Visitors are drawn to the area to the bike and hike the scenic trails, including the Timber Trail that threads through Pureora Forest, explore the nearby Waitomo Caves, visit Middle-earth movie locations, and immerse themselves in the honest-to-goodness country lifestyle by staying in these small townships or on neighbouring farms where accommodation ranges from bed and breakfast in the family home to self-contained cabins and glamping.
Known as the ‘sheep shearing capital of New Zealand’, Te Kuiti is where locals and visitors alike flock to for a major event – the serious business of the New Zealand Shearing Championships, generally held just after the Easter long weekend.
In town there are cafés and shops, many geared to providing for the local farming families and outdoor enthusiasts, the dramatic Tokanganui-a-Noho Māori meeting house which can be visited by arrangement and, opposite the meeting house there is a traditional Japanese garden, gifted by Te Kuiti’s Japanese sister city, Tatsuno.
A massive statue honours local All Blacks rugby hero, sheep farmer and philanthropist, Sir Colin Meads, and another celebrates the town’s sheep shearing legends including Sir David Fagan, the winner of numerous speed shearing competitions including 11 world titles.
Look out too for the giant wētā artworks and be sure to visit the historic Te Kuiti Railway Station building which now houses arts and crafts, historical displays, and other activities.
Just out of town is Mangaokewa Reserve for picnics, swimming, trout fishing and hiking including on a track that is part of the national Te Araroa Trail that stretches from the top of New Zealand to the bottom.
Te Kuiti is also a good base for exploring the world-renowned Waitomo Caves area, with its black water rafting, glowworms, and other attractions, and for cycling or hiking the acclaimed Timber Trail in the nearby Pureora Forest. The trail is a backcountry adventure like no other, stretching 85kms from the old logging settlement of Ongarue to Pureora Village, winding its way through giant rimu, tōtara and kahikatea trees and crossing 42 bridges including the 141-metre Maramataha suspension Bridge.
Maniaiti / Benneydale
35km south-east of Te Kuiti is the township of Maniaiti / Benneydale. Built around the coal mining industry, the quaint town now serves as a gateway to the Pureora Forest Park and the Timber Trail cycleway.
The area boasts a rich history in coal mining and timber milling, and visitors today will be greeted with friendly locals, great coffee and a variety of accommodation from rural B&B’s to chalets, camping and ‘glamping’.
Key attractions include the Timber Trail and the Pureora Forest Park. Accommodation and bike hire are also available for those cycling the Timber Trail or enjoying the many walking trails on offer.
The friendly town of Piopio offers a variety of fun things to do. Take a stroll on one of the great walking trails, then stop by one of the welcoming cafés, such as the family-owned Fat Pigeon, located on the north side of the village adjacent to Kara Park. The same family also operates the Night Owl bar and eatery and provides accommodation.
For those seeking adventure, Hairy Feet Waitomo offers tours of the location of Trollshaws Forest, as seen in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Piopio is also home to some of the most magnificent waterfalls in the region. Explore the majestic Omaru Falls and Waitanguru Falls for breathtaking views and unforgettable experiences.
If you’re visiting between October and May, don’t miss the opportunity to stop by the Piopio Berry Orchard, where you can enjoy delicious blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and fruit ice creams.