Early Europeans called the hill country forest area of NZ’s western North Island the “King Country” because it was here that the local Maori Kingdom sought refuge in the 1860s from European occupancy, with the King Country closed to Pākehā (Europeans). The King Country stretches from Kawhia Harbour and Ōtorohanga in the north, to the upper reaches of the Whanganui River in the south, and from the Tasman Sea in the West, to the Hauhungaroa and Rangitoto Ranges in the east.
Known for its rugged diverse landscape, the King’s Country larger towns include Te Kūiti, Turangi and Taumarunui. Just 15 minutes’ drive south from Taumaruni is Ōwhango on the main trunk railway line, with the town backing onto the Tongariro conservation area (literally a few minutes’ walk from your accommodation).
Before European settlement, Ōwhango was a meeting and resting place for Māori travelling from Taupō, Whanganui and Taranaki. By the early 1900s Ōwhango became a busy mill township serving farming settlers, and in 1934 Irish writer George Bernard Shaw even attended a sports day in Ōwhango and voiced amusement by the fact that the locals did wood-chopping competitions for entertainment. Ōwhango Hotel was the first hotel in the King Country to open after liquor prohibition lifted, and today with Ōwhango being so close to Tongariro National Park and its ski-fields, many local houses are private holiday homes.
Renown as one of the best adventure mountain bike rides in the North Island, the 42 Traverse is a premium sub-alpine 46km Grade-3 multi-use trail, which travels through the Tongariro Forest Conservation Area. [Takes riders 4-7 hours – also popular with 4X4s.]
Named after the Central Plateau’s State Forest #42, this track includes awesome scenery, big uphills, amazing downhills, and remarkable views, including the spectacular Canyon Valley and views of several mountains that are featured in the Lord of the Rings movies.
Best ridden from National Park Village to Ōwhango, our local Ruapehu Shuttles can easily drive you the 15mins to the start point – and we believe the best conclusion to the 42 Traverse, is our 42 Ōwhango Rd … Take your selfie at our 42-Traverse wall, before relaxing in our Finnish sauna cabin and hot-tub spa-pool! (Available to all Whole Lodge and West-Wing bookings. Not available to East-Wing bookings.)
Fifteen minutes north of Ōwhango is the town of Taumarunui (and the last large supermarket before Ohakune) and it is also the main hub of the Ruapehu District Council with its southern edge going across from Raetihi to Ohakune to Waiōuru – which is all part of the Manawatū-Whanganui region.
Māori first settled Taumarunui at the junction of the Whanganui and Ōngarue Rivers which were the major transport route for Māori living in Whanganui, Waikato and Taupō.
In 1874 after marrying into the Ngāti Hauaroa tribe, kiwi Alexander Bell (not telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell) was the first Pākehā (European) allowed to live in the King Country, and he established a trading post in Taumarunui. Over the next decades, between the expanding river and rail transport, and the sawmilling and farming along the hinterland, Taumarunui town continued to grow.
Taumarunui’s history is of railways, sawmills, and coal, and historically being the trading centre servicing Ruapehu’s surrounding sheep, cattle, and deer farms, and forestry plantations. The area has also historically been known for its trout fishing, gardens, and weaving. But these days, more than ever before, “Nui” is increasingly becoming the popular launching point for Spring, Summer and Autumn tourist experiences in the King Country’s amazing cycling, hiking and tramping journeys, and breathtaking rivers – particularly the Forgotten World Adventure’s Rail-Carts, the Pureora Forest’s Timber Trail, and adventures on the mighty Whanganui River.
The Taumarunui area has great weather and is within easy reach of a wide variety of terrain, flora, fauna, and bird life, with locations to suit everyone, from family picnics to hard-core super-fit athletes, enjoying bush, waterfalls, lakes, mountains, and rivers.
Located just 15km outside of Taumarunui along NZ’s historical “Forgotten World Highway”, Lauren’s beautiful Lavender Farm is open late Oct to early May and grows around 8000 lavender plants which are in full bloom from late Dec until early March.
Adjacent to the Whanganui River, their licensed café and store with its peaceful and tranquil location is open seven days 9 am to 4 pm. A great place to stop for morning or afternoon tea.
Taumarunui is the starting place of this extraordinary forgotten part of dramatic and rugged NZ scenery along the Forgotten World Highway to Stratford, via the Republic of Whangamamona.
Alternatively, to driving your car, you can drive a modified golf-cart with Forgotten World Adventures on one of their fully-guided award-winning trips along the disused rail line, with its epic vistas (operates early October until early May).
Deep in the rugged North Island is the self-declared Republic of Whangamōmona.
In 1989 local residents weren’t impressed at being shunted on Council boundaries from the Taranaki to Manawatu-Wanganui regions, so decided to break away from NZ – and these days you can even get your passport stamped at their “Customs” desk at the Pub’s bar. But they don’t take themselves too seriously with a goat once winning the Presidency in a landslide victory and when later sadly died while in office, was replaced by a poodle. In 2019 John Herlihy won as the Republic’s President, defeating competition from a cockatoo and a stuffed teddy.
Getting to “Whanga” is just under a 2-hour drive along the Forgotten Highway deep through untamed scenic wilderness (or driving the awesome Forgotten Word’s rail-carts) before arriving at its beautifully quaint buildings. The solitude of a town with no cellphone reception is like entering Middle Earth, or 1981.
Every two years the village swells to thousands for the Republic’s Presidential Election Day (when customs agents ask visitors to buy a passport to be allowed entry).
Known as the Rhine of the Pacific in its European pre-railway days of steam paddleboats, the mighty Whanganui River is a natural resource that has been given its own legal identity as a person (due to its great importance to the region’s Māori people). Deeply steeped in rich history, whether you paddle it or travel by jetboat, no journey to the central North Island is complete without spending some time on the Whanganui River travelling through its landscape of remote hills and bush-clad valleys. Many tour options are available, such as Blazing Adventures.
Just a couple minutes’ drive from our Old Post Office holiday home in Ōwhango is Whakapapa River, one of many great world-class fly-fishing locations along Whanganui River and its tributaries (the holiday home regularly hosts NZ’s Top Fly-Fishing teams. Blazing Adventures can arrange private Fly-Fishing trips to some of the top spots.
Fifteen minutes south from Ōwhango Village, is the town of National Park Village located at intersection of State Highway 4 and State Highway 46, featuring a lovely little assortment of Takeaways, Pubs, Cafés and Restaurants, plus a Petrol Station with Superette. Favourite hangouts are the Macrocarpa Café, the Park’s Spiral Bar, and Schnapps Pub. There is also a Petrol Station with Superette.
At the foot of Mt Ruapehu skiing, this alpine settlement on the north-western slopes of Mt Ruapehu is 1100 metres above sea level (and NZ’s highest permanent settlement) with the Dept of Conservation as their local authority (instead of a local Council).
It is also home to the grand historic Chateau Tongariro Hotel … spoiling yourself with their High Tea is divine!
Mt Ruapehu is located in the Central Plateau of NZ’s North Island within the UNESCO duel-world-heritage Tongariro National Park (listed for both its cultural and geological significance). Along with having the Whanganui National Park nearby, this is one of NZ’s premium outdoor destinations!
This maunga (mountain), especially its peaks, have strong sacred links for local iwi (tribes) who will refer to this maunga as Koro (grandad).
The active volcano of Mount Ruapehu has two ski-fields: NZ’s largest ski area Whakapapa (half-hour from Ōwhango, and 5-10mins further past the Chateau at Whakapapa Village) and Tūroa (1-hr from Ōwhango) – both open annually from early July until late October.
Whakapapa Ski Field also has Happy Valley (lower down from the main ski fields) which is open early June until early October and is an especially popular beginner’s playground including sledding.
Whakapapa is also open over summer for sightseeing on the Sky Waka being NZ’s longest gondola (“waka” means canoe). Outside of Ski Season, you can also book to enjoy Pinnacles Restaurant at the top of the gondola ride.
NZ’s DOC (Dept of Conservation) has Nine Great Walk Journeys of NZ chosen as premier tracks for the diverse and spectacular scenery they pass through, including native forests, lakes and rivers, and from mountain peaks to deep gorges and vast valleys. Ōwhango sits on the doorstep of three of these great journeys.
Less than a half-hour from Ōwhango is the start of the approx 8-9 hour Tongariro Alpine Crossing walk across the edge of Mt Tongariro and Mt Ngauruhoe including their lunar-like landscapes and views of active volcanoes and recent lava flows – regarded as the best day hike in NZ!
Most popular in the summer months, it is also possible to do the walk in spring and autumn too with the right preparation and provisions (the weather around Mt Ruapehu can rapidly change from bright sunshine to blowing cold wet gales). During winter (June to Oct) the Tongariro Crossing is only for those with alpine skills (and strongly preferably with a Guide).
Local Ruapehu Shuttles are available to drop you off at the start, and pick you up at the end of the journey.
Tongariro’s Northern Circuit is a 2-4 day hike (depending on fitness).
Bridge to Nowhere is the third local Great Walks of NZ (see further below).
Scene location for some iconic Kiwi movies including Smash Palace, Good Bye Pork Pie and Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Horopito Motors are the largest auto wreckers in Australasia, and a has-to-be-seen-to-be-believed “living museum”.
Built over a century ago (then lost to the dense Tongariro Forest until earlier this century), you can walk or cycle this partially cobblestoned Ohakune Old Coach Rd, which was a vital bridleway link to carry passengers in horse-drawn coaches over the 39km gap between the two railheads of Raurimu in the north and Ohakune in the south – as well as supplying the pioneering engineers and brave labourers working in these unforgivingly harsh conditions in order to finish the railway’s phenomenal undertakings including the Hapuawhenua Viaduct (only used for 21 months) until the railway’s Main Trunk Line was completed in 1908 creating the North Island’s most important intercity connection between NZ’s largest city Auckland, and its capital city Wellington.
Winding 15km along the lower slopes of Mt Ruapehu the Old Coach Road track takes you through a spectacular part of Tongariro National Park, and these days it is also the official start point of the Nga Ara Tuhono – the Mountain to Sea Cycle Trail – which is part of the NZ Cycle Trail Network. A great half-day walk or family day out, and it can be walked or cycled one-way from Horopito to Ohakune.
Just 40 mins from the Post Office is the ski village of Ohakune with its great souvenir shopping, good bars and an adventure park featuring the world’s largest carrot (great fun for the kids). Another 20mins on is Waiouru’s excellent National Army Museum.
Just over an hour’s drive south is the wee village of Pipiriki on the banks of the mighty Whanganui River, and from there you can enjoy a pleasant jet-boat ride to the beginning of an easy 45-min walk to the iconic Bridge to NoWhere. Along this extraordinary journey, fantastic local Maori guides can explain the area’s incredible history, such as booking with Whanganui River Adventures.
A 1¾-hour drive to the banks of the Whanganui and Retaruke Rivers, is Blue Duck Station, which is surrounded by the Whanganui National Park. Blue Duck Station all about wildlife conservation, history preservation, and increasing environmental bush and river health. Activities available at Blue Duck Station include kayaking, bush safari, clay-bird shooting, jet-boating, horse-trekking, mountain-biking and tramping.
For a very special summertime experience (with limited nightly guest numbers) Blue Duck Station offers The Chef’s Table, which is a refined but stripped-back fine-dining 10-course degustation menu from the land, served under the stunning night sky at the highest point of the Station (affectionally known as the Top of the World) with its spectacular mountain views of Taranaki, Tongariro, Mt Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe.