Ruakaka: Where the surf meets the turf

After enjoying horse races on the beach at KareKare, Danielle Wright heads to Ruakaka to enjoy horse racing across from the beach.

The Ruakaka winning post. Photo / The Northern Advocate
The Ruakaka winning post. Photo / The Northern Advocate

It's been 30 years since my last win at the races, but the day is still fresh in my mind as my horse, San Simeon, romps to the finish line beating my brother's bet and pocketing me $20 to spend on lollies afterwards.

My track record since hasn't stopped me from believing I'm lucky with horses, as we head to Ruakaka racecourse, situated on the edge of Bream Bay, for the Northland Filly and Mares Series Final.

And The Beat Goes On by The Whispers ushers us into the stadium, which has just the right amount of faded glory appeal. Our children watch with big eyes as the colourful jockeys stand up in their saddles and the horses, looking pretty pleased with themselves, strut past the grandstand.

There's a commentator's box perched precariously on the tip of the roof and the voice filtering through the PA system seems genuinely excited by the results, with the exception of his calls about a horse named "Yeah, Whatever" who sounds indifferent, destined almost, to his back-of-the-pack position.

The Whangarei Racing Club moved to Ruakaka in the early 70s from Kensington, another suburb of Whangarei, because land was more affordable near the beach.

It's an all-weather track and in the summer there are bands, a large foodcourt on the hill, a free kids entertainment area, and even skydiving at some events.

You're welcome to take a picnic lunch and the beach across the road can extend the day-trip for a cool down after.

Today, there are 10 races, including the series final with $30,000 prize earnings. Stakes are high and horses have come from as far away as Tauranga, Hawkes Bay and Hastings.

As we make our first bet, the smell of mussel fritters being cooked on a stall nearby wafts over the stadium. Indoors, there are many food and drink rooms and plenty of opportunities to stay indoors out of the cold and rain in between the races.

The view from our seat in one of the RSA-like cafes is of the Hen and Chicken Islands, Sail Rock and Mt Manaia, one of the main ancestral mountains for Maori living in the Whangarei area.

There's also a private "Bonecrusher Room" where, through the glass and past the gatekeeper, it looks like horse owners, sponsors and other VIPs are drinking wine and eating from a buffet - no doubt surf 'n' turf is on the menu.

"Racing is so much more than horses on a racecourse and there's something for everyone - from having a sammie on the lawn, to the VIPS, the trainers, owners and stable connections, to kids being entertained by face painting, colouring-in competitions and more," says Whangarei Racing Club manager, Kristine Jones. "Racing is not just about betting anymore."

It's such a friendly place, with staff and punters full of smiles - how could you not be with the toe-tapping nostalgic music lifting everyone's spirits and the excitable commentator raising your hopes for a win.

After the first horse we bet on comes in last, we open the betting up to our kids and history replays itself as our daughter's bet romps home. Her brother's comes somewhere at the back of the field, but luckily he's not too bothered about being beaten by his little sister.

Our kids dance around to You Make Me Feel Like Dancing while we collect our winnings, a whopping $52 for a $2 bet thanks to our two-year-old's choice: Paisley Street.

Did we have a good time? You bet!

TRAVELLERS' TIPS

Ruakaka Racecourse: Has free entry (except for a gate charge at some events such as the Summer Festival) and free parking. Free return buses from Kamo, Kensington and Whangarei Central.

Upcoming Races: Race dates for the year are August 5, August 24 and September 10 (also the L.J. Hooker Fashion Fiesta where contestants compete for more than $10,000 in prizes).

- NZ Herald

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