famous for its co-ordinates.

Origin of name:

Owhango is Maori for "the place of wheezy noises".

Population: 200.

Great lines: Owhango is on the latitude 39 degrees south.


Famous locals: Don Rowlands was raised in Owhango and, despite contracting rheumatic fever as a child, went on to become a champion rower, winning gold in the single scull at the 1954 Empire Games in Vancouver. He was subsequently knighted for his services to rowing (and business) and was given a private investiture at his hospital bed just days before he died.

Best website: owhango.co.nz
Main employer: Farming and tourism

Melting pot: For a small town, the United Nations is well represented with residents coming from Australia, South Africa, Germany, France, Canada, Austria, Holland, England and, of course, Aotearoa.

History: Formerly a mill town, the area was surveyed in the 1880s, in 1903 the main trunk line came through and the school was opened in 1904, the same year the phone line was brought in. Back then the school was just a tent, whereas today it has three classrooms and educates 60 local children.

Source of pride: It has to be the community spirit, everybody in Owhango looks out for each other.

Town fiestas: The Owhango Pumpkin Growing Competition is an annual event run each year by the local school and the winners could be hollowed out and turned into houses. Be sure to visit the local community market, held on the first Sunday of each month visitors can purchase preserves, produce, art and crafts and the money raised goes to support the local hall. The T42 is an epic sporting event for mountain bikers, runners and walkers, held each May the finish line for all the events is in the picturesque Owhango Domain.

Here for a short time: Have a meal at the cafe and then pop down to the beautiful Whakapapa River, a sign opposite the cafe points to the walking tracks. It's as compelling to gaze at this waterway as it is to stare into a campfire.

Take the kids to: The Owhango Domain, children of all ages love the river, not to mention the BMX track, the bushwalks and the adventure playground. There are also two tennis courts if you're travelling with rackets, although they're not up to Wimbledon standard, you will have fun. The Ohinetonga Reserve also provides plenty of pleasure or, if you're feeling fruity, you can pick your own blueberries at Marahua Blueberry Farm.


Best walk: Ohinetonga Reserve is home to a loop walk that can be done in one to three hours, passing through impressive native forest, it's partly on boardwalks and there are several spots for picnics and swimming in the river. Or for a more epic hike, some people like to walk the 42nd Traverse but do keep your eyes peeled for bikes.

Best view: Look out across the river from the Whakapapa Bridge - simply stunning.

Best place to pull over: About 8km north of town you'll find the Piriaka Lookout, sometimes misty and moody, other times you'll have clear skies forever, words like majestic and unspoiled spring to mind.

Best swim: Head for the Whakapapa Bridge, park your car and follow the track through the woods to pop out at the popular swimming hole. This is a good spot to meet locals who like to swim here.

What a buzz: Join the Owhango Bee Keeping Club and learn all about apiary, or just look out for the members selling their honey at the monthly market.

Cream of the coffee: Serving Organico Fairtrade Coffee, Cafe 39 South was recently voted as a finalist in the cafe of the year competition, serving the best coffee for miles around they use organic coffee, milk and sugar.

Baked goods: Cafe 39 South make a super sausage roll or, if you prefer a pie, their two top flavours have to be the roast lamb and mint and the venison, red wine and thyme. They also bake delicious sweet treats with their gluten-free carrot cake winning legions of fans. They describe their food as "rustic homemade fare".

Best food: Cafe 39 South is the place to go for breakfast or lunch, or on Friday and Saturday nights you can go to the Owhango Lodge for a meal.

Wet your whistle: Owhango Lodge has a sweet little bar, perfect for a cold beer after a busy day spent adventuring. They also provide accommodation across a range of budgets.

Best mountain biking: Owhango is at one end of the famous 42 Traverse cycle way and it's not too far from the terrific Timber Trail either.

Best adventures: Hunting and trout fishing are taken seriously round here, as are skiing, rafting and canoeing. Motorcycle touring is also well thought of.

Bright idea: Be sure to visit Kakahi after dark to see the glow-worms.

Wildlife: Owhango Alive is an organisation that was formed in 2011 to protect the native bird life through pest control and raising public awareness. Ohinetonga Reserve, right on the boundary of Tongariro Forest Park, has been part of a very successful kiwi release programme while the larger area is home to all sorts of species including the threatened whio (blue duck) and weweia (dabchick). Around here you'll also see popokatea (whiteheads) toutouwai (North Island robins), tui, kereru (wood pigeons) and piwakawaka (fantails). The village is also currently home to a karearea (New Zealand falcon). And in addition to the birds, there are wild deer, goats and pigs on the land and trout in the rivers.

The verdict: Pretty as a picture, plenty to do and the freshest air you'll find anywhere in Aotearoa.

Thanks to Carol and Karen.