Otorohanga: Kiwiana town

kiwiana town Otorohanga

Recently we stayed a couple of nights in Otorohanga (in the Waikato district, sort of middle-north in the North Island). As we travel about in various places (New Zealand, Australia, America come to mind) we like to see what towns and cities call themselves. I don’t mean their actual names, I mean the little epithets they give themselves (is epithet the right word?: “an adjective or phrase expressing a quality or attribute regarded as characteristic of the person or thing mentioned”). Perhaps they are just slogans thought up by someone on the local council or tourism board!

Wellington, where I live, is sometimes called Wellywood, a pastiche of Hollywood in homage to the Sir Peter Jackson-led film industry we have here. More often it’s called Windy Wellington, but that isn’t a positive image for tourism so the label “absolutely positively Wellington” was invented. You want positive? Absolutely! Actually, I see it wasn’t meant to be anything big, but caught the imagination and stuck. (click the link to see its origins.)

The silliest one I think I ever saw was “Foxton, the Fox Town”.

Foxton is a town 30 kilometres south-west of Palmerston North. It was named after Sir William Fox, a 19th century politician, explorer, painter, writer … I have mentioned him in a few of my posts (e.g. Crofton: temperance town and Mr Fox’s journey to the Wairarapa.)

But why “the Fox Town”? – we have no foxes in New Zealand; foxes are not among the many introduced small furry animals that cause havoc to our native birds and forests. However, according to this news article on the Top 10 worst NZ city slogans, Foxton stopped using it in 2005. (Read the comments on the article for some more laughs!)

Otorohanga has decided to be Kiwiana Town. If you’re not a New Zealander (‘kiwi’) you may well wonder what kiwiana is, but the Kiwiana Town website helpfully gives a definition and examples: What is Kiwiana?  “Here we embrace and celebrate popular Kiwi culture (Kiwiana) – the icons, heroes and heritage that make us uniquely Kiwi. Come laugh a little while you relive those childhood memories.” At least it doesn’t take itself too seriously, although it definitely evokes nostalgia for some simpler childhood. Possibly not many of these ‘icons’ are relevant to the childhoods of the current generation.

But Otorohanga does have an interesting ‘Ed Hillary walk’ (no ‘Sir Edmund’ please!) – a walkway between two streets that gives information on some Kiwiana icons. Here are some of the photos I took – not always easy through the glass cases.

But what of the real Kiwi? A flightless nocturnal bird unique to New Zealand. Otorohanga also has some of those! There is an excellent bird sanctuary where two species of kiwi can be seen in a nocturnal house (no photos allowed) and many other New Zealand bird species – and some lizards and tuatara. Here is a small selection of photos:


And here are some more photos of what I think of as kiwiana.

To me, lichen growing on an old fencepost and rusty cars are kiwiana – although not much a part of my town childhood! And the outside toilet (or ‘dunny’ as colloquially known) … which at our ‘bach’ – another kiwiana term (a seaside cottage) – was part of my childhood. A large white-painted wooden country pub (although this photo is the White Hart in New Plymouth – not so ‘country’) and a small white-painted wooden country church with red corrugated iron roof! And the local giant weta from Te Kuiti…

Other things you can do from Otorohanga – visit the famous Waitomo Caves and Kawhia on the west coast. Having been to Waitomo some time ago, we visited Kawhia and its local museum:


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