Aotea Harbour, Kawhia

For my birthday Guy had organised a secret weekend away for us, always a treat. The drive took us west, down the coast, about three hours from Auckland toward Kawhia and a tiny town called Aotea Harbour. Leaving late afternoon, on the final leg of our drive we enjoyed some incredible sunset views, over the rolling hills and down the valley into the harbour.

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The little bach Guy had booked was awesome! Called Ruru Whare, it’s a studio apartment style chalet perched up from the estuary with a fabulous deck to enjoy the views. Inside is just as good with an open plan bedroom, living area and kitchen, and a stunning bathroom with pebbles for flooring, the boy did good!

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With a whole weekend to enjoy we did a mix of relaxing and taking in the peaceful setting of the bach, and getting out exploring. With the accommodation we had use of two sea kayaks, so headed out down the little hill and along a dirt track to the beach below.

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Being west coast the sand is black and volcanic, it was incredibly fine and soft so when you lifted your foot out of the wet sand it looked like ink dripping off! We launched our kayaks out into the estuary and headed upstream (hoping for an easy ride back) along the shoreline. It was surprisingly choppy, but manageable, and because of the cloud cover the water was a deep turquoise colour.

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We paddled round to a small bay where we hopped out for a rest and enjoyed the surroundings, untouched forest to the back of us and across the other side a huge black sand dune that looked like it wouldn’t be out of place in a sci-fi film. Unfortunately our plan of heading upstream first was thwarted by a strong headwind on the way back, making it a bit choppier than we would like and bouncing us around as we made our way slowly back, my arms were pretty dead by the time we got out and then we had to get the kayaks back up the hill! The beauty and serenity easily outweighed the sore muscles though.

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To recoup we headed to the nearby town of Kawhia, which is pretty small and has great views out over the water, which happened to be draped in a picturesque mist at the time. Grabbing some lunch in a local café we were soon on our way to Kawhia Beach. The road to the beach takes you through forest with no indication you are heading to the sea, even in the car park you cannot see beyond a huge ridge of sand dunes, but as you make your way up and reach the top of the dunes the view takes your breath away.

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Spectacular scenery as far as the eye can see, over the grasses of the dunes, out across the black sand beach, and all the way to misty mountains in the distance silhouetted by the cloud, and all encompassed by a stormy sea producing the perfect moody piece for any budding artist. Between us we have limited artistic skills but Guy has his camera to capture the moment instead.

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The beach is known for its hot water springs and as you wander around you can feel warm patches of geothermal water running beneath your feet. Scrapping back the top layer of sand reveals the jet black sand below and as you dig further you can make yourself a personal spa pool. We didn’t much feel like getting down to our togs in the drizzle so had a little foot spa instead, anyone wanting to visit to try this out yourselves make sure you check the tide times as the spring patches are best found an hour either side of low tide.

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As Guy’s first experience of a hot water beach it was very cool to see the surprise on his face when we found a good hot spot. A brave family nearby were busy digging away with spades to make a family sized pool but it would be quite the effort to get it deep enough in the sand and our muscles were already a bit on the worn out side! We finished our day back on the deck of the bach relaxing in the chairs with a beer until it got too cold and dark and we had to retreat.

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The following day we didn’t want to leave the blissful bubble of the bach, alas we packed up slowly and headed off on the unsealed road that connects to Raglan. 20km of gravel was pretty exciting at times and the scenery was pretty distracting too, with glimpses of the harbour, forest and valleys.

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We eventually found ourselves at the Bridal Veils Falls Track which was a short walk through forest to the top of the falls, a 55m plunge. It was pretty impressive to stand on the platform overlooking it, my stomach did a small lurch at the height!

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There are a number of viewpoints as you wind down to the base of the falls too. Arguably the best was from the side with the full length of the falls in profile and the basalt rock formations that it tumbles over.

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From the base the noise was almost as impressive as the scenery, from here you can really get a feel for the height and power of the falls and the hexagonal basalt columns on the cliff behind are really cool too. Not so cool were the hundreds of steps back up to the top!

Next stop, Raglan, this is a cool little surf town with a really laid back vibe and plenty of surf shops to empty our wallets. On route we spotted a New Zealand Falcon tucking into lunch!

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We have been surfing here before and it’s one of the most popular of the North Island surf spots. Safer than the riptides of Piha, and larger surf than the East coast, it’s a great place to learn or perfect your skills. Last time we came I had a bit of a breakthrough with my heel side turn, catching a wave and riding along it, instead of out in front, which was awesome. No surfing this time though, just delicious pizza at Veranda restaurant and then off home via a very wiggly country road.

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