One of the joys of moving around the country with a motorhome or caravan is coming across pleasing places I never knew existed.
Recently, looking for somewhere to stay near Whanganui, Bill and I turned o Rapanui Road towards the village of Mowhanau to try out the Kai Iwi Beach Holiday Park.
Driving along the narrow road that leads to the village on the North Island’s west coast, I didn’t have high expectations. Preconceived ideas can be wrong.
The five-hectare park, overlooking the beach with views across the Tasman Sea, is delightful. Set back from the beach, it is slung between low, pastured hills that end abruptly at the coast as if they have been cut through with a bread knife to form remarkable cliffaces. And to underline the imagery, they are constantly dropping crumbs onto the pewter coloured sand. It’s great to wander the shoreline but best to keep well clear of the cliffs.
That winter’s day the sea was frothing in against the endless stretch of pebbled beach and the thought of a dip wasn’t inviting. In summer, apparently, the surf is considered safe for swimmers and, to that end, a small lifesavers’ hut has been built by the local community, on a sandy rise. In places, where the sand meets the land, bleached tree trunks have accumulated like heaps of giant bones attesting to the wild seas that can sometimes batter this shore.
But it was the camp with its attractive presentation and flower gardens that was the real surprise. The new owners, Bruce and Di Taylor, had been busy during lockdown sprucing it up ready for a summer influx.
“I had been in IT in Wellington for most of my working life,” said Bruce, “and it was time for a sea change. Di and I bought the park and moved here two days before lockdown. It did not seem brilliant timing, but the upside was that we had time to come to grips with camp life.
“We spent the time improving anything we felt needed it and working on all those little jobs that running a place like this constantly requires. Now that we’ve moved to level one, the forward bookings are looking good.
“It is a great spot in a beautiful part of the country, just 10 minutes from Whanganui with all its attractions. And we like the fact that the holiday park is a relaxed, more traditional type of campground with an appealing children’s playground. It’s very peaceful here. We have a small shop selling basics as there are none in the village.”
The amenities are old-style but convenient, newly painted and scrupulously clean. Hot showers cost one dollar for six minutes, which was plenty of time for me. Given Bruce’s background, there is, of course, Wi-Fi available and this is included in the price.
The park has both powered and unpowered sites and hard and grass stands. The premier sites overlook the view. The Taylors have joined the NZMCA CampSaver scheme, charging $20 per night for NZMCA members (excluding public holidays and long weekends). is ends on October 31, 2020. e price will go up in the summer and it pays to book ahead.
For campers who have goat-like agility, access to the beach is down a steep track leading from one corner of the park. For others it is easier to walk a short way down the road.
The Kai Iwi Beach Holiday Park was a good discovery. And if we hadn’t gone there, we might never have come across the added bonus of the extraordinary Bason Botanic Gardens just down the road. Here, 25 hectares of farmland have been landscaped into a striking series of gardens. Extensive roading meant we could wind through the trees, past terraces, lakes, staircases, widespread lawns and exotic plantings without leaving our vehicle. It’s a place to linger but we’d run out of time and the buildings – the Japanese Tea house, the conservatories and extensive glass house – will have to wait for next time. Hopefully that won’t be too far away.