Elisabeth Easther finds country village living at its best in this Victorian Wairarapa town.

Origin of name:

Named for Sir George Grey, who arranged for the land to be bought from local Maori.

Original name: Te Hupenui — Te Reo for "the big snot" or if that grosses you out, a more elegant way of translating it is, "the fluid that runs from your nose at a tangi".

Population: 2220.


Claim to fame: Greytown was recently voted one of New Zealand's top five places to retire.

Town icons: Greytown is home to majestic trees — many with a story to tell — such as the lofty gum outside St Luke's Anglican Church that was famously wheel-barrowed over the Rimutakas by a Mr Oates in the 1850s.

Town slogan: Country Village Heaven.

Trees company: New Zealand's first Arbor Day celebration was held in Greytown in 1890. It's still a big deal today.

Cultural affairs: Papawai Marae on the outskirts of town has been home to Wairarapa Maori for hundreds of years, and for much of the 19th century, Papawai was the largest marae in the country and was where the historic Maori Parliament was built.

Famous locals: The new Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy lives there. Vincent Ward was raised in the region. James Cameron has an organic food shop in town and Barry Saunders of The Warratahs loves the town so much he wrote a catchy song about it.

Best website: greytownvillage.com.

Big business: Retail and hospitality.

Source of pride: Greytown is full of fabulous Victorian architecture and the main street is priceless, so be sure to have your camera handy.

Town fiestas: Arbor Day leads the charge, celebrating trees, of course. Or roll along to The Very Posh Pashley Picnic, Victorian-themed bike fun with swing music from the 1930s, egg-and-spoon races, a tug-of-war; it's like Downtown Abbey on wheels.

Lest we forget: In 1922, 117 lime trees were planted in Soldier's Memorial Park to commemorate the community's 117 soldiers who died in World War I.

Here for a short time: Enjoy the antique shops, boutiques, cafes, heritage buildings, craft foods and general elegance.

Kids love:

Schoc Chocolate

at Cobblestones Museum. Proprietor Murray Langham has created over 80 flavours, including the popular lime and chilli. The pretty rivers and great outdoors are also fun for a frolic.

Best park: Greytown Memorial Park is where you'll find croquet, tennis and a cricket pavilion. Ringed with towering oak trees, the popular campground and swimming pool are next door.

Best playground: There's play equipment (including a flying fox) at Memorial Park, or get stuck into nature among the terrific trees of O'Connor's Bush.

Best walk: Woodside Trail links Greytown to the Woodside Railway Station. Passing through quiet farmland full of native plants and heritage trees, enjoy great views of the Tararua Ranges along the way. It's 5km one way; cyclists may also ride it. Or head up to Papawai Marae, it takes about 45 minutes on foot or 15 by bike, the marae is truly impressive.

Best view: There are no elevated viewing points but gazing down the main street at pretty buildings and happy people is hard to beat.

Best swim: In summer, the parklike Greytown Memorial Baths are cool for a dip. Or pick a spot along one of the rivers.

Best museum: Cobblestones Museum is a quaint historic village where visitors can ride in horse-drawn vehicles, explore the region's first public hospital, sit at a desk at the country schoolhouse or wander through the colonial cottage. In summer, there are regular fetes and craft markets in the verdant gardens.

Nice arts: The Village Art Shop is full of fetching pieces of art and jewellery, while the town hall hosts exhibitions of local artists' work.

Top shops: Impossible to name them all but The Olive Press is an experience. There are several designer clothes boutiques selling local labels. The Retro Room is full of mid-century furniture and gems from the 60s and 70s. Imperial Productions handcrafts traditional lead toy soldiers and civilians from their Victorian toyshop, sending items to collectors around the world. Emporos Antiques & Interiors sells French fabric and hedonistic homewares. Linarte offers gorgeous linens, jewellery and design from Latvia and Merino Kids is now based in Greytown. And that's just the very tip of the iceberg.

Cream of the coffee: There are 13 cafes and restaurants in town, all of them great or they wouldn't last. Two Short Whites, The French Baker and Main St Deli are excellent.

Eating: The French Baker is heaven for croissants, pastries, lemon tarts and award-winning fruit pies. Main St Deli is also delish, making their own pies using local meats — Greytown's a real farm-to-table destination. The White Swan does mean burgers and really high-end pub food.

Got to be good for you: Food Forest Organics sells fresh organic produce, some of which comes directly from Hollywood director James Cameron's nearby farm.

Wet your whistle: The White Swan was relocated over the Rimutakas in 2002 and is home to fine wines, craft beers, excellent food and lodgings.

Cycle of life: Blackwell & Sons is a splendid cycle shop that stocks a variety of bicycles and the finest-quality accessories, including Brooks Saddles, multi-tools, picnic goods and Pashley Cycles. They're about to create a Stately Homes of Greytown Ride.

Best adventures: Kapiti Gliding Club has relocated to Greytown, which means gliding is about to take off.

Best-kept secret: Every shop in town is owner-operated, which means no chain stores, no multinationals, just real people doing real cool things.

Wildlife: Aside from the flocks of birds, a lot of locals still get around the back streets on everything from Clydesdales to tiny ponies.

Safety warning: Don't max out your credit card, because it's very easy to go a little bonkers in Greytown.

Be quick: Property prices are rising fast so if it sounds like Greytown's a bit of you, best you move there pronto.

The verdict: Charming, charming, charming.