I live in Tauranga, New Zealand. But not for much longer. The time has come to fly the nest.
Laugh all you want. Hamilton’s a nice place. (I’ve written about it here – fingers crossed I won’t have to eat my words!) But it’s not as nice as Tauranga.
Living in Tauranga has ruined me for anywhere else.
Just yesterday, we visited our local beach and took a few pictures.
Yes, that’s our local beach. That’s Mount Maunganui, known locally as the Mount. Well, actually, as the Mount is situated at the end of a very narrow peninsula that has a beach on either side, that’s two of our many local beaches. And if you walk around the base of the Mount, you’ll find many more miniature beaches and so be able to claim your own private beach. God, I love living in Tauranga.
Tauranga is the perfect place for a holiday. In fact, my family came here for a holiday about ten years ago. I never imagined we’d end up living here.
There’s a holiday park right at the foot of the Mount. (That’s it in the photograph.) If you ever hire a campervan in New Zealand, you should totally take it there.
There are hot pools right next-door. Locals get a discount, (you just have to take in a bill or something to prove you live in Tauranga,) but so do patrons of the holiday park.
Also, just across the road is a very nice ice cream parlour called Copenhagen Cones. This place even does baby cones for $1 – why, oh why can’t ALL ice cream parlours do this?
Yesterday, we took advantage of the glorious spring weather to walk around the base of the Mount. The sun was really hot, but the Mount base track is partly shaded and you get a cooling breeze off the sea. The pohutukawa trees on both sides of the track were teeming with tuis showing off to attract mates. In summer, the track is resplendent with the Christmas-red blooms of the pohutukawa.
I found a wonderful place for a picnic.
And I observed a native Kiwi in its natural habitat.
Summer is well and truly here. The sun’s out and so’s school. The cicadas are chorusing and I’m lying here on a picnic blanket, surrounded by my nana’s flowers, trying to forget my hay fever. This, as it happens, is easy: my mind is drawn irresistibly towards what is coming, fast approaching on the cycle of inevitability – barbecues and beaches.
One beach in particular comes to mind, an enclosed stretch of golden-white sand at the foot of a forested cliff, its crystal-blue waters a stage for magnificent rock formations, so beautiful they seem deliberately sculpted.
I’m just going to go ahead and say it: Cathedral Cove is the best beach in New Zealand.
Oh, I’m not saying it doesn’t have stiff competition and plenty of it – this is New Zealand we’re talking about, but its magic is undeniable. Clearly. I mean it was used as a location in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, the bit where Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter have just made it back into the fantasy world. You thought that was CGI? I wouldn’t blame you if you did, but Cathedral Cove really is that gorgeous.
You know why it’s called Cathedral Cove? The beach’s crowning glory is a large cave that forms a natural archway, pointed like a cathedral. When you walk under it, it really does feel like you’re in a man-made chamber with a high, vaulted ceiling. People get married underneath it! It’s amazing.
I’ve been to it a grand total of once. It was ages ago now. My family had taken a six berth campervan rental up to the Coromandel, which is one of the best places for camping in New Zealand, but what I didn’t realise was you can’t get to Cathedral Cove via any road vehicle. It can only be reached by boat, or by quite a long bush walk. We walked, and let me tell you now: BRING A BOTTLE OF WATER.
The walk to Cathedral Cove takes about forty-five minutes, but it’s worth it. More than worth it. The sight that met me, gasping and sweating at the end of the track, was… well…
Coming from England, I was used to nicely ordered beaches, stretches of grey sand and grey water bisected by a pier, possibly lined with garish beach huts, definitely with a fish and chip shop, a tacky arcade, and somewhere that sold buckets and spades and plastic swords close by. New Zealand beaches aren’t ordered. What they have is the random beauty of nature and, at Cathedral Cove, the beauty of nature is in evidence on a dramatic scale.
Cathedral Cove is a marine reserve. That means there’s an abundance of colourful fish and corals, and on top of that the water is quite clear, so it’s great for snorkelling in. Kayaking is popular at Cathedral Cove as well, but at the time we went the sea was unusually rough and we saw a couple of guys capsize! Also, as my family have just reminded me, my dad lost his sunglasses in the surf.
I don’t remember swimming much; I spent ages splashing around in the shallows and scrambling on rocks. Cathedral Cove is fantastic for kids. The beach on either side of the big cave offers a slightly different experience and, of course, unlike most other beaches, there’s available shade.
My little sister’s just said that she remembers chafing. That’s because she didn’t dry herself off properly before setting out on the forty-five minute walk back to our campervan. So there’s a cautionary tale for you.
It’s unfortunate that Cathedral Cove is so difficult to access in comparison to most other beaches. You can’t simply park a minute away from the sand. On the other hand, its relative isolation is part of what makes it so magical.
It’s different. Once you go to Cathedral Cove, you’ll never forget it. It’s not just beautiful, it’s spectacularly beautiful, which is why I say it’s the best beach in New Zealand. Either by boat or by bush walk, you just HAVE to go there.
One of the first places I remember visiting in New Zealand was Muriwai Beach. It was just over twelve years ago, (although I’ve been back many times since,) and my mum, my little sister and I had just got off the plane, and my dad, (who had already been in New Zealand for six months,) was eager to show us all the wonderful sights our new home had to offer. The ten-year-old me was quite impressed with Muriwai. It had the luxuriously soft black sand that was still a novelty back then, (and still is, frankly,) but what made it special were the breathtaking views of its massive gannet colony.
Muriwai’s only a forty-minute drive from Auckland City, on the wild west coast. It’s a good surfing beach – I’ve done a bit of boogie boarding there myself – and there’s a campground right next to it, complete with powered sites for campervans. It’s also a good fishing beach, which is probably why the gannets like it too.
The gannets can be seen from viewing platforms on the cliff above them. They really are beautiful birds. They’re streamlined like arrows with golden heads and electric blue eyes. And there are shedloads of them. It’s amazing to watch the couples dancing about their nests, taking it in turns to fly out to sea, dive into the waves and return to feed their chicks. Even if you’re not someone who likes bird watching, you’ll be entranced by this.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the blowhole. It’s rather exciting waiting for the water to spurt geyser-like up from the round hole in the flat platform of rock. I remember begging my mum to stay for “just one more big one” and wanting to get as close as I could to it. My parents were right to be cautious though – I don’t know how many people have fallen down it and died, but the most recent one was last year.
If you’re travelling around New Zealand, Muriwai Beach is definitely a location for your must-see list. I recommend taking a warm jacket, as it’s really windy on the cliff where you watch the gannets and you’ll want to linger awhile. Writing about it now is making me want go there again. Well… summer is practically here – it was boiling today… and my boyfriend’s parents do live out west…
There’s one place in New Zealand that I’ll remember fondly forever, somewhere my family always went for picnics when we first arrived here, the place that taught a bitter, homesick ten-year-old how wonderful it is to live in New Zealand: Awhitu.
Awhitu – pronounced ‘ah-fee-too’ as the Maori ‘f’ sound is represented by a ‘wh’ – is a peninsula that spouts up from Waiuku, the small town my family used to live in, south of Auckland. It is home to the Awhitu Regional Park, a place of peaceful, understated beauty with a bit of interesting history thrown in.
The main picnic area has a bookable barbecue and plenty of benches, but also lots of trees you can spread a blanket under and open spaces perfect for playing – my family used to take our badminton rackets and shuttlecocks, not that we were any good with them. The area was always full of fantails, cute, friendly, little birds that flitted about beneath the branches, waiting for us to rouse the insects from the grass.
We didn’t always eat our picnics in that area though. Sometimes we descended the sandstone cliff and ate our egg sandwiches on the beach, in the shade of ‘our’ pohutukawa tree. I don’t know how many other families referred to that tree as theirs, but we were pretty annoyed when anyone beat us to the spot.
The view out over the water was rather lovely. There’s a tiny island close to shore, (so close you can walk to it at low tide if you don’t mind sinking knee-deep in mud, but is deceptively far if you try to swim to it,) that is little more than a yellow rock with a few low trees and a single tall tree at the crest of it. This single tall tree is actually quite striking, and turns the view of an otherwise ordinary New Zealand beach into a perfect painting.
And the Auckland Regional Council has, in fact, turned the view into a painting. Awhitu, like a number of other regional parks around Auckland, has a giant, golden picture frame featuring a jumble of New Zealand plants and animals, which is placed at a point from which there is a fantastic view through it, creating a ‘natural masterpiece’ – a painting of which every tourist has to get a photo and every child has to climb into. Locals hate those picture frames, but the ten-year-old me loved them.
I also loved swimming at Awhitu – the water is ideal for it. And I enjoyed walking along the beach until we got to the old jetty and the jutting piece of cliff, which was very scenic and had lots of boulders you could scramble over at the bottom. What is it about scrambling over boulders that’s so satisfying?
There are some longer walks you can go on at the top of the cliffs, but not too long. One takes you past the Brook Homestead, a wooden house in a quiet glade that was built in 1878 by a family of English immigrants. Here we were, English immigrants one and quarter centuries later, and how much easier it was for us. We didn’t have to build our house from scratch with our own hands in some remote location. We didn’t have to live in a shack consisting of two tiny rooms until our proper house was ready. My sister and I didn’t have to sleep in the roof cavity, which would have been freezing in winter and roasting in summer.
Next to the Brook Homestead is a campground where you can park a campervan for up to seven nights, though, to be honest, there probably isn’t enough around there to occupy you for a full week. Even so, it’s a popular place to camp. There’s another campground close by, and a self contained campervan parking area in which you can stay for one night. Bookings are recommended, especially during the summer.
What’s special about Awhitu is not many international tourists know about it, so when you camp there, you’re usually accompanied by locals. It’s a tranquil, isolated sort of place. The Waiuku townsfolk say that the people who live up the Awhitu Peninsula have webbed toes, but then people from bigger towns say the same of the people who live in Waiuku.