Annabelle White turns back the clock

The popular celebrity cook returns to her family's favourite New Zealand beach.
Ohope beach, North Island, New Zealand

“The drive over the hill from Whakatane on the road to Ohope will make your heart skip a beat as you marvel at the sheer beauty of Ohope Beach.

Expansive blue sea, waves crashing on pearly white sand, White Island simmering in the distance – you feel as if you’re skydiving off the edge.

It’s impossible not to be moved by the majestic sight of this fabulous destination.

It’s been described by many as our very best beach – 10 kilometres of pristine white sand and rolling surf – accessible to family groups, sports enthusiasts and holidaymakers who want to combine sea activities with fishing or hiking in the nearby kiwi-friendly bush.

Nordic walking fan Annabelle put her best foot forward with her cousin Owen Cranswick.

Our family has had links to Ohope for years. My father grew up on a farm in the area, but my grandfather, who served in Gallipoli and the Middle East, understandably developed a strong aversion to sand so the family had very rare excursions to the beach town.

My father wanted to rectify this situation with his own family. He always recounts the story in the early 1930s when famed aviator Sir Charles Kingsford Smith landed his plane in a sea of swirling sand and gave people joy rides one afternoon.

Just a young boy at the time, that day became deeply engrained in his memory and we heard the story many times.

The Nga Tapuwae o Toi coastal route goes from Whakatane to Ohope.

We have been going to the Sunseeker Motel on the West End for more than 48 years.

One year, I even met Olympic gold canoeist Lisa Carrington coming out of the surf.

For me, it’s a “turning back the clock” occurrence (it was our first beach experience) and a full sensory refresher course. It starts with falling asleep and waking up to the sound of the surf on the beach, the dawn bird chorus and the light, which bathes you in a sparkling coastal, salty hue.

Happiness is salt on your skin and sand in your shoes!

Chez Louis owner Jean-Louis and his master baker Noemie.

The pace of life is wonderfully relaxed – Wi-Fi coverage can be slower here – so it’s the perfect excuse to walk the trails, swim in the sea and sit in a café in shorts and a T-shirt all year round.

The best time to visit is late summer and early spring – away from the crowds and busy energy of the high season. It’s a great time to enjoy the magical combination of great food, talented local artists and outdoor activities.

Check out the work of local artists at Gallery 4 Art Sake.

Under a tree festooned with lights at the local pizzeria, you can understand why French rugby player Jean-Louis Desbats arrived here 10 years ago and decided to stay, or

why Kiwi-born restaurateur Tom Maguire, who used to live in Manhattan and operated busy cafés in Auckland, “fell in love and can’t leave”, and why my paddle board instructor Greig Dean combines international work with play in Ohope.

Ohope gets to you – you have been warned! It’s as much a destination as a wonderfully delirious state of mind.”

Munch on wood-fired perfect pizza from Chez Louis and enjoy the sea views.

An insiders guide to… Ohope

Best pizza: Chez Louis, 63 Pohutukawa Ave. Closed Mon-Tues in winter – open seven days in summer. Great wood-fired pizza, bread and baked goods. Take a seat outside in the garden with a view of the sea. French owner Jean-Louis Desbats and his master baker Noemie Lecurv serve up great food with a warm welcome.

Best Photo Op: Walk the Nga Tapuwae o Toi coastal route from Whakatane to Ohope – just check the tides allowing for low tide when you reach Otarawairere Bay. Allow three hours to enjoy the views.

Not to be missed: Go to Fisherman’s Wharf Café, 340 Harbour Rd, for a fresh fish dinner with your charming host Tom Maguire. Picture-postcard views over the Ohiwa Harbour and stunning sunsets.

Shopping destination: Check out Gallery 4 Art Sake, 23 Pohutukawa Ave. Custom- made jewellery at great prices and local art works.

Local Flavour: Enjoy a glass of wine and a delicious fish burger in Mollie, a beautifully restored retro caravan at Port Ohope General Store & Café, 311 Harbour Rd, and book a paddleboard lesson with Greig Dean.

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