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A Weekend Getaway on the Bay of Plenty Coast

Lori Keller

December 3, 2013

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Sometimes a great weekend getaway is as good as a week away. If that getaway takes me to a beautiful, out-of-the -way place, even better.

Such was the case last weekend.

After packing a small amount of fishing gear, and a chilly bin of food and drink, we headed out from Rotorua toward the Bay of Plenty coastline.  A scenic 45 minute drive along Lake Rotorua and the surrounding hillside saw us arrive at the relaxed seaside village of Maketu. It was early afternoon, and the locals were out enjoying the sun, making the most of the early summer conditions.  The tide was on the rise, and as the afternoon wore on, the surf club car park began to fill as more and more surfers arrived to make the most of the 4-5ft waves.

Maketu
Maketu
Courtesy of Western Bay of Plenty District Council

I am not a Bay of Plenty local, but the greetings and welcomes we received  from residents certainly made us feel like we were long-standing members of the community. A truly wonderful experience. As the waves began to mellow at Maketu, we drove over the hill to another seaside village, Pukehina, to try our hand at surf-casting. As daylight faded, we had yet to catch ourselves any of the early season snapper or kawahai that we had hoped would be on our dinner menu. As we packed our gear back intothe van, with hearts a little forlorn, two local fishermen parked up alongside us.

“No Luck?” one asked, leaning across from the the passenger seat.

“Nope, nothing . . .” I replied.

“Do you like flounder?” the other asked.

“Yes, love it, ” I replied, “But we don’t have our flounder net with us. Shame.” I answered back.

“No, I mean, do you WANT some flounder?” the driver replied.

“Really?” I was stunned.

“Yeah, we caught heaps yesterday . . . my wife is sick of eating them. I’ll go home and get you some . . . ” And with that, they were off down the road.

They returned 15 minutes later with 3 flounder and a piece of paper with their contact details for the next time we visited.

With dinner sorted, we headed back to the campsite. We made a meal fresh Waihi Bay flounder, salad, a cool ginger beer, and a warm fuzzy feeling that this weekend was one of the best weekends we had had for a long, long, time.

Thanks to everyone we met last weekend. You’ve made this summer one of the best already.

Sunset at the end of a Great Day
 

Situated at the end of one of New Zealand’s most spectacular roads, the little village of French Pass nestles comfortably between the torrent waters of French Pass and New Zealand’s 8th largest island, D’urville Island.

With a small DoC Campsite,  and a boat ramp metres away, an annual trip to the Pass to fish and enjoy the pristine environment is always high on our agenda.

Getting to French Pass is a big part of the fun. While the road is well maintained, it remains a true ‘kiwi’ road, gravel in most places, with one lane bridges, and sheers drops alternating between the east and west.  Sheep and cattle roam freely over the hillsides, and cattle stops (and gates) are frequent. You will quickly secure all drawers and loose items after passing over your first cattle stop!

View from French Pass Road (courtesy French Pass Sea Safaris & Beachfront Villas)

View from French Pass Road (courtesy French Pass Sea Safaris & Beachfront Villas)

The views from the road are stunning. I read in one travel guide that the drive takes 2 hours from the turn-off from State Highway 6. I suppose it would if you drove non-stop. We normally allow 3 – 3.5 hours for the drive. We stop often, take photos, and make a cup of tea (or two) along the way. If you are driving from Nelson, add 45 minutes to reach the turn-off, or coming from Blenheim, add 1.5hours.

After a long drive, it is always a pleasure arriving in French Pass. The road winds dramatically as you make a short, sharp descent into the village. After a long drive at elevation, it always comes as a bit of a shock to suddenly be at the beach. The views to D’urville Island are always stunning, and the jetty is a welcome site after a long, dusty drive.

The DoC camp is located on the waterfront, and has 18 sites. It is always a good idea to reserve a site from November through February as the place fills with Kiwis escaping for a week or a weekend during the warm summer months. If you bring a boat, there is boat parking along the waterfront (for larger boats) and smaller ones can be kept with your vehicle in the campsite.

If you are keen to experience the outdoors, French Pass has a large number of activities. Boat-based wildlife tours (seals, dolphins, whales) are available, as are fishing charters and bird watching excursions.  Hiking tracks are numerous and range from easy to difficult. Ask the local shop owner for some suggestions if you aren’t sure which direction to head.

Of course, fishing is a priority for many visiting French pass, and the jetty is a perfect place to drop your line.

Jetty at French Pass (courtesy French Pass Sea Safaris & Beachfront Villas)
Jetty at French Pass (courtesy French Pass Sea Safaris & Beachfront Villas)

Making time to to visit French Pass should be on everyone’s list of “must do’s” for their Kiwi campervan adventure. Sure, it takes a bit of time to get there, but that is the point. Taking time ensures you really ‘take in’ what’s around you. French Pass will rank as one of the most beautiful, and memorable, journeys on your road trip.

A short drive from Nelson, at the top of the South Island, is the Ruby Coast. A special part of the Tasman region, Ruby Bay and it’s surrounds are sandwiched between the coastal towns of Mapua and Motueka.

The area has long attracted Kiwis holiday makers and visitors from overseas keen to indulge in it’s long sunshine hours and laid back atmosphere. Renowned for high quality food and wine, the area is home to some of the region’s top chefs, restaurants, winemakers,and artisans.

Aerial of Ruby Coastline

Aerial View of Ruby Coastline

Not only is the food and wine exceptional, the outdoor recreational opportunities are world class. Nestled between three National Parks (Nelson Lakes, Abel Tasman, and Kahurangi) and stunning Tasman Bay,  the area hosts a wide variety of guided and unguided sporting options:  hiking, fishing (fresh & salt water), cycling, kite-surfing, and kayaking are all popular pastimes.

High quality, fully serviced, camping grounds are located in nearby Mapua and Motueka. Two less developed, council operated, camping grounds, McKee Memorial Reserve and Kina Beach, are located a stones throw from the beach with unobstructed views east across Tasman Bay.

McKee Memorial Reserve

McKee Memorial Reserve

Beach at McKee Memorial Reserve

McKee Memorial Reserve is a short 7 minute drive (20 minute cycle) from Mapua Village, along the old coastal highway. Prior to 2010, all traffic going to Motueka, Abel Tasman, and Golden Bay had to pass the site. With the construction of the Ruby Bay by-pass, most commuters and travellers now choose to save time and take the dual carriageway away from the coast. This has resulted in Mckee Memorial Reserve re-establishing itself as an ‘off-the-beaten-track’ camping site.

A further 10km north of McKee Memorial Reserve on the quieter Kina Cliffs Road, is Kina Beach Camping Ground. Located 7 km from Motueka and only 1km from the popular  Tasman Golf Club , the campsite is a nice place to relax for a couple of days.

Tasman Golf Club: View from 3rd Tee

Tasman Golf Club: View from 3rd Tee

If visiting the area in March and April, you will find roadside stalls heaped with apples, pears, and nuts. The area is one of NZ’s most prolific producers of apples, and you will often pay no more than $1/kg for the fruit in season. A new website, Stall Spot, has recently been created to help people looking for local food producers. It’s a great tool to help you find tasty, locally produced, delicacies.

With such a vast array of experiences available, you may spend longer than you expect in this part of NZ.  Why not take an extra day to enjoy the sun and the sea along the Ruby Coast . . . moving on can wait another day.

 

One of the nicest things about traveling by campervan is discovering little-used side roads that take you in the ‘heart’ of a place.

We recently had one such experience as we drove from Wellington to Napier. We weren’t in a rush (the best way to enjoy a campervan adventure), so we thought we’d detour and visit the town of Martinborough and the coastal village of Lake Ferry.

Martinborough is a quaint town full of good restaurants, gourmet food producers, antiques, quality accommodation, an excellent campground, and wine . . . lots of wine.  I like to make full use of my on-board kitchen, so I took to the street to find some tasty local delicacies that I could use for lunch. I didn’t have to look far.  We were re-fuelling the van, when I spotted local food store Providore nearby. It turns out it was the perfect place to start my food exploration of Martinborough. The freshly prepared food selection was almost intimidating in it’s range, but I managed to struggle through!

Martinborough (courtesy of newealandphoto.info)

After buying some fresh scones, marinated olives, delicious local cheese and crusty bread, I headed to the Martinborough Wine Centre to find out a bit more about the local drop. The staff were extremely helpful. They gave me a quick run-down on what was produced locally, how it was grown, and their best tips on choosing the right wine for my food choices. After enjoying a free wine tasting session (yes, free) I made my selections and headed back to the van where my husband was keen to check out my purchases.

With our stomachs rumbling, we turned onto Lake Ferry Road and headed toward the wild, wonderful coast near Lake Onoke. If you’ve never visited this part of the Wairarapa Coast, it’s well worth the trip. Brisk sea air, remote untouched beaches and views that stretch on forever are a few of the highlights. And did I mention the traffic? Or rather, the complete lack of vehicles? If you’re from one of the more densely populated areas of the country, or visiting form a city from overseas, the Wairarapa is truly a breath of fresh air.

It didn’t take us long to find a ‘pull-out’ perfect for a mid-afternoon picnic. With the sun shining, a gourmet selection of goodies to eat, and seemingly no one else for miles, we had to keep reminding ourselves that we were only one hour from Wellington.

Funnily, we were commenting on how we hadn’t seen another vehicle for over an hour when a Toyota Hilux pulled in beside us. In the truck were a couple of locals on their way to do a bit of fishing near the lake outlet. My husband (also a keen fisherman) and the men soon began exchanging stories about their favourite fishing spots. As often happens, the exchange led to an invitation to join the men later at the Lake Ferry Hotel. Evidently the hotel makes some of the best fish and chips in the country. I was sold.

Fishing at Lake Ferry (courtesy of www.lakeferryhotel.co.nz)

So, with out bellies full, a lovely beach beckoning, and the prospect of catching a kahawai, we headed to the road end at Lake Ferry. With a couple of hours before sunset, Steve headed out to join the men on their kawahai quest and I decided to beach comb and take a few photos. It’s incredible how fast time passes in beautiful, serene places  . . . so different from sitting at a desk!

As the sun set, I was rejoined by my husband and the two fishermen (unfortunately, fish-less) who both, it turned out, were New Zealand wine enthusiasts. We listened as they told story after story about their favourite local wines, the winemakers, and the development of the Wairarapa wine industry.  As dusk turned to dark, our conversation turned to food. We had exhausted our supply of local delicacies during the wine discussions, but I remembered the promise of excellent fish and chips made earlier in the day . . . my stomach growled.

Unbeknownst to us, one of the men (Bill) had ordered a heaping supply of fish and chips from the hotel and had it delivered to our camper van! Amazing. With food in hand, a driftwood fire glowing, and good company in our midst, we spent the rest of the evening exchanging stories: about the places we loved, the people we’d met, the fish that had been caught,  and those that gotten away.

Thanks for the great visit Wairarapa . . . we’ll be back.

 

 

 

 

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