The Insider's Guide to New Zealand - - NORTH ISLAND -

Waiouru is the cen­tre of ev­ery­thing or the mid­dle of nowhere, de­pend­ing on your out­look. It’s a wel­come sight on the Desert Road sec­tion of State High­way 1 if you are cold, hun­gry or run­ning low on fuel. For the 700-plus big-rig driv­ers who pass through each day, the town­ship is a great place for food and fel­low­ship. For trav­ellers, the main draw­card is the mil­i­tary mu­seum (see page 8). Ev­ery­thing cen­tres on the mil­i­tary base, where young army re­cruits un­der­take their ba­sic train­ing. At its peak in the 50s, when mil­i­tary train­ing was com­pul­sory, to the late 70s, the pop­u­la­tion was 6000. There were 100 recre­ation clubs and the lo­cal ski club had 300 mem­bers. To­day, the pop­u­la­tion has halved as army units have moved to other cen­tres. Along the ap­proach to the town there are bill­boards warn­ing of mil­i­tary ac­tiv­ity and there is every chance you will see tanks on the move. The wild Kaimanawa horses call these parts home. The de­scen­dants of do­mes­tic horses from the

18th and 19th cen­turies, they are one of the few an­i­mals tough enough to sur­vive the in­hos­pitable ter­rain. Waiouru’s other claim to fame is that it has the high­est rail­way sta­tion in New Zealand (814 me­tres). Ohakune lies on the south­west­ern slopes of Mt Ruapehu. Vol­ca­nol­o­gists watch the moun­tain care­fully for any sign it will erupt. Lo­cals watch it for a dif­fer­ent rea­son: the first signs of snow, which her­ald the start of the ski sea­son. In win­ter, the per­ma­nent pop­u­la­tion of

1000 quadru­ples as skiers and snow­board­ers from Auck­land and Welling­ton (Ohakune is half­way be­tween the two ma­jor cities) head for the slopes. The town has 52 bars to quench their thirst. To­day, Ohakune is most fa­mous as an out­door play­ground. In ear­lier times it was fa­mous for tim­ber and mar­ket gar­den­ing. Chi­nese mar­ket gar­den­ers set­tled here in the 1920s, rec­og­niz­ing the cal­i­bre of the vol­canic loam soil. The town’s most fa­mous land­mark is a gi­ant car­rot – re­put­edly the largest in the world – erected in 1984 to rec­og­nize the im­por­tance of the veg­etable to the economy (see Things to do page 13). Ngãti Rangi are the orig­i­nal peo­ple of the land. The chief, Paerangi, is be­lieved to have ar­rived in New Zealand a cen­tury be­fore the great fleet. Ohakune is a great place to spot fa­mous faces as there is al­ways a movie be­ing filmed close by.

Sir Peter Jack­son was based here dur­ing The Lord of the Rings.

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