We tiptoe through the wet midnight verge, sneaking in the open backdoor with the blue light of our phones, tripping over the bundles of wetsuits dumped by those who arrived here first. The sky is like a black blanket, enveloping our Friday night work suits into sleep, before the early dawnie alarm breaks the silence.
We have made the four-hour journey along narrow, winding lanes from Auckland to Waitomo and on to the tiny west coast village of Marokopa. With no phone reception and only the small village campsite store selling essentials, Marokopa's charm really is in its isolation. The joy of the area is exploring the rural lanes and the wide west-coast beaches at a lazy pace, missed by those not willing to drive the extra hour past Waitomo Caves.
Our group wakes to clear cloudless skies. As we drive through gaping expanses of green along stretches of rugged coastline, over to Waitomo's remote Kiritehere beach, we knew we'd left the usual west coast hordes of Piha and Raglan behind. Winding round the corner of the river mouth, the untouched black sand is too hard for us to resist. We have to take the 4WD for an outing, our tyre treads carving across the sand of the once smooth-surface.
A determined few from our party of 15 brave the small left-hander surf break, trading the picturesque view for the promise of an icecream headache - a true test against the tubes of the West.
Marokopa, spotted with a handful of residential properties, has an alluring CBD: an old tennis court flanks the combined village takeaway and convenience store. An old gentleman basks in the sun with his coffee, while the resident cat purrs and nuzzles to encourage our generosity with the DIY burgers bought from the lone family-run campsite shop. I could spend hours browsing through the second-hand miniature library - covers from Jeffery Archer to Princess Diana hardbacks sit alongside dog-eared fashion magazines - a fascinating treasure-trove all pointing to a weekend of the easy life.
With the turn of the afternoon, our tummies filled by a good bacon buttie, I am dragged away from the gem of the village library to explore sights that are easily missed by the rushed traveller. The crash of tumbling water over limestone at Marokopa Falls, 35 metres high, is said to be one of the most spectacular in New Zealand and it certainly displaces any waterfall malaise. Set against an open backdrop and brilliant blue sky, the falls is something to be seen. Even though it's only 10 minutes' walk from the road, we are the only people there, joined only by a darting kingfisher.
A little further on up the road, along a small winding path is Ruakuri Cave. We descend down wooden steps into pitch black, our eyes soon readjusting so we can almost see the heavy coolness of the air in the prehistoric surroundings with stalactites dripping from high above us.
As dusk sets in we are delighted to stumble upon fields of ancient unmarked limestone caves, behind the actual tourist attraction of Mangapohue Natural Bridge.
Our group of 30-year-olds reclaim our childhoods, clambering straight through the nooks and crannies. As we sit in silence on top of the rocks - encrusted with carved-out mussel fossils from bygone years - that we've triumphantly scaled, we are far away from the world of the office on Monday, with only the nervous bleats of the sheep around us for a soundtrack.
As the sun cuts through the sky on Sunday morning, the only item on the agenda is a long beach walk. The area is apparently good for fishing and the uncrowded spot is attracting a few in-the-know families. We watch a father and daughter manoeuvre a quad bike into a rowing boat, squeezing it in next to the dog to cross the small channel dividing the beach and join the fishing fraternity.
But finally we must tear ourselves away from the bach's outdoor fire and sun-parched wooden deck.
We stuff the car full to the brim with pillows, sleeping bags and dripping wetsuits.
We say our goodbyes to Marokopa, surveying the swirling waters in unified silence before leaving behind a weekend of peace and good times and heading back to our Auckland rat race.
To shop: There is no general store or pub in Marokopa, so stock up. The village snackbar, open from 9am-4pm, has limited stocks but does good burgers and has plentiful supplies of ice cream and lollies.
To stay: We stayed in a private bach, but search "Marokopa" on bookabach.co.nz. The village snackbar's bach, SunSet Hill, is also on holidayhouses.co.nz; rates from $70 to $100 per night for two. Campground - sites $14 per person and $8 for kids (power & non-power sites).
A backpacker dorm in the village sleeps 10. $18 per person.
Contact village snackbar and campground at (07) 876 7444 between 9am-4pm or (07) 876 7511 after hours.
To get there: AA maps online is optimistic in their 3 hours' drive, it's at least an hour's drive from Waitomo Caves to Marokopa, more in the dark. Turn left after Waitomo Caves to Te Anga, through Awamarino to Marokopa. Limited mobile coverage, so your phone's GPS won't work.