Isobel Hana Lee May shares a few of her favourite places to eat, drink and be merry in the best little mountain town that could.
Of all the places I've travelled to, whenever I come over the hill and the peaks of Mt Ruapehu first come to sight, that will forever mean home to me.
I was 12 years old when my family moved to Ruatiti Valley in 2012 on a deer hunting block. This was my classroom and playground growing up, where Mum and Dad taught me life skills I would never have learned in public school. Looking back, I can't help but admire and thank my parents for what I have gained from this incredible way of life and where it has brought me to today.
At 21 years old, I am the owner and director of Thorn Ōhakune. I never dreamed of having a coffee shop but have always wanted to be my own boss. My partner Shane and I bought a house in May 2020 and opened Thorn three months later – so we are very grateful to live in a region where we are able to climb that ladder so early on in life.
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I've always had a passion for food and was brought up in a family that bonded around the dinner table enjoying amazing meals. So, to me, food is love and food is family. The food scene here has taken off and there's so much incredible variety on the menu.
If you're looking for some good wine, go to Osteria. The wait staff are so knowledgeable about pairing wines with their dishes. The prawn and lemon pasta is the best. Good food? Head to The Cyprus Tree, everything on their menu is amazing, but you have to try the gnocchi! You're always greeted with a smile and their team are always up for a chat.
Kings is awesome for a drink on the deck with stunning views of the mountain on a nice evening. Can't beat their steak, 100% best in town! The Blind Finch has hands down, the best bread, burgers, and pies in the region. Derek makes all of his food with so much passion. When winter season arrives, there's nothing better, more warming than a giant chocolate éclair from the iconic Johnny Nation's Chocolate Éclair Shop just a few doors down from us.
As far as favourites on the Thorn menu, I'm a little bit obsessed with our homemade Afghan biscuits (thanks Liv) and our freshly pressed Bunny Brew Carrot Juice - being the carrot capital of NZ definitely has its perks. A small flat white is my go to in the morning though – the perfect way to enjoy watching the sunrise over Ruapehu from Thorn.
If the food here feeds my soul, then the people warm my heart. Running Thorn means I've met some pretty cool characters over the years. What I love about this town is that there's a real sense of community here, everyone smiles and says hello and there's always time to share a few stories. Even if you're just passing by, Ōhakune feels like home - it's a place you won't want to leave.
Izzy May is the owner of Thorn cafe, Ōhakune.