Destinations

Summer sojourns in New Zealand

Whether holidaying with family, friends or going solo, New Zealand has the perfect location. With this in mind, Cath Bennett takes a family road trip, and our columnists share their top destinations.

Hitting the road with an energetic toddler in tow can be a daunting prospect – and one that requires careful planning. Mindful of the time Zach’s breakfast ‘reappeared’ as we negotiated Marlborough’s winding Queen Charlotte Drive, this time I am well prepared, with sick bags and cleaning products as well as the usual comforters, snacks and distractions.

Happily, my precautions on our family road trip to the Bay of Plenty are unnecessary. And while Zach is mildly diverted by my enthusiastic pointing out of the cows, sheep and horses we see quietly sunning themselves in the rolling fields of the Waikato, it turns out my iPhone is all the entertainment he needs over the course of our three-hour drive to Waihi Beach.

Greeted by a glittering blue sea and the great expanse of the town’s 9km-long beach, it very quickly becomes clear why this is a holiday spot favoured by some of the country’s most savvy faces – including Helen Clark, John Kirwan and Theresa Gattung. While there is an abundance of baches available, many with prime beachfront locations, we opt to stay at Waihi Beach Top 10 Holiday Resort. Ideal for kids, it features a giant jumping pillow – like a floor-level trampoline – something which seems to enchant my fiancé Phil as much as it does our son.

However, I manage to drag them away as it’s lunchtime and I’m hungry. I’ve heard great things about Waihi Beach Hotel and Eatery, which a couple of years ago was taken over by the Hip Group – known for Auckland treasures such as Takapuna Beach Café and Richmond Road Café. From the outside it looks like a fairly basic rural pub, but stepping through to the eatery we find ourselves in a stylish, sunny area opening out onto lovely gardens. I barely catch Zach as he makes a beeline for the play area.

The menu is simple but effective, and the food beautifully presented. Soon I am tucking into delicately flavoured crumbed chicken cotoletta with crispy kale and pumpkin. The portions are enough to fill us without bloating… leaving plenty of room for the homemade ice-cream served up on-site in The Store.

From our accommodation at the north end of the beach, a popular walk is along the track over the cliffs to the secluded, pohutukawa-framed Orokawa Bay. While it’s a fairly easy 45-minute stroll, we’re warned it starts off rocky and is uneven in places, so given our two-year-old’s reliance on a pushchair, we instead opt to meander along the beach, splash in the waves and dream about buying a beachfront property.

Occupying a perfect spot along here is the infamous Flatwhite Café, which becomes something of the hub of the town in summer months. Unfortunately, on our visit it is still a building site, the operation having moved up the beach to the Surf Club while new premises are constructed. As the sun goes down we head along there, and discover the atmosphere wonderfully laid back, the food tasty, the service impeccable. We feel we have fully switched into holiday mode as we wander back to our beachside unit and fall asleep to the sound of the waves crashing on the beach.

Sadly, Zach’s holiday mode comes fully equipped with his built-in alarm clock, but the sting is taken out of our early start with his excitement at chasing the ducks waddling up to our outside deck, and the prospect of a refreshing dip in the resort pool.

Zach loved his perch on the back of Phil’s bike as they cycled around the streets of Mount Maunganui.

Today we are heading down to Papamoa, an easy hour-long drive. When I flicked through the local newspaper earlier, the cover story was about the number of Aucklanders swapping the City of Sails for the Bay of Plenty… and as we take in the beautiful sea views and the lack of traffic on the roads – not to mention the property prices – we can see why.

Given my current pregnancy, Zach’s age, and the fact Phil is a magnet for insects that bite, staying in a tent was never really an option for us on this trip. But I do like the family-friendly nature of camping grounds, which is why the unit we stayed in last night, and the beachfront villa at Papamoa Beach Resort we’ve just arrived at, are perfect. A small stretch of grass is all that separates us from the beach, and behind us is a giant playground, which Zach peers at excitedly from the window.

However, with ominous clouds on the horizon, we want to make the most of our time in the area, and so head towards Mount Maunganui, where we plan to hire bikes for the afternoon. On the way we stop at Tay Street Beach Café. While it doesn’t quite have the views of some of the more touristy eateries by the main beach, it’s a place popular with locals, and we soon see why. My lime fish tacos with black beans are fresh and zingy with citrus, while Phil wolfs down his chicken ramen – a giant bowl full of chicken, veg and flavour.

We grab our bikes from Bike Barn, where they have set us up with one especially fitted with a child seat for Zach. When hiring bikes from here it’s worth also getting your car fitted with a method of transporting them, so you can take advantage of the multitude of bike tracks in the area – including around picturesque Waikareao Estuary or McLaren Falls Park. Unfortunately, we discover my SUV doesn’t easily accommodate a bike rack, so we stick to nearby roads, many of which happily feature cycle lanes. You can’t cycle around The Mount – Mauao – itself, but we enjoy a leisurely tour along The Mall and across to Mount Maunganui’s Main Beach, Zach delighting in his new mode of transport. A child seat for Phil’s bike at home is firmly on the Christmas list!

The following day we return to Mauao, an extinct volcano that was formerly a Maori pa, where the remains of trenches are still visible. If Zach was a bit older it would have been great to scale the summit, which is over 230m high, but we settle for walking around the base. It’s a gorgeous stroll, the views out to sea framed by ancient trees, and there are plenty of places to stop, take a seat on the rocks and enjoy the odd cooling spray as the sea pounds the headland below.

It’s still a little early in the season to strip off and take a dip, so we instead head to the Hot Salt Water Pools which are situated at the end of our walk. Zach loves the warm water, particularly in the kids’ pool with mini slide, and it’s lovely to do a few lengths before lying back looking up at Mauao’s impressive peak.

The next morning we head to Mount Maunganui’s Little Big Markets – which take place on the first Saturday of each month and have become a bit of a local institution. Many of the stalls have a lovely boutique feel about them – offering everything from creative handmade gifts to artisan foods – and I find it hard to tear myself away from a stand featuring beautifully-sewn baby clothes. Zach is instantly drawn to a kids’ corner where there is craft and face-painting – and is only enticed away with the promise of meeting a real-life Baa Baa Black Sheep on the drive home.

Animals and diggers are two of my son’s great loves, so an afternoon doesn’t get much better than driving past a few roadworks on the way to meet some four-legged friends. Marshalls Animal Park is a great family attraction, set in expansive grounds where kids can get up close to a fair few of Old MacDonald’s mates, as well as emus, llamas and baby deer. It’s enough to wear out the sprightliest of toddlers… and ensure they sleep all the way home – no sick bag or iPhone required.

Little Oneroa Bay, Waiheke.

THE GIRLS’ WEEKEND AWAY

By Kate Rodger

If you asked me to count the number of fabulous weekends I’ve had on Auckland’s Waiheke Island over the years, it might magically coincide with the number of hangovers on Waiheke I have had. That said, they’ve been well-earned hangovers, and worth every moment of the pain – as Waiheke is one of those places that begs you to drink wine in the summer sunshine.

I’ve enjoyed a fair few girls’ getaways, and when it comes to the perfect destination for this sort of break, Waiheke is and always will be top of my list. The fact it’s a quick and easy ferry ride from Auckland, has a plethora of eating and drinking options and an impressive range of all-budget accommodation makes it the perfect spot.

In terms of places to stay, I’ve dabbled in the lot, from the pricier boutique hotel and lodge options (when someone else is paying), to dossing on a mate’s floor. However, for a group booking, a gorgeous bach overlooking the sea has become my go-to. You can spend as little or as much as you want, and it allows you to have all the girls under one roof to optimise those late-night wine and gossip sessions. It also gives you the option of cooking up your own breakfast after a lovely sleep-in. That said, who needs to cook on a girls’ weekend? There are just too many amazing places to eat on the island.

To get into the spirit of your girls’ weekend, start with wine and antipasto at Mudbrick Vineyard. Watch the sun setting in the distance over the stunning Auckland city skyline and feel your entire body and mind wind down to island time.

The next morning, after the obligatory lie-in, a swim is a great way to start the day – Little Oneroa, Palm Beach and Enclosure Bay are my picks for this. The swim will undoubtedly give you an appetite, which can be satiated by a Spanish feast at Casita Miro in Onetangi, where they source much of the produce on the property. The combination of delicious tapas-style dining and the hospitality of inimitable owner Cat Vosper combine to make this slice of Europe on Waiheke unbeaten. Once you’ve eaten your fill, adjourn to the olive grove, where you can sip your wine while lazing on blankets in the afternoon sunshine.

Other great eating options are Cable Bay Vineyards – a top choice for Sunday lunch – and Oneroa’s The Oyster Inn. The latter also offers luxury accommodation, right in the thick of it, just up the road from the beach.

Undoubtedly, strong coffee will be a key component of the weekend, and I recommend getting yours from Island Gelato Company in Oneroa.

Not one single minute spent on this jewel of the Waitemata is a wasted one – so I would encourage you to get the girls organised. One last piece of advice for all of the above – particularly for weekend lunches – is book ahead. Summer is crazy busy on the island, and you do not want to be disappointed.

Oriental Parade is the city’s scenic promenade.

THE SOLO TRAVELLER’S ESCAPE

By Annabelle White

Picture the scene: it’s a balmy summer’s evening in Wellington. Lying back on a bed so comfortable you wonder if you’ll ever get up from it, you can hear through the open ranchslider an ever-changing mix of happy sounds from people strolling around Oriental Bay. The dancing sea breeze encourages the sound of clanking halyards on the moored boats below. Inter-island ferries criss-cross in the distance and paddle boarders punctuate the oasis of blue. As darkness falls, the colourful city lights make it all very cosmopolitan.

It feels as though you are on board a ship, and is incredibly relaxing. So much so, sleep is deep and easily achieved.

Sojourns like this at the Copthorne Hotel Wellington in Oriental Bay are a feature of my Kiwi summer – and being by myself is no hardship. While this spot is outside the CBD, it’s an easy and safe walk into the central part of town.

In the morning, a short stroll takes you to Caffe L’affare, with its convivial atmosphere and communal tables, for a good coffee and breakfast. An added bonus is its close proximity to delicious cherries and treats at Moore Wilson’s food store over the road, where you can fill the backpack with sustenance for your great adventures.

Wellington is a super city to explore on foot and if, like me, you battle traffic every day, the luxury of using public transport – right down to getting the bus in from the airport – encourages the holiday feeling.

At the risk of sounding antisocial, what I love to do in Wellington is best enjoyed alone. Walking around the New Zealand Portrait Gallery should be done without distraction, and climbing Mt Victoria at your own pace for the heart-stopping view is better minus the talking. Explore the new precinct in Eva St (just off Dixon St), and relish visiting The Wellington Chocolate Factory for extraordinary tastes that you don’t have to share.

I love to jump on a bus to Miramar, where I explore the op shops, then visit Bongusto for great pizza in the sunshine. And there is no doubt the walk from Oriental Bay around the coastline towards the airport lifts the soul – you could be in the south of France… without the jet lag.

Make sure you take the cable car to the Botanic Garden, then walk back and reward yourself with a great meal at Loretta in Cuba Mall – always accommodating for a party of one. I have also recently discovered Field and Green on Wakefield St, which is worth a visit.

You never feel alone when surrounded by the happy vibe that is Wellington – although I should warn you, it’s addictive.

Nelson city centre.

MOTHER AND DAUGHTER TREAT

By Emma Jenkins

When it comes to ingredients for a relaxing break, I don’t think you can beat the combination of a doting older relative – my mum – and a picturesque location. Mother-daughter escapes without kids, partners or lists of household chores really are a chance to unwind and enjoy quality time.

I think the best location for this is Nelson. Packed with a huge variety of things to do, visit, eat, drink and admire, it also boasts one of the country’s most salubrious climates, regularly vying with Blenheim for the title of the nation’s sunniest spot.

If that alone doesn’t tempt you, the thought of some bonding time while shopping in Nelson’s compact city centre surely must. I love the fantastic range of boutique shops and galleries where you can find pretty much everything you’d ever need or want, and a bit more besides.

I’d suggest starting at Morrison Square for a good mix of national names and local treasures, then wandering a few blocks in any direction for further inspiration. The city’s reputation for fantastic arts and crafts means artists’ wares are easy to find. Make sure you catch the Saturday morning market in Montgomery Square, for an incredible array of fresh produce and products.

For anyone with even a passing interest in fashion or design, a visit to the World of WearableArt museum is a must. The Höglund Art Glass studio is also unmissable – and well worth the 20-minute drive out of town to see the mesmerising glass-blowers in action.

No visit to this region would be complete without going to the vineyards, which are some of the country’s best kept secrets. Neudorf’s wines are internationally acclaimed, and Seifried, Blackenbrook, Woollaston and Greenhough all have great ranges to explore – they’re perfect to sample while setting the world to rights on a weekend away with Mum!

When it comes to eating options, they are abundant. Check out the vineyard cafés at Moutere Hills, Waimea and Kahurangi Estates, or head to the Mapua Smokehouse for some posh fish and chips. To really treat yourselves, try the Boat Shed Café in town, where you can enjoy fine cuisine overlooking the water and those spectacular Nelson sunsets. You could also book into my favourite, Hopgoods Restaurant, for innovative dishes well matched to the local drops.

If you feel the need to work off all that food and wine, there are heaps of great walks for all fitness levels. Head up Botanical Hill to the ‘Centre of New Zealand’ for great exercise and amazing views. Or, for something a little more offbeat, I’d recommend reconnecting with your youth at the impressive local roller skating rink, which is open to the public on weekend afternoons. And if you end up with a scuffed knee, at least Mum will be there to make it all better!

Photography by Getty Images.

Get The Australian Woman’s Weekly NZ home delivered!  

Subscribe and save up to 38% on a magazine subscription.

Related stories