I think the memories I have from last summer on the road will always be some of my favourites. Right before the world went wonky, everything was so simple and idyllic. The weather was perfect, the places we stayed were stunning and as for the company, that was the most memorable of all. We were delighted when one of my old school friends announced he was coming over from the UK and was keen to travel around with us and experience van life. I couldn’t have been more excited; Patrick and I hadn’t seen each other in 30 years. But as soon as we met him at the airport, the years fell away and we were chatting just like old times.
CHILLING AND CHILLI
Seeing as we were in Auckland, we spent a couple of days exploring the area. It was a beautiful day when Pat arrived, so we started out gently with a spot of walking and relaxing in the sun at Devonport beach before making our way to our campground at Takapuna Beach Holiday Park. What a fantastic place this is – brilliant facilities, and the campground is so well set up, in a stunning location. We stayed right on the promenade and enjoyed amazing views of the sea and Rangitoto Island. Even though the campground was packed for peak season, it wasn’t overly noisy and everyone was very respectful of one another. The three of us sat relaxing and watching the world go by, then Gareth made our favourite ‘campground chilli’ on our tiny gas stove as the sun went down.
INTO THE WILD
The next day was a tad more energetic. First Pat got to see what it was like inside the TV3 studio, as we had a radio interview for our newly launched cookbook. From there, we headed off into the wild to explore the rugged West Coast beaches. This was new territory for us as well, and it gave Pat a good glimpse into the real New Zealand, with its winding roads and steep hills nestled deep in the bush.
The road down to Karekare Beach was so steep I was worried our trusty van might not make it back up. We were keen for a good hike though and the views were well worth all the huffing and puffing as the black sand stretched out far below us and the raging surf crashed onto the shore.
We continued pootling along through the Waitākere Ranges to Piha. I was keen to see if it really was as wild and untamed as I’d heard. It didn’t take long for me to find out. No sooner had Pat, Gareth and I stepped into the water, I was barely up to my knees when I was bowled over, tumbling roly-poly into an undignified, spluttering heap on the sand. That was enough for me. We dried ourselves off before settling off for a more sedate walk along the beach.
One coastal area we did know very well, however, was the Coromandel Peninsula so we headed there next for a couple of days. We stayed at a quaint Airbnb in our old home town of Whangamata and visited the beach and estuary. What Pat wanted to do, however, was go somewhere he could really be immersed in nature and we knew just the place – Parakiwai Valley.
Gareth and I hadn’t been there since our very first date years ago and it was lovely ambling along the track all together, following the stream. The track was a lot longer than we remembered and there wasn’t another soul there as we made our way to the waterfall. As we finally reached it, we learned why – the bridge to the waterfall was closed. It would have been nice to have a sign at the start. Not to be deterred, we climbed down the rocks as safely as it was to do so, so we could at least admire the falls from a distance, before heading back the way we came.
We also spent a night in Whitianga, where I enjoyed a lovely catch-up with my youngest son, walking the length of Buffalo Beach together. The next day I woke up with excitement. At last I was going to visit Cathedral Cove. In all the years we lived on the Peninsula I had never been there, yet heard so much about it. Finally I had my chance, and better still, we could share it with Pat too. The day was a mixture of sunny and overcast and as we arrived, I couldn’t believe the number of people trailing up and down from the carpark.
The place was crawling with tourists, and there was barely an English word to be heard in all the chatter. Still, the scenery was beautiful and the views became even more glorious as we wound our way along the long path leading to the beach.
As we descended onto the sand, there was barely sitting or standing room to be had. People lounged on the rocks and it was hard to see anything. After all the hype, we were disappointed. Not because it wasn’t beautiful; it should have been breathtaking but the crowds of people really ruined the experience for us.
Unable to properly see or do anything, we walked the short stretch of sand before trudging back up the hill. At last we had been and seen, even if it hadn’t turned out the way I’d always imagined.
That was a few days before everything changed. Pat flew back to the UK in the nick of time while he still could. It wasn’t the holiday ending any of us had ever imagined but it was wonderful to share those special times together.
I wonder what Cathedral Cove and other hotspots will be like this summer, without all the tourists? I’m tempted to go there again and see. Maybe it is still my dream place after all.
An oasis in the city:
Takapuna Beach Holiday Park is a brilliant place for motorhomers and campers alike and we have stayed there several times since that first visit. We always enjoy the atmosphere and the scenery. Everything you could possibly need is within convenient walking distance. Highly recommended. Check out takapunabeachholidaypark.co.nz for more information.
Go walking in Whangamata:
The Wharekirauponga Track in Parakiwai Valley is the perfect place to enjoy peace and quiet. Just a few kilometres out of Whangamata, the track is well maintained and you can cool off in the natural swimming hole in summer. You might just want to check with DOC first to make sure the whole track is open. Either way, it’s an enjoyable and easy walk. Not far down the road you can also visit Wentworth Valley, which has an impressive waterfall of its own, as well as an enormous campground where you can stay in the heart of the bush. For more information, visit wentworthvalleycamp.co.nz.
Best of the beaches:
Karekare Beach on Auckland’s West Coast has been awarded second place among the 25 best beaches in the world, beating Australia and Brazil. It is also where the Oscar-winning movie The Piano was filmed. With dramatic scenery, beautiful bush walks and the Karekare Falls nearby, this place is a must-visit.