Positioned at the heart of King Country, Taumarunui is also Ruapehu’s biggest town, and has plenty of heart itself. Sure, it might not be New Zealand’s sexiest settlement (though they’re fast working on that by way of a beautification project that has seen sculptures, artworks and plenty of greenery installed along and around the main street), but it has several wonderful attractions, not to mention views, while serving as the northern gateway to Whanganui National Park and heaps more central North Island adventures. What’s more, it’s only three-and-a-half hours from Auckland. Verve was invited down to find out more.
A SENSE OF HISTORY
Known as “the place of big shelter”, Taumarunui sits cradled by towering verdant ridgelines at the confluence of the Whanganui and Ongarue Rivers, waterways which once served as important transport and trade links for local Māori. Fitting then that the location is still of such economic importance, serving as the launchpad for recreational river tours and exploration. Along the rivers’ banks, the lovely Cherry Grove reserve marks the site of the original Māori settlement, Ngāpuwaiwaha (the Ngāpuwaiwaha marae is nearby), offering a peaceful spot to sit, reflect, and perhaps enjoy a picnic.
There’s also a real sense of history at Taumarunui’s best B&B, The Inn at the Convent where awaits the warmest of welcomes thanks to a roaring log fire and the superb hospitality of hosts June and Geoff. The former religious residence retains much historic charm thanks to its high ceilings, wide stairs and plenty of creaking timber, complemented by modern, tasteful bathrooms all enclosed within a handsome, historic white villa. A delightful breakfast includes cereals, freshly squeezed juices and baked breads, European-style cheeses, smoked salmon, and locally reared bacon that’s out of this world.
A SENSE OF ADVENTURE
Local operator, the excellently named Blazing Paddles, offers more joy than you can shake a stick—or oar—at through its kayak and canoe tours, jet boat rides, fishing trips and scenic helicopter flights. Half- through to multi-day combos allow for visitors to experience some of North island’s most iconic sights and activities, from paddling the legendary Whanganui River to viewing the peaks of Tongariro National Park to fishing some of the planet’s best trout waters.
Iconic cycling route the Timber Trail starts—or ends—just 15 minutes from Taumarunui. The 85km Great Ride follows old tramlines, taking in tunnels and thrilling suspension bridges, while also winding through whispering forests of rimu. It takes two days to complete, but if you only have time—or the inclination—for a taster, a shuttle service will ferry you and your bike to various points along the track allowing you to pedal back; or you can bike in and out the same way.
Whether you want to hike for a few minutes or a few days, there are ample opportunities to stretch your legs in and around Taumarunui. Top of the list should be the 3km Te Peka Lookout that snakes through native and exotic bush for expansive views of town and its surrounding rivers, valleys and mountains. The 8km Whanganui River Track takes a couple of hours, beginning at Cherry Grove and follows the waterway past popular fishing and swimming spots and a stand of tōtara.
Soon to celebrate its centenary, the Tarrangower Golf Course is regularly rated among Aotearoa’s best. The all-weather, 18-hole course is noted for its park-like undulating fairways that lead to well-hidden greens guarded by impressive tree specimens such as redwoods.
FOR THE SENSES
A visit to Nevalea Alpacas is an absolute Taumarunui must-do. With a herd around 1,000-strong, it’s New Zealand’s largest alpaca farm, and you may meet, pet, feed and even walk some of them on a lead. Led by the lovely landowners Leonie and Neville, you won’t help but grin from ear to ear as you wander sprawling fields of friendly and highly inquisitive alpacas—surely one of the planet’s most photogenic creatures—as they graze alongside cattle and sheep in what is a peaceful, pastoral paradise.
Taumarunui also boasts an ever-evolving arts scene, and nowhere better exemplifies its sense of community and creative soul than the volunteer-run Twin Rivers Gallery Studio where traditional Māori works share space with contemporary offerings and everything in between, all crafted by local talent such as artist Regan Hoban. Much of the work is for sale, and there’s a lovely collection of indigenous carvings and pounamu jewellery.
When you’re done paddling, biking, hiking and exploring the main drag, Monsoon Indian Restaurant serves up some of the best dishes in town. Then, soothe the spices by blowing suds off a few cold ones or sample some chilled vinos as you shoot the breeze with the locals in Taumarunui’s legendary RSA.
A FORGOTTEN WORLD
Adding to the region’s far flung romance, Taumarunui bookends the Forgotten World Highway, a thoroughfare that follows ancient Māori trade routes, curling through some of Aotearoa’s most underexplored landscapes southwest to Stratford. Thanks to tour company Forgotten World Adventures, this near-secret slice of Middle-earth may be experienced by way of rail aboard specially adapted railcars (similar to golf carts and limited to 20km/h). The self-driving tours travel an abandoned rail line for up to 140km, navigating valleys, tunnels and townships, including the legendary Republic of Whangamomona. Visitors may travel all the way to Stratford over two days or choose to do a section of the railway line over a few hours or full-day and get a shuttle bus back.
Forgotten World Adventures also operate jet boat and helicopter adventures throughout Whanganui National Park, which may be booked separately or in combination with the Rail Ride. Overnight options are available with these as well.