Give me a good estuary any day of the week and I'll take it over almost any other body of water, be it the coast, river, creek or harbour. All except a good lake, of course. There's something profound about an estuary speaking loudly of an abundance of life – at any stage of the tide – from a drunken fullness lapping at the shoreline, to a glistening mud flat.
When I arrived at Omokoroa on a recent quiet Sunday morning, I had no prior knowledge of the place I was visiting on the recommendation of veteran RVers Ron and Averill Blake.
I'd taken delivery of the Brevio from Wilderness Rentals the day before and driven across the Hauraki Plains in dull and drizzly conditions. The cloudless blue sky so dominant of the recent summer was now completely covered with dark, menacing cloud. It did nothing to diminish my elevated mood as I drove toward the beautiful Bay of Plenty. Instead, I was captivated by the magical, moody light of autumn illuminating the mature trees lining both sides of the road, and happily imagined myself in rural France.
I was heading to an afternoon wedding near Katikati when the rain suddenly stopped. The nuptials took place in glorious sunshine. Afterwards, I tumbled into my comfy bed in the van to sleep with the blinds up so I could enjoy the myriad of stars and a fingernail moon reflected in the water. Far off in the distance, the lights of Tauranga winked along the skyline.
At dawn, the tide was high. Waders nibbled at the grassy edges. A harrier hawk glided low in search of unwary prey. I imagined a group of rebel-rousing rabbits rolling home after a night of revelry and, while I wished for their safety, could've watched the estuarine wildlife all day. Instead, I reluctantly wend my way back to the highway of reality and my next engagement.
At first glance Omokoroa appears as just another outlying suburb of Tauranga — a mix of avocado and kiwifruit orchards, road-side stalls and street after suburban street of recently-constructed McMansions.
I passed two attractive motorcamps and had already been told this region is motorhome friendly with allowance for freedom campers in limited numbers on the foreshore.
Ah, the foreshore. The magnificent foreshore. The quiet inlet dotted by leisure craft and dominated by a long jetty was a delicious surprise. I pulled the Brevio into a bay near the ferry landing. From here a regular, private, vehicular ferry service plies to nearby Matakana Island.
The ocean beaches of the 20-kilometre long island are popular with surfers, some of whom arrive by water taxi, while others paddle across from the mainland in suitable conditions. No matter how they arrive, no visitor can venture beyond the high tide mark unless invited to do so by the local iwi, or by joining a tour group.
Having just learned this, a Uruguayan tourist sat with her legs forlornly dangling over the edge of the ferry landing. I said I'd look out for her as I headed out later that morning, but she was nowhere to be seen. I hoped she'd been able to catch a ride across to Matakana Island with the milk tanker.
Meanwhile, I checked out the adjacent Omokoroa Boating Club, the broad decks of which jutted out invitingly over the water. Joining the queue at the server, I ordered bacon and eggs with a coffee and wandered on to the sunny deck to take in the views.
The accompanying images can speak for themselves while I tell you the food was terrific: perfectly poached eggs on toasted focaccia with a hint of rosemary, and a serve of crisp bacon. Faultless. The club is open to visitors for meals, however they will need to be a signed in by a member if they wish to drink alcohol.
RV parking is available for overnighters in the car park next to the shop, although for only three vans at a time. Above the well-stocked shop is an Italian restaurant open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Next door, the broad foreshore reserve, park and playground was packed with families enjoying their Sunday morning.
If you love estuaries, boats and better than average food served in a rare waterfront setting, few places will serve you better than a stopover in Omokoroa.
For me, the time had come to choose a return route and I tossed up between the steep and winding road up and over the Kaimai Ranges, or the road through Te Aroha. In the end my third option won out — Paeroa to Thames and Auckland via the Seabird Coast.
Paeroa, last year voted top community at the New Zealander of the Year Awards, is worth a stopover. Not only is it close to all the walks and amenities of the spectacular Karangahake Gorge, the town itself oozes charm, and is a mecca for lovers of antiques and arts. Once a year Paeroa plays host to The Battle of the Streets which sees all kinds of vintage and new motorcycles race through the township.
As I pulled away from Paeroa, the soft light of a perfect autumn day etched the shadows of mature poplars sharply against the bright green hills. I had Highway 26 to myself and tootled along through a series of small townships lined with quaint buildings. To the right lay the dramatic Coromandel ranges and everywhere there was strong sense of the early European history of these gold-rush towns.
At Kopu, my heart once again sung the estuary song as I passed over the wide Waihou River and nosed north near the firth of Thames, to take in the spectacular Seabird Coast, the details of which deserve a separate story.
From here it was onwards to Auckland, and the reluctant return of the Brevio, my home away from home.
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