Bay of Plenty: Adventures start with Base Jumper

By Sue Baxalle

Briar's Horse Treks offers an exhilarating experience. Photo / Supplied
Briar's Horse Treks offers an exhilarating experience. Photo / Supplied

The idea was to take RoadCraft's newest campervan, the four-berth Base Jumper L4, for an adventure.

Marketing manager Gray Borrell said the vehicle liked nothing more than exploring the countryside. But knowing its passengers - myself, husband and two teenage sons - would soon be bored just catering to the vehicle's needs, he sorted out an action-packed itinerary full of adventure for us.

The van was kitted out with everything from bedding and linen to a few goodies in the fridge and we headed south, to the Bay of Plenty. It proved easy to drive, handling like a car, its length just requiring a wider swing when manoeuvring corners. Parking, too, was a breeze, basically fitting anywhere you would park a normal family car.

To ensure a relaxing night ahead of Saturday's action, we stopped over at the Waihi Beach Top 10 Holiday Park. A campervan site right on the beachfront gave us unrivalled views. After a long walk on the beach it was time for a quick game of outdoor chess by the thermal swimming pool and spa before heading off for dinner at the Flat White Cafe on the beachfront, recommended to us by the campsite reception staff.

Unfortunately the pool was closed by the time we got back, but we settled into the campervan with a DVD, followed by a good night's sleep. The L4 is set up with a single bed which drops down from the ceiling behind the driver's seat and the rear two passenger seats below it convert into a second single bed. The bench seats at the rear of the van, which by day are sofas or a dining area, convert into the double bed.

Next morning, we headed through Te Puke and towards Maketu wth some horse riding in prospect. After a warm welcome from our guide, Claire Cooper of Briar's Horse Treks, came a rundown on the rudiments necessary to get through the next hour and a half on horseback.

When booking, riders must give their weights, heights and riding abilities so they can be matched with suitable horses - in our case Bessie, Minnie, Whero and Candy.

This Saturday morning, Bessie, who at 13 was much higher up in the seniority stakes than 6-year-old Minnie, decided to put the young upstart in her place with a bump and a bit of a kick, almost dislodging her rider - me - in a totally ungraceful manner.

Claire's assistant guide and daughter, Liz, was quick to the rescue and took control of the situation. Once everyone was settled on their mounts, Claire led the way out through the fields. This was an ideal way to get used to the motion.

Once through the farmland and down the hillside, it was on to the white sand of the beach, where the more adventurous could trot or go off for a canter before it was time to head back to base. All agreed it was an exhilarating experience and are keen to get back in the saddle.

Cooper has been taking treks from the 23-horse powered operation on Maori trust farmland at Maketu for the past six years.

Next stop was Mt Maunganui, where we parked the trusty L4 in a beachfront site at the Beachside Holiday Park.

This camping ground is a well-known feature of the town, having enjoyed its prime location at the foot of the Mount - Mauao - since around the 1930s.

The facilities are in excellent condition, with access granted to the amenities block with an electronic button. But time was of the essence if we were to fit in a walk around the town and a fish'n' chips dinner before our next date.

It may seem odd to be pulling up for a kayak trip at 6.45pm, but that's exactly what is required at the Waimarino Adventure Park. Team leader Drew and his assistants drove us to McLaren Falls, about 20 minutes away, where the expedition was to begin.

We had to wait for a bit more darkness, and the guides produced a table, cloth and a variety of fruit, cheese, crackers, wine and fruit juice. Not your average kayaking trip at all.

After explaining kayaking tips and equipment usage, it was time to organise the two-seater kayaks for their passengers, those steering the rudders in the back and those with headlights in the front.

This was a night of firsts, not only the first night-time kayaking trip any of us in the group had done, but the first in which we stayed 100 per cent dry, thanks to a combination of fleeces, neoprene overalls, lifejackets and skirts to attach around the cockpit along with super-efficient assistance in getting into the kayaks.

Finally it was time to set out into the increasing darkness enveloping the lake. The swishing of the paddles, morepork calls and other nocturnal wildlife noises were all we could hear until we became aware of a low, humming sound, the Lower Mangapapa power station. It was an unfortunate intrusion of modern technology into the peace of the night but we were in luck. After a sudden increase in volume, the turbine stopped. Perfect.

A short while later, the darkness was again interrupted - by thousands of fairy lights. Drew explained that the lights were created by "arachno campa luminosa". This sounds like something spidery, or a magic spell straight out of Harry Potter, but these are neither worms nor spiders. They are, rather, insect larvae which catch their food by attracting food to their lights and creating sticky silk-like threads in which to entrap their prey.

Drew says the "glow worms" are sparkling in this enchanted forest all year round.

The kayaking itself is not difficult, with children able to share the rowing load with an adult. It was about 1.2km each way, and while I expected aching muscles the next morning, they did not occur.

However, what better to ease any aches and pains (and there certainly were some left over from the horse riding) next day than a visit to the Mount's Hot Salt Water Pools. The main pool, between 32C and 35C, is fine for swimming fun but it was the hotter spa pools that pushed all the right buttons for us.

Fully relaxed, it was time for some more action. Looming above the pools is Mauao, the landmark which gives the town its name, a 232m dormant volcano.

There is the option of the 3.4km base track, but we opt to climb to the summit. There are options here of which track to take, although we discover the signage is somewhat confusing and we manage to swap tracks here and there.

Although somewhat strenuous at times, the effort is worth it with the views of ocean, beach and harbour from the top.

The return trip - depending on how long you linger at the summit, of course - takes about an hour.

Monte Gelato, nearby on Marine Parade, provided welcome relief with an excellent selection of artisan-made flavours for parched throats on our descent and fuelled us for the return to Auckland.

It may be the newest of the RoadCraft fleet, but the Base Jumper L4 proved itself quite capable of taking its crew on a fun-packed holiday.

CHECKLIST

Getting around: Contact RoadCraft at (07) 255 5300.

Where to stay:

Waihi Beach Top 10 Holiday Resort
Beachside Holiday Park

What to do:

Briar's Horse Treks
Waimarino Adventure Park
Hot Salt Water Pools

Further information: Contact Tourism Bay of Plenty at (07) 577 6234.

Sue Baxalle travelled to the Bay of Plenty with the assistance of RoadCraft and Tourism Bay of Plenty.

- NZ Herald

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