Destinations

Southern charm

I spent years living in Wellington but hardly ever ventured over to the eastern bays on the rugged south coast – but I’m here now and I don’t know that I ever want to leave.

It’s not entirely my fault that I’m a stranger to this coastal neighbourhood: in my day the city’s sewage was pumped out at nearby ooa Point, and it didn’t smell too fresh.

But those days are long gone. The air is clean as a whistle, the road is winding but usually empty, and on a clear day, although the heart of the city is just 15 minutes away, you can see across Cook Strait to the snow-capped Kaikouras in the South Island.

In my opinion, the coast road from Lyall Bay to Seatoun is one of Wellington’s best-kept secrets.

You can either just come for a drive as part of a bigger Wellington trip or, like us, put down roots for a week or two and rent one of the cottages in Breaker Bay that looks out across the harbour entrance to Cape Palliser. (We found ours on www.bookabach.co.nz.)

The houses in this part of the city are nestled into the bottom of the hill, looking out to sea, and while you might miss out on the late sun because of the aspect, you also miss out on Wellington’s prevailing northerly wind.

Workers in town can be standing on the street with their dresses up around their ears while out in Breaker Bay there’s not a breath – unless there’s a southerly, of course, but even that has a certain wildly refreshing charm.

As I sit in the window of my cottage working, the Cook Strait ferries pass to and fro. And that’s not all – the day we arrived a whale was playing right in front of us.

Signs at either end of Breaker Bay remind you to watch out for penguins, and if you look carefully in the bushes, you might find nests the local schoolkids have built for the native birds. (Don’t look too carefully in the summer though as this bay is particularly popular with the clothing-optional brigade.)

There aren’t any shops on this stretch of the road, but at Seatoun to the north there is a very good Four Square and a delightful dress shop called Harry’s. There’s also a great butcher not far away in Strathmore or – I digress – if you go in the opposite direction and follow the coast road to Worser Bay, you can have fun trying to spot Peter Jackson’s house.

For a coffee fix, however, I head south to Lyall Bay, by the airport, where the oaranui Surf Club (rebuilt recently after a fire) serves good value food throughout the day in one of the few spots right on the water. How many places in the world can you watch planes land in the background while surfers ride the waves in front?

Across the road and around the corner is Queen Sally’s Diamond Deli, little sister to the oaranui, and with a 1950s charm that will take you back to your first ever milk bar visit.

Their date and orange scones are the best I have found – anywhere – and I have been looking for a long time and don’t say that lightly. Queen Sally’s date and orange scones are actually a reason all on their own to come to this neck of the woods.

Eat one, or two, and climb up to the Ataturk oemorial. Follow the ridge to the Pass of Branda back at Seatoun, then walk back along the coast road and have a nosey in the windows of all the houses.

That’s what I do when I am not sitting in one myself. If you see me, wave!

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