The suitably monikered Elisabeth Easther picks out some Easter breaks you're going to love
Easter is a great time of year - it rounds out another summer and prepares us for the onset of open fires, roasts, and winter woollies. Aside from the buttery hot cross buns and chocolate bunnies, we've found more reasons to love Easter: it's the last proper break (aside from Queens Birthday) until Labour Weekend. Make the most of it.
1: Raglan, North Waikato
48km west of Hamilton; two-hours drive from Auckland
If you're not content to veg out with a book in Raglan, you can take surfing lessons, paddle a kayak or check out the arts and crafts scene, which is thriving. The secondhand shops are amazing for bargains, and there are plenty of people who offer massage, or teach yoga or dispense herbs to treat whatever is ailing you. There are lots of walking tracks - Te Roto Lower Gorge Track is a dandy one-hour round trip, and Bridal Veil Falls is an oldie but a goodie. There's horse riding, mountain biking and a choice of beaches, from the invigorating surf of Whale Bay to the township's gentle protected harbour, Raglan is also known for great coffee and food. And the latest offering? Yoga on a paddleboard. Truly. Try it.
2: Mangonui, Far North
300km from Auckland; 47 minutes drive from Kerikeri
Kupe first visited Mangonui in around 900AD; as early as the late 1700s the whalers were making their presence felt, and then came the traders and the missionaries. Today it's all about tourists. Built around the harbour, Mangonui is so darling visitors sigh audibly with pleasure when they first arrive. The Mangonui Heritage Trail is an ideal way to begin your explorations and the local wharf is perfect for taking the little ones fishing. The garden bar of the local pub is popular for a pint, and Barney the resident sulphur crested cockatoo adds that little something extra to the joint.
Both Mangonui's Fish and Chip shops are worth visiting. Going to the more famous one allows you to eat your grub over the water, but for shorter queues and kai that's just as good, over the road is fine. For the archeologically inclined, take a stroll up to Rangikapiti Pa, the views are splendid. Nothing like a pa site for a good vista. Butlers Point (150m from Mangonui by boat or 20 minutes by car via Hihi Beach) makes a wonderful outing with its Whaling Musuem, 1840s house and immaculate gardens. Butler Point is privately owned and only open by appointment (0800MUSEUM). The weekend following Easter, on April 6, The Mangonui Waterfront Festival is in full swing with entertainment, food stalls and all sorts of fun.
2.5 hours drive from Auckland; 73km south of Hamilton
Waitomo rocks. The name translates as "the stream that flows into the hole in the ground", and the area is famous for its caves. Several operators offer caving adventures and glow worm encounters, and whether you're an adrenaline-loving thrill seeker or a baby in a backpack, there's something for you. The Legendary Black Water Rafting Co offer a range of trips, with abseiling, tubing, waterfall climbs, flying foxes, plus more glow worms than you can shake a stick at. A meal at Huhu Cafe is essential - gourmet food at country prices - and the service is spot on. Great walks include the Ruakuri Walk, Mangapohue Natural Bridge and Marokopa Falls which are all good for a gander. Waitomo has a magical charm, while still being down to earth, ethereal and full of surprises. I've always wanted to stay at the former THC hotel up on the hill, described online as being a cross between Fawlty Towers and the hotel in The Shining.
4: Kauaeranga Valley
13km east of Thames, in the Kauaeranga Forest Park; 95 minutes drive from Auckland
In the interests of keeping it real, dust off the tent, shake the sand from the sleeping bags and head to this DOC camp which is heaven on Earth, perfectly preserved since the days of your school camp. Today the Kauaeranga Valley has eight campgrounds next to the river, as well as four back-country camping areas (no road access, just hiking). There are over 20 walking tracks ranging from 20 minutes to overnight trails. Other activities include hunting (you need a permit), horse riding, mountain biking, swimming, climbing and abseiling.
There are also swing bridges, waterfalls and the remains of old dams. Kahikatea Walk is just 20 minutes long, starting at the visitor centre and leading to a scale replica kauri dam which they tripped for my school camp all those years ago. And the view from the Pinnacles is simply stunning. But do make sure, for walks of over an hour, that you prepare for all eventualities.
At the other end of the spectrum, how about unbridled luxury at one of these three lodges which promise 'family heaven' this Easter for those who aren't afraid of paying top dollar. The Family Heaven package (from $7865 for a family of two adults and two children) includes two nights' accommodation in a luxury suite, daily pre-dinner drinks and canapes, dinner, full breakfast, complimentary non-alcoholic mini-bar and use of all lodge facilities. Parents can choose between a day of golf or an 80-minute spa treatment, while children have similarly fabulous choices. Dinner is served family style one night, and the second night parents may take advantage of the babysitting included in the package with room service for the children, while they dine in their choice of locations throughout the lodges.By Elisabeth Easther Email Elisabeth