A shift in the weather outlook requires a shift in the outlook of those on a journey, finds Anna King Shahab on a family holiday in the Bay of Plenty.
The plus side to departing Auckland on the Saturday of the Easter period, the day after everyone else? Very little traffic on the road from the city to the Bay of Plenty, when by all accounts Good Friday had proved a patience-tester. The flip side? Arriving at a fully-booked campground and trying to look cool as a cucumber about manoeuvring a six-berth Mercedes Maui camper around the one-way system and into a corner spot.
They’re a helpful lot, fellow motorhome enthusiasts, and a couple in an adjacent site popped over to cheer me on and help guide me. It was my first time driving a rig of this size and I’m happy to report I had us parked up, plugged in, with the awning out and the outdoor furniture set up for a relaxing afternoon in no time at all without breaking a sweat. There are no fewer than three large campgrounds at this northern end of Waihī Beach, and if Tasman Holiday Park Beachaven where we’re staying is any indication, this western Bay of Plenty spot is a popular spot for return campers. Whether in tents, caravans, or motorhomes, everyone seemed well and tidily set up for the long weekend.
FOOD FOR THE SOUL
Saturdays see the campsite’s woodfired pizza oven lit from 5pm, so after a stroll through the nearby village and a visit to the well-stocked local Four Square, we joined the queue to slide our thin-based pizza creations into the furnace. After just a couple of minutes cooking, they were done to melty, aromatic perfection. We loved the atmosphere around the communal kitchen and dining area as kids helped out topping pizzas, and grownups chatted to friends and strangers over a drink.
Flatwhite on Waihī Beach gets our vote for top breakfast spot, situated right on the beachfront with a cosy veranda area that kept us sheltered with a mint view as the south-easterly wind started to pick up. The big breakfast did what it said (the creamy mushrooms were especially good) and the littlest in the group was chuffed to be spreading strawberry jam and sweetened cream onto fluffy scones while sipping a hot chocolate. More sweetness followed: the campground’s annual egg hunt saw dozens of families gather at reception before wandering down to the nearby park where the kids rushed off (age handicaps help prevent too much chaos) to collect a ludicrous number of foil-wrapped eggs.
We worked it all off not long after on a walk up over the headland to neighbouring Orokawa Bay; the track runs from the north end of Waihī Beach just past the surf lifesaving club. Is there anything quite as lovely as reaching the end of one beach only to trail on up into the bush en route to another? This walk took us around 35 minutes each way, and the destination was well worth the effort; it was too choppy for swimming but its white sand, kissed by bowing pōhutukawa and fern-filled dell sitting in behind made for a lovely spot to linger a while.
Things changed a bit as the weather packed it in the following day. As rain pummelled the windows, we retracted the awning and packed away the chairs; our house on wheels became a sanctuary, and we were grateful for the ability to boil the kettle, heat and cook food, and lounge on our cosy seating and beds reading, bickering over board games (a mother’s job is to not win) and making millions of videos for TikTok (there’s a newly-minted teen on board). We discovered the heating system, which requires just the turn of a dial to activate, is highly efficient and a short blast got our ‘house’ nice and toasty for a whole night.
OUT AND ABOUT
A bit of weather wasn’t going to put us off jumping on the comfy trail bikes hired from Waihī Bicycle Hire and setting off for Bowentown, at the opposite end of the beach several kilometres away. The route is dead flat, and includes a nice smooth cycle path winding through Island View Reserve. We stopped half way at Waihī Beach Superette, home to what I’d wager is the most impressive offering of $1 and $2 lolly bags anywhere in the land – they have aniseed wheels, which I was overjoyed at. A late lunch at The Secret Garden, with its tropical planting and thatched huts, channelled Bali, though with Mexican tacos, rice bowls, and burritos on the menu. Because we hadn’t had a sweet fix in five minutes we called into Chez Moi – a true hidden gem of the township set down a driveaway off the main street. Swiss chocolatier Ines Hasler and partner Adrien Willa proffer beautiful handmade chocolates from their red and white-bedecked shop – Easter had almost cleaned them out but we snagged one each of all the delicious truffle varieties that were still available.
We unplugged our trusty motorhome, farewelled Waihī Beach, and cruised 45 minutes down the road to spend the next few nights at the foot of Mauao – our powered site at Mt Maunganui Beachside Holiday Park was as beachfront as it gets. I parked up with the rear of the camper facing the ocean, because that back window, with the cosy seating arranged beneath, is made for views. This is postcard Aotearoa: surf crashing onto the white sand, dune grasses glimmering gold, Norfolk pines parading along the esplanade and through the campground to meet the pōhutukawa-clad mountain. We had a luxurious two mornings waking up there, and sliding open the windows in our loft bedroom and absorbing the view of the sun rising over the sea had us nicely recharged after a busy start to the year – as did an early morning hike up Mauao: lucky locals who get to do that every day, we reckon.
The campground facilities at Mt Maunganui are again exemplary: excellent, clean bathrooms, kitchen, and laundry and an easy drive-through dump station. A booking there includes discounted entry to the hot pools that sit in between the two sides of the campground, which we took advantage of one evening, sinking into the 39-degree, mineral-rich water for a good soak. Another popular camping spot, it was quite a busy night there, so our private pool was a wonderful respite to just stop and enjoy the moment.
There are so many dining options at The Mount that we struggled to fit in everything we had planned, but we discovered lots of places we want to return to next time. Rice Rice Baby revived us with spot-on beef pho, grilled pork banh mi – and because it was Tuesday, two-for-one cocktails. So enters a theme of dining and drinking at The Mount. Anyone who likes a wee deal will be well-pleased here; many of the bars and eateries we visited had daily specials and happy hours on offer, and standards are clearly high. We loved the hearty plant-based cuisine at Gratitude Eatery, and The Rising Tide brewbar was something we’d transport back to Auckland in a jiffy – 40 craft beers, ciders, and cocktails on tap and baskets of steamed or fried dumplings made for a jolly time. The General must be one of the busiest and best cafés anywhere in the land, and we had an especially memorable meal at Solera – chef Neil Sapitula’s wine bar bolstered some seriously good food, much of it cooked straight on the fire or smoked over embers.
While it’s difficult to choose a favourite spot in what was a pretty special week, the real highlight of our time in the Bay of Plenty was a night on the lake. We were collected from the campground by Waimarino Kayak Tours and driven 20 minutes inland to McLaren Falls Park. As the sun set, our lovely guide Alex laid out platters of nibbles for us and talked us through our kayaking kit. We slipped into the double kayaks (adults at the back to control the rudder via pedals, kids up front to do their bit paddling), Alex pulled us out into the lake, and we were off paddling a few kilometres upstream to where the magic lies. As we approached the Ruahihi power station, the low hum and bubbling water at its base had the kids wondering aloud if this wasn’t just a bit ominous … but with Alex towing us for this section, and taking a right turn just before the building, it all made sense as we glided into a gorge. The bush-clad walls around us and the clouded sky meant we were now very much in the dark, and as our eyes adjusted we began to see lights – strings and clusters and constellations of them appeared as we slowly moved further into the gorge. To our delight, the cloud cover and drizzle worked in our favour: glow worms shine extra bright in these conditions. The paddle back is quicker, and after revelling in hot showers back at the campground we sat round hot drinks chatting about our adventure on the lake, all the other fun we’d had over the past five days, and all the reasons why another motorhome holiday is top of our list.
Anna and family were hosted by Tourism Bay of Plenty.
- Tasman Holiday Park tasmanholidayparks.com/nz/beachaven
- Mount Maunganui Beachside Holiday Park mountbeachside.co.nz
- Flatwhite Waihī Beach flatwhite.co.nz
- The Secret Garden secretgardenwaihibeach.co.nz
- Chez Moi chezmoichocolate.com
- Rice Rice Baby ricericebaby.co.nz
- Gratitude Eatery gratitude-eatery.business.site
- The General thegeneral.co.nz
- Surf Shack Eatery surfshackeatery.co.nz
- Rising Tide therisingtidemt.com
OUT & ABOUT:
- Waimarino Kayak Tours glowwormkayaking.com
- For more on Mount Maunganui, visit mountmaunganui.org.nz
- Download the Aratakai Cultural Trails app for more on walking Mauao arataki.app
- Book a private hot pool at mounthotpools.co.nz
- For Maui rental motorhomes visit maui-rentals.com
For more inspiration visit bayofplentynz.com.
Be in to WIN!
Want to kick back and relax on your own dream holiday in the Bay of Plenty? Together with our friends at Tourism Bay of Plenty, we’re giving you the chance to win the perfect beachside holiday – complete with campervan hire, your own powered site at Bowentown Beach Holiday Park and more.
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