Known as the ‘gateway to the Ruahines’, Āpiti is one of New Zealand’s tiniest of towns. Claire Smith discovered that the Manawatū township may look unassuming, but it’s home to some treasures – including one of the best barbecue spots in the country.
Take a drive through the main street of Āpiti and you could be forgiven for thinking there was little to stop for. However, in my view, this little Manawatū-Whanganui township should be on every motorhomer’s list of must-do destinations.
Pub grub like no other
Number one on the list of spots to stop in Āpiti should be for lunch or dinner at the Āpiti Tavern. Despite its remote location, the tavern has earned a nationwide reputation as one of the country’s top food destinations. It’s all about the delicious low and slow barbecue cooking method utilised by award-winning barbecue chefs Jon James and Grant Kitchen.
Grant and Jon met at the Pitmasters of New Zealand BBQ competition some years ago and hit it off immediately. The meat maestros decided to join forces and open a low and slow barbecue business in the Manawatū. When the Āpiti Tavern came up for sale… well, the rest is history.
Using wood and charcoal, Grant barbecues the deliciously prepared meat for around 14 hours, and the result is unlike any barbecue you’ve ever tasted. “There’s just something about cooking over a fire that just draws people in – it’s almost like it’s built into our DNA,” says Grant, a chef of 29 years and the National President of NZ Chefs. “The flavours, the smells, the aromas…it’s something that’s connected with our past.”
With six powered sites for motorhomers available, the tavern attracts travellers from near and far. People now come from all over the country for a taste of their mouthwatering meat cuts.
Topping the tavern’s menu is their famous slow-cooked smoked beef cheek with black garlic and truffled mushrooms, along with their melt-in-your-mouth pork belly and buttermilk fried chicken. For a taste of everything good, get stuck into an Āpiti-sing Smoky Platter (just $62 for two people).
It’s hard to miss the tavern as you arrive in Āpiti – just look for the smoke rising from the mammoth barbecue and let your nose do the rest. Find out more at facebook.com/Āpititavern
Stretch your legs
After all that tasty barbecue goodness, it’s a good thing Āpiti has a great selection of walks to help burn some of it off again.
A popular track is the 4.5km Iron Gates Gorge Track, which takes a little under two hours. The gorge is a narrow chasm where the Oroua River runs between the walls of sheer-sided cliffs. You’ll be treated to pristine native beach forest complete with a waterfall and abundant native bird life.
To get there, drive down Oroua Valley Road past Āpiti, then take the second turn right onto Table Flat Road and continue for several kilometres. Turn left onto Petersons Road and continue to the car park on farmland at the end of the road.
Another top walk located in the same spot is the Alice Nash Memorial Heritage Lodge Track. This track is about 2.4km each way and takes you across an arched wooden bridge that crosses high above a narrow gorge in Umutoi Creek. Once a logging road, the track continues through beech forest and to the heritage lodge, with a quite spectacular view up the Oroua River.
Take in the view
With the Ruahine Ranges backdropping rolling farmland, the drive along Oroua Valley Road between Āpiti and Kimbolton (around 15 minutes) is one of those ‘aren’t we lucky to live here’ kind of experiences. Here, you’re in true blue Kiwi farming country. In late winter I was treated to paddocks full of bouncing lambs and the occasional field full of daffodils. To take in the best of the country scenery, head up to the Oroua Valley Lookout (about 10 minutes out of Āpiti on Āpiti Road).
Limestone Creek Reserve is a must-do for those with a taste for adventure and a love of nature. The 600-metre track will take you through glow worm-filled caves, gorges, and across a running stream.
Upon entering the track, turn right at the bottom of the stairs; this takes you upstream and then down into the gully, where you’ll be met by towering walls covered in lush moss, wild ferns, and orchids. The main cave is located about 80m from the bottom of the hill.
To get to the reserve from Āpiti, follow the signs to Sixtus Lodge. Limestone Creek Reserve is signposted on the right-hand side of the road about 2km before Sixtus Lodge.
Check out the blooms
About 14 minutes out of Āpiti on Rangiwahia Road, Cross Hills Gardens is a great spot to stop and smell the rhododendrons. There are seven hectares of park-like gardens to wander through, plus an onsite café and plant shop. The gardens also offer NZMCA parking.
The best time to visit the garden is during October and November, when the Cross Hills Gardens Country Fair takes place – this year on 19 November. The fair is a huge affair, with over 180 stalls showcasing produce, art, crafts, and more from all over the North Island. Find out more at crosshills.co.nz
More places to stay:
- NZMCA park-over property: Grammar Street Kimbolton
- Āpiti Domain Campground: 601 Oroua Valley Road, Āpiti
- Londons Ford Reserve (freedom camping): Londons Ford Road between Kimbolton and Āpiti
- Bartletts Ford Reserve (freedom camping): Terrace Road, Pohangina