More than a pit-stop on the way from Auckland to Hamilton, this village is worth a visit in its own right, says Elisabeth Easther.
Where is it?
In the Waikato, 53km southeast of Auckland and 72km north of Hamilton, this makes it a very attractive proposition for commuters keen on affordable housing.
Origin of name: In te reo "po" means night and "keno" means underworld, so it is thought to translate as "night of death" — although in reality Pokeno is much more delightful than that name suggests. Another suggestion is that the name derives from an earlier spelling, "po kino", meaning a place of refuge.
Population: In 2005, 500 people lived there but, since the new housing developments it's closer to 1800 and growing rapidly.
Claim to fame:
In the original film of
Goodbye Pork Pie
, the boys steal pies and petrol from the Pokeno service station.
Town mascot: The monster icecreams you can buy here. The Travel Editor — a noted judge of the coned treats — calls Pokeno "the icecream capital of New Zealand".
Old news: This was a crucial site during the New Zealand Wars of the 19th century, the Queens Redoubt was a major colonial military headquarters with many battles waged there.
What's in a name? The town changed its name to JenniferAnn.com for a 12-month period back in 2000, after locals were convinced to adopt the name of a local online lingerie sales company. When they switched back to plain old Pokeno in 2001, Business Association chairman John Woodward said: "We've certainly had more visitors here and it's all down to the name... but we are happy to have Pokeno back."
Racing car legend Possum Bourne is buried in Pokeno Cemetery.
Grave concerns: There are a couple of cemeteries in Pokeno, if you like poking around headstones. Interestingly, the one on the corner of Helenslee Rd and Munro Rd is where the privates from the New Zealand Wars were buried while those higher up the military chain of command were carried all the way to Auckland. The memorial cairn that stands at the front of the cemetery features a cluster of stacked rifles at the top.
Best website: pokenovillageestate.co.nz
The dairy factory is the biggest employer in town while the new housing estates are employing swags of tradies.
Bypass: In the 1990s, the main road through Pokeno was bypassed but, as a consolation the town was given excellent on and off-ramps.
These days: With serious sub-divisions in full swing, Pokeno is a reasonably priced option for people wanting to own their own homes. Many locals commute to Auckland or Hamilton while still living the rural Kiwi dream.
Here for a short time: Stock up on delicious meat treats from Pokeno Bacon (and not just pig-related meats either) and be sure to enjoy an icecream — there are three icecream emporiums in town serving more than 40 different flavours.
Best reason to stop:
Aside from bacon and icecreams, the Franklin Markets have been going strong for eight years and are held every Sunday from 8am-2pm. Browse around the 70 or so stalls where you can purchase everything from food and drinks, preserves, fruit and veges, dairy and meat products, as well as arts and crafts.
Best playground: There are plenty dotted about the new housing projects, many of them connected by walking track. Adding value, some of the natural streams in the area have been enhanced with lots of lush planting.
Best park: Thirteen hectares have been put aside for a sports and recreation facility — completion expected by the end of 2017.
Hanging out: The market square, laid out by surveyors in the 1860s, is soon to be refurbished, as is the old town hall, which will support the town's strong community spirit.
School's cool: Pokeno School is currently the true heart of the town, and in March this year they celebrated 150 years.
Ye olde public loos can be found on the main street in a mock colonial building and they do the trick quite nicely. And the historic farm implements in the garden outside the loos are a sweet reminder of the town's rural roots.
Best walk: Mt William Walkway is a super 5km return hike up a big old hill (373m) and it takes about 90 minutes each way. Set off from McMillan Rd, you'll pass through farmland, following the markers past kauri and beech trees and king ferns. On a clear day, the views across the west coast and to the Firth of Thames are glorious.
Best view: Aside from the top of Mt William, the vistas over the Maramarua Golf Club are pretty, too.
Best swim: There are some lovely swimming holes in the Tanitewhiora stream.
Nice arts: The Ceramic Boutique is well worth a look-see, as is the Pokeno Gift Shop, which is brimming with garden art, jewellery and curiosities. Perfect for a spot of last-minute shopping on Christmas Eve.
Cream of the coffee: The Pink Lady coffee cart has set up on Mark Ball Drive. As well as a decent cuppa they also sell tempting sandwiches and cakes.
The local dairy stocks a decent range of grocery items, with the highlights being whitebait and locally produced free-range eggs.
Hungry: To be fair, most of the food in Pokeno isn't going to win awards, but if you go a little further north to Bracu, their take on fine dining will knock your socks off. Or if you want take out, the Indian cuisine available at the store next to Super Liquor is superb.
Wet your whistle: Hitchen Rd Vineyard is an unexpected delight. Visits are by appointment only but the views, vines and wines make it worth the effort. The owners there lovingly refer to Pokeno as the Italy of the south. Otherwise it's back to Bracu or over to the recently refurbished Tuakau Tavern.
The verdict: Laid-back country living.