History of Ohakune

Ohakune Township began as a small settlement alongside the through road from Raetihi to Taumarunui at the junction of the Mangawhero and Mangateitei streams. Whilst today there is plenty to do in this region, Ohakune and the surrounds offer some great insight into the heritage of New Zealand.

The area has been settled since around the 1600’s, first by the Ngati Rangi (Sky People) and Ngati Uenuku (Rainbow People) sub-tribes. Then, later in the nineteenth century, railway surveyors arrived looking for a way to travel through the Central North Island, linking Wellington in the south with Auckland in the north for transportation of goods and passengers. Once the area was opened up saw-millers arrived to take advantage of the abundance of forestry. Soon after, Chinese market gardeners and later farmers settled to work with the rich volcanic soil in the area; the bases for Ohakune’s status as the carrot capital of New Zealand.

The first market gardens in the Ohakune area were established back in 1925. Even back then Ohakune had real advantages, a railway for fast delivery, a late growing season, inexpensive land and a cold winter climate to discourage pests. Much of the land was cleared by hand and explosives before the first bulldozer arrived in 1937. More hectares were cleared and crops planted as demand increased to feed local and US military troops. After the war years, land was converted to rehabilitation farms for returning servicemen. In 1984 the ‘Big Carrot’ was unveiled at the entrance to the town, in recognition of the importance of market gardening to the local economy.

The industry continues to diversify and experiment, but carrots remain the main crop. Potatoes are also a significant vegetable here. The range of vegetables grown in this area also includes parsnips, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and swedes. Harvesting season starts around the end of February and continues through to Sept/Oct. Ground preparation begins in September. Planting will start mid September and continue through to early summer.

The nature of the industry has changed, from numerous small family businesses to about 20 much larger operators. While hard physical labour is still involved, today the industry is mechanised, with huge tractors and harvesters used in much larger fields. Market Gardeners invest in electronic monitoring equipment, custom engineered washing plant and chillers in washing sheds to ensure that fresh, high quality produce arrives at the distribution centres and markets. Ohakune has a well deserved reputation for quality produce that helps feed the nation.

Later, in the early 1950’s, the can-do spirit of the Ohakune people came to the fore as they formed the Ohakune Mountain Road Association and began the construction of an access road into the park.

The road gave access to the snow and ski slopes from Ohakune as well as providing a scenic drive route through the indigenous bush. By the mid 1960’s the road was completed to it’s present destination at Turoa. This pioneering spirit continued with the efforts to attract a commercial operator of the ski fields of Turoa.

Through its history, Ohakune has attracted all kinds of people willing to work hard to create a ‘new world’ and this has led to a vibrant, diverse people in a town that provides the opportunity for a wide variety of experiences for visitors.

The Big Carrot

The 7.5 metre erection, “a magnificent monolith, standing tall at the gateway to the central North Island town of Ohakune” – the famous Kiwi icon the Giant Carrot – was put there by the Ohakune Growers Association in 1984.

Celebrity status dogged “The Big Carrot” from its conception. Its birth was on television as a prop in advertising for the ANZ Bank, which sealed the fate of “Big Carrot” as a pillar and future icon of the community.

Controversy and conflict marked the birth of this famous landmark in the Ohakune community. Chaos reined when in 1982, on behalf of the Ohakune Growers Association, Peter Hammond, later to become the world famous (in Ohakune) “Carrot Guru”, proposed to erect a “Big Carrot” on the outskirts of town.

Placing of the Carrot on a triangle of ground, covered in native bush, (planted by service groups 15 years earlier) at the northern end of town, at the end of Moore Street, caused the townspeople to call foul. The debate over “The Carrot” and its suitability and positioning continued until 1984, when the present position at Rochfort Park was chosen and the wider community and the Ohakune Borough Council finally agreed to allow the venerable vegetable to be erected. 

A cavalcade of local growers and community members travelled with the carrot on the journey from Wellington to its final home. Celebrity status was accorded to The Carrot on the way, with many New Zealanders lining SH1 to wave and welcome the icon on its drive through their town or city. 

On 29 September 1984 the Ohakune Growers Association, with the support of the ANZ Bank, celebrated the adoption and marriage of the community with its new icon “The Carrot”.

Since then many thousands of people (some with celebrity status themselves) have been seen, filmed or photographed fawning at the foot of the famous monument.