Waihī cleaned up at the Keep New Zealand Beautiful annual awards. We are officially New Zealand's most beautiful small town.

But we already knew that, didn't we?

Vying for the title was the picturesque Hanmer Springs. It's been two years in the running — Waihī was also selected last year but lost to Raglan (by a very small margin).

Keep New Zealand Beautiful (KNZB) announced the winners of this year's Beautiful Awards at a gala dinner held at Toitu Otago Settlers Museum in Dunedin last week. The category most beautiful small town was one of 14.

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The judges say Waihī took the win this year because of ''their measurable strides towards sustainability, waste management and beautification. In the past year, they have more than doubled the number of volunteers who attend community clean ups.

"In March 2019, the local council funded a Waihī initiative to end period poverty by funding the cost of 600 menstrual cups.

"Finally, this past year, Waihī started the Town Portraits Project, which aims to bring inspirational people from Waihī's past to life through a series of portraits scattered around the town on currently blank walls.''

Waihī councillor Anne Marie Spicer (also the chairwoman of Keep Waihī Beautiful) said the secret to Waihī's success is its people.

"Waihī's beauty is so much more than skin deep. It's not just the diverse beauty of the town, such as our rivers, waterfalls and coastlines that have been acknowledged with this award, it's our incredible community spirit," she says.

"There are so many groups and people of all ages who are part of this. It's an award owned by the whole of the Waihī Ward, including Waikino and Whiritoa."

She'd like to take the award around schools in the area so students can see their hard work has been nationally recognised.

"So many kids come to our clean ups or have helped with plantings etc … and I'd like them to understand that it's because of the kind of work they're doing that we've won.''

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The award was accepted on the night by Waihī teen Holly Elson-Fisher, a driving force behind sustainability initiatives at Waihī College as well as a dedicated Keep Waihī Beautiful volunteer.

"In small towns sometimes people can become quite negative and disappointed in the place they live, but we're actually really lucky here because as a community we're doing what we can to keep our heads up," Holly says.

"There are so many young people in Waihī who see a bright future and are committed to doing what they can for sustainability and the environment. We know it's up to us to make the right decisions and take action, even the little primary school students understand."

Hauraki District mayor Toby Adams says Waihī's award will have pride of place in the Waihī Council Service Centre, where it can be enjoyed by everyone and serve as a reminder of the town's exceptional community spirit.

"It's a symbol of what a small and diverse community can achieve if everyone shares a common goal and works together," he says.

Other winners on the night included Whanganui, crowned the most beautiful city, Cambridge, named New Zealand's most beautiful large town, and Lower Hutt City which was presented with KNZB's Outstanding Service Award.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID
Most beautiful small town
Finalists: Waihī, Hanmer Springs
Winner: Waihī
"For me, it was the children that made Waihī so special – I was blown away by the school visit and how the tamariki are embracing the worm farms and recycling within the school. They are our future and by investing in them, they will lead the next generation of Kiwis doing the right thing."
- Michael Van de Elzen, celebrity chef and judge