6 February 2015
This geothermal beauty basks in the glory of its famous maunga, says Elisabeth Easther.
Where is it? At the base of Mt Putauaki (Edgecumbe), in the eastern Bay of Plenty, 283km from Auckland and 95km from Tauranga.
Origin of name: Kawerau was a grandson of the mighty chief Toi Kai Rakau and in Maori means “the carrier of the leaves”.
Population: 6720, more than 60 per cent identifying as Maori.
Town mascot: Tarawera Falls and Mt Putauaki.
In the beginning: Kawerau was founded in 1953 when the pulp and paper mill was built. At the peak of construction 1800 workers called the place home, earning it a reputation as a party town. Legend has it every weekend women looking for husbands would roll up by the busload and local police would see them off on Monday morning.
Famous locals: John Rowles (music legend), Whirimako Black (actor), Ria van Dyke (Miss New Zealand 2010), Sarah Walker (world champion BMX rider), Eric Mackenzie (champion cyclist).
Artistic locals: Timo Rannali and Owen Dippie.
Best website: kaweraudc.govt.nz or kawerauonline.co.nz or kawerau.org.nz.
Big business: The pulp and paper mill brings in most revenue, followed by farming.
Sources of pride: The friendly locals and the beautiful environment.
Local attractions: The Tarawera Ultra Marathon, the National Woodskills Competition and Woodfest. There are also dog agility shows and championships, bird shows and equestrian events. Or try your hand at The Big Three by bagging a pig, a deer and a trout. Kawerau is also one of the world’s best venues for canoe slalom racing. The Tarawera 100 is a 160km cross-country motorcycle endurance race, held near the town each year.
Here for a short time? Walk the river, visit the rose gardens, check out the work of the local artists.
Best reason to stop: Go to Tarawera Falls and spend a few days camping at Lake Tarawera – it’s heaven on earth.
Best place to take the kids: Take them for a swim in the council’s free heated pools or let off steam at the local adventure park where you’ll find miniature horses, a model railway, a water wheel, goldfish, a monster Meccano crane, model helicopters and more.
Best playground: Aside from the river, the playground by the New World is a beauty. It also has a skate park, lots of sports fields and netball courts. You can even go rollerblading along the concourse on River Rd.
Spend a penny: The Kawerau Information Centre has delightfully pristine facilities.
Best walk: Tarawera Outlet to the falls is gorgeous and takes about 2.5 hours return. It’s mostly pretty flat and not too taxing. Stoneham Walk is also lovely or go to the rose gardens and wander along the river. The Monika Lanham Reserve also has pleasant paths for strolling.
Best view: Either gaze up at the maunga (mountain) or walk up it and look out, although you do need a permit to walk Putauaki. They can be readily obtained from Maori Investments House on Waterhouse St.
Best swim: Either the swimming pool or if you go to the i-Site the lovely people there can suggest great swimming spots along the river.
Best museum: The Sir James Fletcher Kawerau Museum is accessed through the Kawerau Library and is full of fascinating memorabilia and photographs.
Nice arts: Jive Cafe occasionally displays art, as does the information centre. Or go out to Lake Rotoma to Joe Kemp’s sculpture gallery, visitors love it there.
Cream of the coffee: Jive Cafe, just out of town heading towards Tasman Mill, also does good food, including delicious pizzas and occasional dinners.
Baked: The Bakehouse is always crazy busy so clearly they’re amazing – their chicken and chips and sushi are especially popular.
Best food: Knives and Forks do yummy grub and the Cossie Club provides meals as well.
Wet your whistle: The Cossie Club is grand for a drink, plus you’ll get to meet the locals.
Best mountain biking: Monika Lanham Reserve has cool tracks under construction and there are a few tracks around town; the i-Site can tell you where to go.
Best adventure: Canoeing and rafting on the river is epic.
Best kept secret: Tarawera Falls won an award for being the best secret camping spot around, although it’s probably not so secret anymore.
Mad props: The area is popular with property investors and the council is said to be really easy to work with – whether you’re subdividing or extending, the powers that be make it easy and affordable.
Wildlife: The Manawahe Kokako Trust operates on private land and is now New Zealand’s fourth-largest kokako colony. Thanks to pest control the population has risen from nine to more than 50, indeed all native birds are thriving. You can also fish for trout in the waters round here.
When locals have visitors: They take them to Lake Rotoma, stop by Joe Kemp’s sculpture gallery and then go for a wander around the rose gardens and along the river.
Safety warnings: Be careful if you’re camping around town because there’s lots of geothermal activity and if you lie too close to the ground you can inhale the sulphur vapour. This isn’t good for you – it won’t kill you but it won’t make you feel too flash either.
Locals say: Good as wood.
Visitors say: You can say that again.
Locals: Good as wood.
Thanks to Caroline and Jade from the local i-Site.
Source: NZ Herald