This small Bay of Plenty settlement is a great destination for a long weekend away, finds Diana Clement.
Ready, set, pack. Kiwis' holiday behaviour is changing. We're too busy during the week to plan elaborate getaways - we just want to throw a bag in the car on Friday night and head somewhere for the weekend.
That's exactly what I thought when we jumped in the car for our long weekend away at Papamoa in the Bay of Plenty. No fraught packing, no trailer. Just us, our clothing, togs, bicycles and a few toys.
Campsites are changing, along with Kiwis' behaviour. Our accommodation at the Papamoa Beach Top 10 Holiday Resort for our long weekend wasn't a tent, or even a cabin. It was a five star Qualmark-rated two-bedroom garden villa with leather sofas, tasteful decor and Sky TV.
Papamoa Beach Top 10 offers the classic Kiwi holiday with a modern twist. The classic is the white sand beach stretching for almost as far as the eye can see. The only man-made structures visible in the vicinity are a few of the resort's villas, and the local surf lifesaving club.
The modern twist is the mod cons, and the resort-style extras such as a Kids' Club in the summer designed to give Mum and Dad a break. Even the campers get everything from the latest German-engineered ecologically friendly shower heads to all major sports events and Sky Movies on a big screen in one of the barbecue areas.
Current manager Rebecca (Bex) Crosby's grandparents Gordon and Thelma launched the campground in 1966. In those days it was out in the wop wops. But suburbia has caught up with and overtaken Papamoa's old campground-turned-resort. These days it's a short walk to the brand new Pak 'n Save.
Even so, Papamoa is the nemesis of noisy, packed Mt Maunganui. It's the place to go for a quiet, but comfortable weekend escape.
One of the reasons we chose to stay at the Papamoa Beach Top 10 was that children are guaranteed to meet playmates. As soon as my two had finished arguing over who was getting which bedroom, they raced for the bouncy cushion and, true to form, found a couple of children of the right size to play with.
It would have been possible to spend most of the weekend without venturing more than a few hundred metres from our villa.
Papamoa Beach Top 10 often sponsors local events or runs its own. On the Saturday guests were invited to join staff on an annual Friends and Families Wanna Have Fun Papamoa Beach Walk in support of breast cancer awareness month, which started in front of the resort.
The following day the Papamoa Beach Top 10 was hosting a Great Kiwi Road Trip Pit Stop event for families with a scavenger hunt, family relay, icecreams, local volunteer fire engine and sausage sizzle.
A local helicopter company, Aerius, quite literally dropped into the Top 10 and my children went up for their first jaunt in a helicopter.
Being a "get out and experience it" type of family, we planned some activities including a trip to nearby Mt Maunganui, where we indulged ourselves at the Copenhagen icecream shop and nipped around the corner for coffee at Deckchair Cafe, which came highly recommended by Bex.
Thanks to the Tauranga Walkways booklet, which we found in reception, we discovered the Papamoa/Wairakei Reserve walk, a 5km route, which goes down the beach in one direction and back through a 3km-long newly planted wetland walk, highly recommended for coastal birdwatchers.
Then on Monday we took an "are we there yet?" walk up the Papamoa Hills Cultural Heritage Regional Park, which meanders from the car park in Poplar Lane, to a summit.
On top, we were rewarded with clear views of local volcanoes including Mt Maunganui, Mt Edgecumbe and White Island in the distance.
Although our villa had a full kitchen, we chose to be decadent and eat our evening meals out. Right next door to the Papamoa Beach Top 10 is the Bluebiyou restaurant, which is under new ownership. The children's meals are really well presented. It's worth phoning ahead and booking a table with a view over the dunes.
The next night, on the advice of Tourism Bay of Plenty, we ventured into Tauranga for dinner at The Flying Burrito Brothers Tex Mex restaurant. This is a fun place for dinner where there isn't a nugget, chip or hotdog on a stick in sight. My children took great delight in sniffing the bottles of fiery sauces.
Finally, one of Papamoa's newest attractions is horse riding on the beach or if you prefer, in the hills. We chanced upon Papamoa Saddle and my kids, who are nervous of horses, were successfully encouraged to ride Cricket, the Shetland pony.
* Papamoa Top 10
ph (07) 572 0816
Garden Villas from $192 a night mid-season, cabins from $82 a night mid-season
* Tourism Bay of Plenty
ph (07) 577 6234
ph (07) 572099
* The Flying Burrito Brothers
ph (07) 578 8363
* Papamoa Saddle
ph (07) 542 2174, $40 per horse per 1/2 hour for beach rides.