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Well, just where is Otorohanga?
It’s 45 minutes south of Hamilton and surrounded by rolling green hills in the northern King Country. Fabulous West Coast beaches at Kawhia, Aotea and Marokopa are less than an hour away and it’s only 15 minutes to the world famous Waitomo Glowworm Caves, Black Water Rafting and adventure caving attractions.
It’s also is a busy, attractive rural town and for forty years it’s been home to the Otorohanga Kiwi House & Native Bird Park.
This is an amazing, intimate Wildlife Sanctuary, which has done (and continues to do) ground breaking work in the conservation and breeding of our most important national icon, the Kiwi bird…..plus a whole host of other endangered native species.
Not surprisingly, Otorohanga became known as the ‘Kiwi Town’. Then, in 1999, a clever design consultant, David Walmsley, suggested that Otorohanga extend its claim to fame (i.e. ‘Making the Kiwi Connection’) to include the ‘Kiwiana’ concept.
A group of enthusiastic, local volunteers (Project Kiwiana) were up for the challenge and the theme of ‘Kiwiana… and all things Kiwi’ was adopted to add to the town’s special identity.
‘Kiwiana’ is defined as: “any of the many ‘collectibles’, items redolent of New Zealand life and culture”-(Oxford New Zealand Dictionary)
No one else had done it, so Otorohanga claimed the Kiwiana theme! In 2002 then-Prime Minister, Helen Clark, confirmed that Otorohanga was the “Kiwiana Town of New Zealand”.
The signed, framed declaration was presented to the town by the late Sir Ed Hillary and is now proudly displayed in the Otorohanga Council building.
Otorohanga’s version of “Kiwiana” is light-hearted and fun; even the mayoral chains are pure Kiwiana kitsch– a series of souvenir badges and a large paua-shell kiwi stuck to a paua coaster!
Mayor, Dale Williams, says proudly: “They’re our take on ceremonial chains. I wear them at formal events. We don’t get hung up on the cost. It’s more about the bling!”
Otorohanga portrays ‘Kiwiana’ as a celebration of our popular culture – New Zealand’s icons, heroes and traditions. It’s everything from the Kiwi, Buzzy Bee, Paua and Pavlova to Sir Ed Hillary, Bruce McLaren, Colin Meads and the All Blacks - from Shearing, Sheep Dog Trials and No. 8 Wire to the Haka, Hangi and “Pokarekare Ana”.
Today the town’s main street (Maniapoto Street / State Highway 3) is full of Kiwiana memorabilia.
There are Kiwiana murals, large corrugated iron kiwis at the town’s entrances, 14 Kiwiana icon ‘cut outs’ hanging from the lamp posts - even the Public Toilets have an inside/outside Kiwiana theme!
The exterior is sign written with a collection of Kiwi terms like, ” Wharepaku, Long Drop, Dunny, Bog, Loo, Little House, Privy & Powder Room”…..
Pride of place, however, goes to the Ed Hillary Walkway in the middle of town; it’s next door to the ANZ bank and opposite the ‘Village Green’.
The Walkway is an arcade lined with 14 Kiwiana displays depicting everything from Pavlova (a NZ invention commonly disputed by Australia!) the ANZAC story, School Milk and Sir Ed Hillary to the All Blacks, Team NZ and Aunt Daisy.
There are also large poster displays on Kiwi Slang, the Haka, Votes for Women, Bungy Jumping, the Kiwi House, the Silver Fern, and the NZ Flag. Another 14 Kiwiana display cases are set inside retail windows along the main street.
Thanks to the inclusion of Kiwiana in the primary school curriculum, thousands of school children from around New Zealand have visited Otorohanga to study the town’s Kiwiana displays.
And it’s only a 5-minute drive from the main street Kiwiana displays to the Otorohanga Kiwi House with its impressive displays of Kiwi, native birds and reptiles. It has the country's largest public collection of NZ bird and reptile species and is open daily (except Christmas Day).
The Kiwi House also boasts some of the best viewing of awake and active Kiwi; in fact it guarantees that all visitors will see a Kiwi.
There’s a massive, domed, walk-through aviary in a native forest setting, numerous ponds and wetland areas for ducks, herons and water fowl, plus unique and ancient tuatara - direct descendents of prehistoric reptiles.
Otorohanga is also well known for its hanging baskets of seasonal flowers lining both sides of the main street. State Highway 3 bisects the busy, attractive town centre with its great range of shopping and cafes.
There’s even a coffee roaster and espresso bar in the historic, renovated railway station just through the Ed Hillary Walkway.
Central to the town is the aptly named 'Village Green' opposite the Ed Hillary Walkway.
Beautifully carved Pou Pou (Maori totem poles depicting local ancestors) stand in front of the grass oval outside the stylish District library and Kiwiana-themed Otorohanga i-SITE Visitor Information Centre.
Otorohanga is thriving, small, friendly and attractive – easily accessed from major centres, but far enough away to give visitors a sense of rural, ‘heartland’ New Zealand at its best!
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