Coromandel: If the Slipper fits ...

By Mary MacKinven

Mary MacKinven finds the perfect getaway just off the Coromandel coast.

Slipper Island is the perfect getaway, just off the Coromandel coast.
Slipper Island is the perfect getaway, just off the Coromandel coast.

We were kayaking around Slipper Island, a privately owned island off the Coromandel Peninsula, when the skipper of a dive boat waved us over. Were we staying at one of the five chalets on the island? We were indeed.

What was it like? Our report was glowing.

And did we by any chance like scallops? (Does a seagull fly?) The skipper beckoned us closer and plopped six enormous closed scallop shells into my forward hatch.

Talk about friendly. Or perhaps he was just over the limit.

We grinned all through our shellfish entree that night. We went to this island retreat for our precious summer break from the rat race - and what a great escape it was.

We went for recreational kayaking and the paddling was gloriously peaceful, safe and in pristine, clear water. An easy, two-hour paddle took us around nearby Penguin and Rabbit Islands one windless morning.

We heard later we had missed a school of dolphins cavorting with swimmers and jumping over the noses of canoes in one of the island's two bays - a regular occurrence, apparently. Well, you can't always be in the right place at the right time. It makes you want to go back, though.

Paddling in the other direction we saw shallow coves but no sandy beaches to land on. For people with more time, a paddle of several hours across to the mainland beaches of Pauanui, Tairua or Opoutere would be the thing.

When we weren't lolling in the sea, we walked for hours across the island's grassy farmland, skirting around sheep and cattle, luxuriating in the breeze and views from the hills.

Part of the lusciousness was anticipating the comfort of our home base to return to at the end of our sweaty activities.

Our chalet was the best, an open-living bed-sit with a view out to sea from a splendid bed. The place was so peaceful and private you could just switch off: read, sit on the deck surrounding the chalet, sip wine and watch the sun go down behind the mainland, or watch an unsuspecting pheasant and chicks scamper through long grass nearby.

No sense of neighbours, beach parties or visitors, not even staff to change the bedding unless you asked and paid extra.

This was the peace we craved.

For $150 a night (peak season) for the two of us, this was a bargain.

The chalet had a separate bathroom, and all linen and kitchen facilities were provided.

We took our own food and drink but one day had an ice block treat from the small shop a few metres from the chalets.

Fuel comes in the form of gas, and there is electricity from the island's generator, which petered out one night before we were ready, but this was part of the romance of being isolated on an island.

Mobile phone transmission was great. And high-speed, satellite internet is available for $5 a 15-minute session.

Three of the five chalets have two bedrooms. All are set in a circle, 50m from the private beach, with enough space and landscaping to create a good level of peace and privacy between each.

Other visitors chose to stay in the camping ground, nestled in the island's other beach.

A 12-bed, four-bedroom lodge sits on the hill above the chalets, behind the owners' homestead, with great views out to sea. This is marketed for any purpose, including business meetings and conferences.

Thankfully, not too many celebrities know about the place, or we could never afford to stay there. Resort manager Barbara Needham, has organised several weddings on the island for people from overseas.

One couple from Montana, in the United States, said their vows on top of the island's highest peak, then honeymooned in a chalet.

Barbara lives on the island with her pilot husband Gordon, and manages the resort with staff and lots of help from their daughters during the school holidays.

The range of water activities they arrange or provide is almost endless, including deep-sea fishing, mountain biking, mountain golf, diving, rock fishing and day cruises.

Canoes and a couple of sailing dinghies are complementary.

Landlubbers can go horse riding, and the island features plenty of good walking as it is open exclusively to resort visitors.

Barbara also stocks a library for lazy days or rainy days.

And if you really must go shopping, you can take the Slipper Island Express charter boat which makes frequent trips to Tairua on the mainland.

But why would you want to leave this island of tranquillity before you have to?

IF YOU GO

The island was formed from volcanic lava flows and later covered by ash. It was named by Captain James Cook who thought it resembled a slipper. Maori called it Whakahau and it has several pa sites. Co-owner Gordon Needham's father was a farmer, who previously owned Pauanui and bought the island 33 years ago.

Getting there: Slipper Island is a 20-minute charter boat ride from Tairua. You can also fly there in a light plane, from Pauanui or anywhere else, or by helicopter. In fact, Gordon flies between home and work at Auckland International Airport.

Staying there: Accommodation is available through slipperislandresort.com or phone 0275 776977 or (07) 864 7560 for more information.

Mary MacKinven paid her own way to Slipper Island.

- Herald on Sunday

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