STRIK­ING CORO­MAN­DEL GOLD

WHILE THE GOLDEN TRI­AN­GLE OF WAIHI, WHANGA­MATA AND WAIHI BEACH ISN’T SHORT ON GLIT­TER­ING AC­TIV­I­TIES AND PRIS­TINE LAND­SCAPES, THE CORO­MAN­DEL’S TRUE GEMS ARE NOT TOUR STOPS BUT PEO­PLE GIV­ING BACK TO THE COM­MU­NITY

NZ Life & Leisure - - Taste -

MOTHER NA­TURE WENT well over­board in the area sur­round­ing Waihi. The Karanga­hake Gorge is stag­ger­ing in size and wears the Ohine­muri River like an ex­pen­sive silk scarf. Whanga­mata has not one, but two world- class surf beaches. Waihi Beach is framed by kilo­me­tres of white sand and wa­ter as blue as the sky above. And Waihi town­ship — well, Waihi is quite lit­er­ally built on a gold mine. But, don’t be dis­tracted by beauty. Turn in­stead to the lo­cals. If good peo­ple are hard to find, then some­one for­got to tell the res­i­dents of these three towns to hide. There are good peo­ple, do­ing good things, in all cor­ners. Whether it’s pro­tect­ing their nat­u­ral taonga, giv­ing hol­i­day­ing par­ents an hour of respite, or whip­ping up com­mu­nity spirit in the kitchen, the four busi­nesses that fol­low are just an ounce of the wealth wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered.

Ste­wart “Spike” Mil­li­gan owns more than one mil­lion Lego pieces. It’s lit­tle won­der, then, that his col­lec­tion is housed not in a man­cave or on a few shelves in the spare room, but a multi-room build­ing in the mid­dle of Waihi. This is Spike’s happy place, where he ded­i­cates his days to shar­ing his stag­ger­ing col­lec­tion with the pub­lic, much to the end­less de­lights of par­ents who’ve ex­hausted their rainy-day ideas or grown tired of hear­ing the dreaded “I’m bored”.

It was a love that blos­somed late in life; dairy and beef farmer Spike pur­chased a Lego set for his then four-year-old son, and had a bit of fun putting it to­gether. That model turned into an­other, and an­other, and then over 597 more. His 600-strong col­lec­tion en­com­passes the best of Le­goland. There are planes, trains and au­to­mo­biles, a Taj Ma­hal and “Tech­nics”, a 4000-piece Big Ben and a 6500-piece Hog­warts, plus Lego re­mote-con­trol cars for vis­i­tors to race. It’s a mini­won­der­land on a grand scale, and Spike is the in­fec­tiously en­thu­si­as­tic ring­leader. His col­lec­tion has gained value over the years (“if you had in­vested in gold or Lego 10 years ago, Lego would have made you more”) but that’s not why he does it. He just loves Lego, plain and sim­ple. 25 Haszard Street, Waihi, 027 451 5706, on Face­book

COOK­ING WITH KIND­NESS: THE SURF SHACK

The long arms of the bur­rito draped lan­guidly over the sides of the plate and waved with each step the woman took. Heads turned. Mouths dropped. Chil­dren clutched par­ents’ arms; par­ents clenched their knives and forks pre­par­ing to de­fend their meal against lit­tle hands; and the so­cial-me­di­a­minded whipped their phones from pock­ets. The re­ac­tion elicited a smile from the woman as she placed the plate on the ta­ble with a

thunk. To say big­ger is bet­ter, mas­sive is mar­vel­lous and enor­mous is ex­pected at the Surf Shack is an un­der­state­ment.

It’s not just the food that’s huge at the pan­cake-house-turned-café in Athen­ree, Waihi Beach; hearts here are as big as fry­ing pans. Pippa Coombes and her wife Jo took over the busi­ness in 2015. The years since have seen them named the 2017 Café of the Year Peo­ple’s Choice Award win­ner; Lonely

Planet hails them as hav­ing pos­si­bly the best burg­ers in New Zealand. Hun­gry pa­trons have been left in rap­tures by the eclec­tic menu, which mixes street food with good old home cook­ing. Not bad for two for­mer en­force­ment of­fi­cers with no hospi­tal­ity ex­pe­ri­ence.

Pippa and Jo came to Waihi Beach in search of a cruisy re­tire­ment (they now chuckle fondly at such naive bliss). In­stead, they’ve found them­selves at the helm of one of Waihi Beach’s favourite spots. Pippa braces her­self when she hears a he­li­copter land­ing at the air­field next door; af­ter all, flights have been char­tered from Auck­land with the sole in­ten­tion of buy­ing her burg­ers for lunch. The Surf Shack also has a rep­u­ta­tion for do­ing good — every year Pippa and Jo use spe­cial menu items to sup­port char­i­ties, in­clud­ing Can­teen and the Surf Life Sav­ing Club. In 2018, they also col­lected bras to do­nate to women in need. 123 Emer­ton Road, Waihi Beach, (07) 863 4353, surf­shack­cafe.co.nz

THE PRO­TEC­TORS: WHENUAKURA IS­LAND

Whenuakura Is­land (or Donut Is­land) in Whanga­mata is a spir­i­tual place. Sa­cred to lo­cal iwi and el­e­vated to church-like sta­tus by in-the-know lo­cals, it is one of the Coro­man­del’s most pho­to­genic taonga. Formed when a blow­hole col­lapsed, pad­dlers en­ter through an open­ing in the rocky cliff­side and float into an open cav­ern in the mid­dle of the is­land.

“It’s a hid­den par­adise,” says NZ Surf N Stay owner Ka­t­rina Mil­lar, “all you can hear is the sound of lap­ping wa­ter and the echo­ing rum­ble of the swell. It’s like a scene from a Dis­ney film, or Juras­sic

Park when en­ter­ing the turquoise la­goon. I al­ways get the same feel­ing when I lean back and look up through the tree canopy — it’s a spe­cial ex­pe­ri­ence.”

The is­lands off Whanga­mata are privately owned by lo­cal iwi, the kaiti­aki/ guardians of the is­lands. Three are wildlife sanc­tu­ar­ies, in­clud­ing Whenuakura, and are there­fore off-lim­its to the pub­lic. Whenuakura Is­land, a kilo­me­tre off­shore, was home to tu­atara un­til the 1980s, and the goal of the kaiti­aki is to see them back on the land, only pos­si­ble if the is­lands are kept preda­tor-free. The rise of Whenuakura Is­land as an in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned tourism des­ti­na­tion has threat­ened the sanc­tu­ary, and iwi and lo­cals are work­ing to­gether to make sure it re­mains pro­tected.

While the pub­lic is al­lowed to en­ter the cav­ern and ex­plore the is­land from the wa­ter, land­ing is banned and guided tours, such as those of­fered by NZ Surf N Stay or Surf­sup, are rec­om­mended. The role of the guides is not only to nav­i­gate pad­dlers through the en­try, which can be dan­ger­ous depend­ing on weather and tide, but also to pro­tect the is­land and en­sure vis­i­tors are re­spect­ful. 227 Bev­er­ley Ter­race, Whanga­mata, (07) 865 8323, surfn­staynewzealand.com

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: THE FALLS RE­TREAT

The mo­ment that Brad and Emma King saw the prop­erty, they knew they wanted to buy it. The then-Goose Farm tea­rooms of­fered ev­ery­thing they’d dreamt of — room for a young fam­ily, a change of lifestyle, a restau­rant for chef Brad and ac­com­mo­da­tion. It al­most all worked out: “There’s no lifestyle now”, rues Emma, “we never thought it would reach the level it has.” Un­der Brad’s award-win­ning ex­per­tise, the Falls Re­treat Bistro has be­come one of the re­gion’s most revered eater­ies, and not only be­cause of his food. The two­some are also rec­og­nized for their en­vi­ron­men­tal ef­forts and a pad­dockto-plate ethos.

“Brad has a spe­cial gift, and great food shouldn’t be ex­clu­sive. The bistro is warm and friendly, and dogs and chil­dren are more than wel­come. Good dishes are cre­ated from good in­gre­di­ents, and we grow what we put on the plate.”

The restau­rant veg­gie gar­den isn’t only for the ben­e­fit of the din­ers, Emma and Brad also hold work­shops on cook­ing and fer­ment­ing for the wider com­mu­nity, whom they credit in part for their suc­cess.

“The com­mu­nity is so sup­port­ive and is full of creative peo­ple and ideas. We run Barter at the Bistro where lo­cals can bring in ex­cess pro­duce and we ex­change it for a meal.”

Lovely lo­cals aren’t the only ones en­joy­ing Emma and Brad’s hospi­tal­ity. These two are also pa­tron saints of aching cy­clists. Weary Hau­raki Rail Trail cy­clists can in­dulge in a glass of wine and dessert be­fore coax­ing their legs to make the jour­ney a few more me­tres to the on-site ac­com­mo­da­tion. Rose Cot­tage was here when Emma and Brad pur­chased the prop­erty, but they’ve now added the tiny Wa­ter­fall Cabin as a cosy cou­ples re­treat. If height or fam­ily size calls for a larger space, then Rose Cot­tage sleeps four and has a kitch­enette in­cluded (but, re­ally, the bistro is right there). 25 Waitawheta Road, Waihi, (07) 863 8770, fall­sre­treat.co.nz

MODEL CIT­I­ZEN: SPIKE’S BRICKS & MOD­ELS

Ka­t­rina Mil­lar and Mauro dal Bosco.

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