Coastal trail from Porangahau to Kairakau

There is nothing better on a summer’s day than to head off on a road trip. And this time, I went exploring my own backyard in Central Hawkes Bay. Often, we take for granted the sights that are nearby, overlooking them for destinations further afield.

Porangahau, Blackhead, Pourerere, Aramoana, Mangakuri, and Kairakau are beaches that are familiar to many Hawke’s Bay residents. We inlanders love to escape for a whiff of salty sea air to refresh our jaded spirits, and many will have fond childhood memories of day trips and holidays to these places.

Porangahau beach

Porangahau Road, Waipukurau does not stop until it reaches Porangahau village, a 40-minute drive. It has been a wet spring and the district’s farmers are happy about the amount of grass that lushly covers their paddocks. Chubby lambs, blissfully unaware of their impending fate as Christmas dinners, gambol after each other before running back to the safety of their mothers.

At Porangahau, there is a general store and pub—the Duke of Edinburgh, known affectionately as ‘The Duke’. It is said to sell ‘mean as’ fish and chips and a range of other bar meals.

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We reached Porangahau Beach and parked at the freedom camping ground not far from the beach. It was morning tea-time, and we were enjoying the fact that we can boil water and make a cuppa, all from the comfort of the motorhome that was kindly loaned to us by Glenn’s colleague.

On the beach, the wind filled the sails of a Blokart and blasted the flimsy machine with its thrilled occupant along the sand. Nearby, a cluster of people watched as a fishing boat rode through the breakers and out to sea for a day’s fishing. The fishing grounds here are known to be excellent with easy launching from the beach. The annual fishing competition and beach polo are popular events over summer, drawing crowds of visitors.

Blackhead beach

Our next stop was Blackhead beach. We backtracked slightly and headed north again, but never far from the coast, and we were on our way to Blackhead. The dust from the gravel road kicked up under our wheels, as we passed paint-faded woolsheds and work-worn stockyards. Cabbage trees were flowering and masses of bees were plundering the delicate creamy blossoms.

Blackhead Beach is another popular fishing and diving spot but not so great for swimming. Te Angi Angi Marine reserve looked after by the Department of Conservation, is located between here and Aramoana Beach to the north. The beach, which has a camping ground, was largely deserted but for some children and parents who were making the most of the sunny day.

Pourerere beach

The well-signed coastal trail led us to our next stop, and we headed down a winding hill, with kettle and cups left over from morning tea rattling in the sink, to Pourerere Beach. Quad bikes zip along the sand carrying helmetless riders who appeared immune to the idea of protecting themselves.Freedom parking is allowed on an area overlooking a stretch of beach and while there are marvellous views, it is situated beside a dusty road, which may not appeal to some.

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The settlement has a cluster of simple, Kiwi-style baches, and at the far end, a camping ground. By Christmas, the place will be jam-packed, and apparently, it gets booked out a year in advance. In 2011, a weather bomb smacked into this coast between Waimarama and Blackhead Beaches and the scars of that are still apparent on the surrounding hills. It cut off communities and destroyed houses, bridges, and acres of farmland. The woolshed at Aramaoana was shunted off its foundations, and the beach at Kairakau was piled metres high with logs. It took a few years to restore the environment, thanks to much earthmoving and the huge efforts of the community.

Aramoana beach

We skipped past Aramoana Beach, but it is worth taking the gravel road near the entrance to Pourerere Beach, to check out the well-restored historic woolshed and the marine reserve there.

A feature of Shoal Bay’s (still part of Aramoana Beach) posh new subdivision is its upmarket houses. Nearby, the Aramoana Station homestead built in 1894 looks like an elder statesman casting an eye over the bay’s newcomers.

Fully certified, self-contained motorhomes can stay at Aramoana Beach, but it is worth noting there are only three designated parking spaces.

Mangakuri beach

Mangakuri Beach, which doesn’t allow freedom camping, is around 20km away, and I’ve often heard locals saying they have never been there. But making the short drive over the hill to experience this little gem can be rewarding. We found a blue camper van with a peace sign and a bumper sticker that read: ‘Not all who wander are lost’. It was home to a couple who were enjoying a relaxed read under their canopy. Apart from them and another couple strolling on the beach, we were the only ones lingering in this piece of paradise.

Kairakau beach

Towards the day’s end, we arrived at Kairakau Beach. It is my favourite beach of all, and so I chose it as our overnight spot. Besides, it has excellent parking on a nice flattish strip of grass and a backdrop of dramatic, jagged cliffs.

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It was a warm day and swimmers and surfers had been lured into the waves. A group of giggly teenage girls were more interested in taking photos of each other on their flash phones than anything else. Nearby, a gangly Alsatian was chasing a stick in endless repetition for its owner.

Climbing the wooden steps from the beach to our camper van, we mulled with satisfaction over the day’s trails as we enjoyed a glass of wine.

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