Catherine Milford explores Whakatane

It was an inauspicious start. Crawling into the Bay of Plenty in pitch-black to hail and driving rain, it was clear our scheduled stop at the Whakatane observatory that night was likely to be cancelled. “Maybe they keep the stars in the telescope and we’ll still see them?” proffered my six-year-old son, Charlie. Sadly, this wasn’t to be, and my amateur astronomer had to be content with watching a lightning storm – a pretty good second!

It was only after we woke the next morning in our bach – appropriately named “The Ideal Spot” – that we got our first glimpse of how gorgeous the Bay of Plenty really is. It may be winter, but trees groaning with citrus line virtually every street, and fishermen can be seen on the cliffs and in the harbour, collecting seafood.

Should Armageddon hit, this is a good place to find yourself – a few scrumping skills and a fishing rod, and you’d be set.

We set off to investigate the area, beginning with a horse trek at TuiGlen in Kawerau. The drive is ruggedly beautiful – I couldn’t help picturing historical heroines on the sand dunes, dresses billowing in the wind as they gaze out to sea for their loved ones.

Anyway, I digress. Horse riding is a big hobby of mine, but I was riding with Charlie and Jess, my nine-year-old. Plus I figured the previous night’s rain would ruin any chance of decent riding – not so. It turns out the farm is built on volcanic soil, so apart from slightly shortening the ride through the river – with Jess squealing in ecstasy at being on a horse belly-deep in a river – it was as if the previous night’s weather had never happened.

While I could have happily spent all day there – and many do, as the farm also provides for kids’ camps and family groups, as well as one-off treks – it was time to move on, so I dragged the kids away from the pigs, the kitten and the hay bales and headed for Whakatane Airport, where we hopped on a six-seater plane to fly over White Island, New Zealand’s only live marine volcano. Hubby Trev and myself were mesmerised – being so close to such a phenomenon is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Not content with the day’s activities, we readied ourselves that night for a kiwi listening walk, courtesy of the Department of Conservation. While the kiwis were a bit thin on the ground, we saw some awesome spiders. Jess kept close to me that night.

After all that activity, we were ready for a break – so off we went to Awakeri Hot Springs. Located within a camping park, access is easy, and it’s perfect for soaking away aches and pains.

We had been there just long enough to only scratch the surface of this land of plenty – but it was time to leave.

After a final stop at Wally’s on the Wharf, where we were delivered the finest fish and chips I think we’d all ever eaten, it was time for the four-hour drive back to Auckland. Tired and happy, we made a promise to go back.

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