Bay of Plenty
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