Bay of Plenty

Let's Travel - - CONTENTS - Words by Paul Rush

Drive to the Bay of Plenty through Waihi and Katikati and the won­der of it all starts to sink in. Mount Maun­ganui is New Zealand’s ‘mini Gold Coast’…a golden en­clave of sea­side plea­sures. Pa­pamoa’s res­i­den­tial en­clave is ‘How­ick-on-sea’ and Whakatane is our very own ‘Noosa’.

Cap­tain James Cook found an abun­dance of ev­ery­thing he de­sired in the Bay and to­day it is still the same – a prime coastal strip in the sunbelt where the sand might well be gold dust and the land pure plat­inum judg­ing by its mar­ket price. Down here there’s plenty of ev­ery­thing…sun­shine, leisure, fun and ad­ven­ture.

Climb­ing to the sum­mit of The Mount is a ‘must do’ ac­tiv­ity. Seabirds wheel and dive over­head, their plain­tive cries ris­ing above the in­sis­tent crash of ocean waves. Far be­low, diminu­tive, skin-tanned fig­ures lie on the beach in ran­dom clus­ters and oth­ers splash about in New Zealand’s only salt-wa­ter hot pools. An un­bro­ken stretch of white sand sweeps south into the dis­tant heat haze of Pa­pamoa.

De­scend­ing from my peace­ful ‘Bay­watch’ eerie I re­join the real world, which is ar­rest­ingly clam­orous by com­par­i­son. Laugh­ter, an­i­mated con­ver­sa­tion, ka­boom­ing car stereos, throb­bing V8 en­gines and shouted greet­ings en­liven the scene. I seek refuge in Café Bar Es­tilo and soak up the am­bi­ence and cheer­ful va­pid­ity of the beach life­style.

The Mount is syn­ony­mous with sum­mer hol­i­days and long, lazy days on the beach, the fresh scent of salt spray, sun lo­tion, ice-cream and the aroma of cof­fee. This fresh-faced, bub­bling sea­side town has an abid­ing spirit of hol­i­day fun. Youths in board-shorts and girls in biki­nis saunter along the side­walk, while chill-out mu­sic flows out the open door of a cock­tail bar.

I spend a rest­ful night in the mo­torhome at Pa­pamoa Beach Re­sort and en­joy a view of the ocean with the beach as a doorstep. Eat­ing out is a breeze as the Blue­biyou Restau­rant is right next door with an ex­cel­lent a la carte menu to cater for ev­ery taste.

The beach­side life­style is ad­dic­tive and I have a date with a ‘blokart’ at Pa­pamoa. This cross be­tween a go-kart and a land yacht seems like a ve­hi­cle pos­sessed with a breath­less, heart-stop­ping de­sire to ‘fly’ around the track. It’s a fast, ex­hil­a­rat­ing spin that ticks all the boxes for an avid ad­ven­ture-lover, giv­ing plenty of thrills with­out the spills.

I overnight at the peace­ful Pikowai camp­site. Af­ter dark the el­e­men­tal sounds of na­ture are all around. The wind sighs in the shel­ter­ing pine belt and the surf has a full reper­toire of sounds. It be­gins with a hol­low boom­ing as break­ers pound an un­der­sea shelf. Then a sound like rush­ing wind sig­nals the surge of waves up the peb­ble beach. This segues into a sus­tained hiss as the surge looses mo­men­tum, fi­nally dy­ing out to a mere whis­per as the tongues of wa­ter slide back down.

At Matata, I leave the coast for the small vil­lage of Edge­cumbe and re­stock my camper at the River­slea Mall. I’m al­ways drawn to the sooth­ing wa­ters of Awak­eri Hot Springs when I pass this way. It has an ex­cel­lent mo­tor camp but I’m chas­ing the wilder­ness on this trip and have my sights on the Tarawera River out­let on the east­ern shore of Lake Tarawera.

The Kawa­rau In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre pro­vides me with an in­ex­pen­sive ac­cess per­mit to the Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion camp­site. It’s a 30km scenic drive to the lake through mag­nif­i­cent for­est glades dap­pled with sun­light and in­hab­ited by elu­sive deer, pigs and wal­la­bies. On the way I visit the jaw-drop­ping Tarawera Falls, spilling out of a high cliff face like a gi­ant wa­ter hy­drant and swirling in crys­tal-clear trout pools.

Be­fore leav­ing the Galatea Plains I de­tour to the Ran­gataiki River, an­other sparkling gem that emp­ties into the Bay of Plenty. At Matahina, the North Is­land’s largest earth dam looms above the land­scape and Kiwi Jet Tours pro­vides 90-min­utes of high-speed ac­tion, zip­ping past pre­cip­i­tous ig­n­imbrite cliffs and do­ing white-knuckle 360 de­gree spins.

Con­tin­u­ing around the coast, I ad­mire the grace­ful bronze statue of Wairaka at the Whakatane River mouth. This beau­ti­ful long-haired Maori maiden poised ready to fly off her an­chor rock. This brave girl of thir­teen years broke the tapu on fe­male waka pad­dlers and guided the Mataatua ca­noe to safety way back in the mists of time.

Pon­der­ing The Pa­cific

Strolling on Main Beach

The Mount pro­vides the per­fect stair­way to the sky for su­perla­tive views

Ex­treme Kite Surf­ing

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