Perhaps we’re all a little jaded when it comes to all those iconic symbols welcoming to you to Kiwi towns with dubious claims to fame. Taihape has its giant gumboot, Ohakune its carrot, Paeroa has its giant L& P bottle – and so on.
At first glance, Katikati’s just another Kiwi provincial town – a drive through. It’s bustling, clean, but hardly provides a siren call to pull over and explore its quirky attractions. But Katikati Mural Town could and should be described as an Open Air Art and Poetry Town (with some surprising stores as well). And for its murals alone, ‘catty-cat’ is well worth pulling over.
More than 40 murals make up the ‘outdoor art gallery,’ depicting Katikati’s history as a town established by Irish settlers in the 1870’s - when two shiploads of settlers sailed out to establish the only planned Ulster settlement in the world. The murals provide quick visual history lessons - on everything from school days and farming, to early motor vehicles, and the inside of a motor mechanics workshop and a general store.
New Zealand’s only Haiku Pathway is invisible from the downtown - marked by a large curving ‘haiku’ sign in the main street. The path leads down into a green, peaceful valley, and follows the meandering Uretara River through some of the greenest fields you’ll ever see. Along the way are haiku poems carved into 27 large boulders.
To explore Kati, stop in at the town’s Information Centre for the Art & Craft Trail brochure, a descriptive brochure on the murals, and information on the Haiku Trail ( Outside is the sculpture of ‘Barry the Kiwi Bloke’ reading his newspaper). Or visit Katch Katikati’s website www.katikati.org.nz
Downtown Shops & Where to Eat
Don’t be put off by the orange walls with paw prints, this funky cafe is known even to Auckland travellers for its tasty wheat and gluten free food. Cheery staff serve breakfasts, and lunch food such as paninis, gourmet burgers, Morrocan chicken and rice salad, etc. KP is at the northern end of town at 4 Main Road, Katikati. Tel 07-549 1902.
Don’t mistake this for your standard provincial wine shop – it’s one of the best in the country run by a fanatical wine buff, American expat Jim Bartee, who stocks an incredible 11,000 plus bottles. Jim describes his stock as ‘top-notch wines of all prices,’ ranging all the way up to a pre-1937 cognac (you don’t want to know the price). There are wines by the rack-full from all over the world including France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Germany, not to mention NZ. Located at 8 Main Road Tel 5493463.
Pheasant Valley Gallery & Antiques
Collectors...keep it to yourself, but this large store is packed with quality collectables and ‘interesting things’ at very reasonable prices. Everything from fine art prints, Spode and Royal Dalton china to matchbox toys and silverware. Shirley Wine calls herself the ‘ultimate recycler’ and insists she prices things to sell, not sit there. The store is in the middle of town at 19 Main Road. Tel 549 5820.
New and pre-loved clothes and accessories, including Tamsin Cooper bags, jewellery, classic garden-party-style hats and more. Virtue’s zany, French-inspired shop complete with chandeliers, is owned by drag queen ‘Crystal Chandelier,’ aka Rob Anstruther-Burson. Rob, whose partner is a local dairy farmer, hops back into a dress for local fund raisers, and has been known to jump out of giant cakes. Virtue is at 6b Main Road, tel 549 3400.
Katikati Craft & Mural Centre
Stocks a wide range of crafts and paintings. The non -profit society is a co-operative venture, for local painters and artisans to show off their wares. Look for everything from wood carvings to scarves. Guest artist exhibitions are also held. The centre is at 10 Main Road, open 7 days a week, tel 549 1718.
Katikati Heritage Museum Carvery and Cafe
One km south of Katikati, this museum that looks like a big red barn, provides an intriguing glimpse into the town’s history as the only planned Ulster Irish settlement in the world. Displays include New Zealand’s largest bottle collection, and moa bones. There’s a souvenir shop with delightful stuff – such as tea towels printed with ‘Pavlova – New Zealand’s national dessert.’ Open daily 8.30 to 4.30, last tour at 3pm. The carvery next doors serves roast lunches and dinners. Museum entry: adult $6, child $4, family pass $15. Wharawhara Road, off State Highway 2, Katikati, tel 549-0651, www.katikatiheritagemuseum.co.nz
Forta Leeza Country Inn
The historic inn with a woody, wagon wheels & saddles, deer-antlers decor, occupies a former cheese and butter factory. Forta Leeza has a casual, country pub ambience. It offers a la cart dining, and there’s a gaming room and bar. Upstairs, is an extraordinary doll collection – the work of Jan McLean one of the world’s top makers of porcelain collectors dolls. There are some 200 on display, all posed in different settings such as ‘off to the opera.’ An interesting experience, especially when life-size dolls seem to be looking at you...The collection is open Tuesday to Sunday or by appointment. Tel 5490 388.
Katikati Bird Gardens
This is a great family destination. Set up in 1976, the extensive, private harbourside gardens showcase an extensive range of native and exotic plant and bird life, including colourful cockatoos and lorikeets, and peacocks that can be fed by hand. There are golf cart garden tours and an art gallery shows the work of local artists. A terrace café overlooks one of four lily-ponds. Open daily, 10 am to 4.30 pm. Cost: adult $9, seniors $8.50, child $4, under-2’s free, group concessions. Located off State Highway 2, 25km north of Tauranga, and 7km south of Katikati. Walker Road East, Katikati, tel 549-0912, www.birdgardens.co.nz