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Ohakune: Where Adventure Truly Begins

Potaua Biasiny-Tule - 15/12/06

Ohakune carrot

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Ohakune, New Zealand, is an amazing adventure travel destination, where you can ski on picturesque mountain slopes on Mt Ruapehu, hike along amazing country tracks, trailbike across open farmlands, walk alongside pure cool mountain streams or just relax in a luxurious chateau bath. Ohakune is the Home of the Carrot and hosts a number of amazing food places like the Alpine Restaurant and Sazzi's. Read on to learn more about this wonderful hidden treasure.

This is written on my fourth visit to Ohakune. To tell the truth my first visit was the proverbial ‘blink', passing by Ohakune and its iconic Giant Carrot, as I drove along SH49 en route to Rotorua. I could make barely make out the outline of a township but welcomed its oasis, especially after enduring such a rough and windy ride through the National Park.

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My second visit was to attend a two-day work training session (in event management). The first day was spent at the Powderhorn Chateau, an impressive venue with superb accommodation facilities; the next day, our team was welcomed by the whanau (extended family) of Ngati Rangi, into their ancestral house, Tirorangi Marae. It was here I first saw the three majestically towering silhouettes of Mounts Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe.

The third visit was a one day round trip, travelling from Wellington to Ohakune on the renewed 'Overlander' train service. Riding this legendary track should be a must for every Kiwi, and every person visiting Aotearoa-New Zealand should be encouraged to make the trip. My journey from Wellington to Ohakune took about five and a half hours, giving plenty of time to both work and relax (the onboard menu is delicious). It was great to sit back, watching the rolling landscape and hearing snippets of local history.

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And now, I’m back for my fourth visit, this time for one week. This stay coincided with the Raetihi Ripper, an annual event where over 500 trailbikers ride along open farmland in Raetihi. But admittedly, the snow had all but gone, meaning many of the people have moved on for the season. Some shops and restaurants have closed for the year and the stream of tourist trucks has stopped. However, I was told that 3000 residents remain all year round and life returns back to normal between seasons, or at least, until the next snow falls.

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Staying again at the Powderhorn Chateau, I found the accommodation a true pleasure. The architecture is said to resemble that of its European namesake, while the décor is modern and warming, complete with a blazing fire in the restaurant-bar. In the restaurant proper, The Continental Breakfast option was good (although a nice hot breakfast is just right for these cold spring mornings), while dinner proved to be a winner. I would recommend the delectable Lamb Rack followed by the Apple and Rhubarb Pie, sided with a delicious Feijoa Ice Cream. The flat white is a gem too.

While asking around for books on Ohakune, I was pointed toward the upstairs restaurant of the Chateau (the Matterhorn), where an impressive series of photos displayed Ohakune during its timber hey-day, some one hundred years ago. I could find very little written history, so the photos themselves had to tell the story the pictures were tea-stained bronze, showing huge logs of rimu being cut from the forest and transported toward the railway line. There were hundreds of people, with numerous rows of white houses, all frozen in time. Bulls were used for transportation, although a few truck and trailer units could be seen.

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I drove around Ohakune for half an hour, taking in the varied house designs (A-frames, chalets, mini-mansions, humble shacks) and marvelling at the stunning natural backdrop flanking Ohakune. I stopped for a coffee and heard about the Annual Carrot Festival, which apparently brings thousands of people to Ohakune in late July to celebrate the iconic Ohakune Carrot. Then got talking about the Ohakune Mardi Gras, which is usually on the first Saturday of August. Someone mentioned a Bikini Ski race! Sounds like these two events totally go off.

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Eating out in Ohakune is a great treat. The first restaurant tried was the Alpine Restaurant and Lodge Bar, where Franz prepared a beautiful Hunters Pie, while the table enjoyed a stunning New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. The next restaurant was Sazzis, where we dined on plates of fried camembert cheese, mixed breads, fresh salad and fresh hoki fish. The student in me reached for a glass of Tui beer, but the temptation of a good red was always there. In both, the ingredients were fresh, the service was excellent and the prices were reasonable.

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With visiting Ohakune, I have found it a remarkable destination, feeling like there was more in store with every visit. Snow brings thousands upon thousands of tourists every winter, and the locals are nice all year round. On arrival, pay a visit to the Information Centre to learn more about the area, and when in town, pay a visit to one of the many cafes and accommodation units available. I highly recommend staying at the Powderhorn Chateau, and eating at either the Alpine Restaurant and Sazzi’s Restaurant; if you’re a member of the RSA or your own Community Club, consider giving patronage to the Ohakune Club (ask for Ron he's a great bloke) and strike up a chat with a local you’ll meet some of the most genuine people ever. Here is another Ohakune opinion I found online:

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"Ohakune which means 'Place to be Careful' in Maori, is traditionally known as the 'Carrot Capital' of New Zealand. This village is situated on a volcanic plateau and is 366km, or about 4.5 hours drive from Auckland. It has a population of 2,500 which swells to near 20,000 when Turoa and Whakapapa ski fields open during winter. This is truly where adventure begins ...."

And I totally agree.

Keep on travelling,

Photos for this article were supplied by Potaua Biasiny-Tule.

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