While it seems a little strange that a town’s emblem would be a giant vegetable, the Ohakune carrot quickly became an icon after being installed along the main highway in 1984. The carrot itself was a cast-off from a TV commercial for a bank, but has long outlived that particular purpose – and has now been supported by a playground featuring other root vegetables. Although Ohakune does have good soil and ideal climate for horticulture, it has a lot more going for it than carrots, though I guess with a mountain on your doorstep there is no need to replicate that on a sign. It has had the added bonus of enabling food gurus to elevate humble Ohakune carrots like a fine wine region.
A railway town, where carrots grow well, has become an leisure centre servicing skifields on Mount Ruapehu in the Tongariro National Park.The Mountain Road, constructed as a local initiative provides a scenic drive to the Turoa Skifield. (One hour return). It is also a starting point for a number of bush walks, including the Hapuawhenua Viaduct and the Lake Surprise Walk.
The town's relatively tiny population of 1500 swells to around 20,000 over the winter months due to its position at the foot of the Mountain Road. In August each year a Carrot Carnival features parades, music and celebrations recognising the importance the vegetable plays in the history and livelihood of the town.
There are a number of short walks near the town if the weather is too bad to venture up the mountain.
The Visitor Centre design was by Boon Goldsmith Bhaskar Team Architecture. The Northern Explorer train stops here.