Eveline Harvey is nzherald.co.nz's travel editor.

The elusive treasures of Coromandel's Opito Bay

Opito was worth the journey, even if Eveline Harvey didn't get to sample its famed scallops.

Gorgeous Opito Bay on the Coromandel Peninsula. Photo / Eveline Harvey
Gorgeous Opito Bay on the Coromandel Peninsula. Photo / Eveline Harvey

"It's a bit of a goat track," said my husband as we hit yet another patch of metal road on the approach to our summer holiday destination.

Unsure whether this was a subtle dig at my location-choosing abilities, I tried to change the subject by pointing out the sign warning of logging trucks and suggested he concentrate on not hitting one as we negotiated a fairly narrow, completely blind corner.

He'd been a tad disappointed, I think, when the almost sugar-white sand of Otama Beach had come into view at the bottom of a steep hill some minutes earlier and he'd learned we weren't stopping there.

Undeterred, he muttered something about gravel roads and towing boats and ... "Wow."

As we crested another hill, a view across to the Mercury Islands opened up beyond steep-sided farmland more reminiscent of Central Otago than the Coromandel.

The sea was flat calm, its surface undisturbed save for a few recreational fishing vessels. High clouds were parked over the bay, not a breath of wind to move them anywhere.

"That's where we're staying," I said.

It's hard being the holiday organiser when you have a fishing-mad husband. He'd quite happily stay in Auckland, pootling about the Hauraki Gulf all summer.

And there's nothing wrong with that, but I quite like seeing other parts of our fair country occasionally.

Add into the mix a very inquisitive 16-month-old and planning a trip becomes even more of a logistical juggling act.

I eventually found a fully fenced bach in Opito Bay, about 30 minutes' drive northeast of Whitianga, that ticked all the holiday wishlist boxes. Granted, it was beach-launching only for the boat, but that seemed a minor enough detail - something for the fisherman to concern himself with.

Unpacking done, we took a stroll along the beach where we found - much to our son's delight - a couple of swings rigged up in a clump of pohutukawa trees and an estuary that provided hours of safe-splashing entertainment.

Our haven for the week was a solid wee cottage almost at the far end of the bay, right on the front block so we could have breakfast in peace and quiet while looking out to sea.

Except we woke on our first morning in paradise to see a flatbed truck loaded with a digger, and a ute, parking across the road. Turns out work of the demolition variety was scheduled for the neighbouring property.

But all's well that ends well.

The procedure of removing an old concrete water tank proved fascinating to watch, our son was thrilled there was a digger next door, and the property's owner very kindly towed our boat with his tractor when we discovered beach launching was tricky at some tides even with a 4WD.

He wasn't the only friendly local. The elderly couple on the other side of the bach had been coming to the bay for decades. One evening they brought us a huge bunch of grapes fresh from their vine. I'd caught whiffs of a sweet scent on the air the day before but hadn't placed it until the sun-warmed green berries were sitting in front of me. Delicious. A taste remembered from childhood.

There were more bounties of the land and the sea to be had: we foraged for blackberries, growing wild in a thicket on the roadside, and the arrival of my husband's parents saw father and son head out on the water in search of the scallops a chart said were there.

Their first outing with the seldom-used dredge was fruitless. As was the second. And the third.

At least the fish were biting. We feasted on snapper and john dory caught within sight of land and filleted on the bach's front lawn - our son's first biology lesson.

But hubby still had a bee in his bonnet over the elusive shellfish.

The father-in-law's wry suggestion that he knew where to get good scallops - "Why don't we take a drive to New World in Whitianga?" was pointedly ignored.

On the second-to-last day of the holiday, he changed tack, donning a snorkel and mask and heading out to where he thought he'd seen divers have success the previous day. I went for a swim and, sensing his undertaking wasn't going so well, dug my toes into the sand in search of a back-up feed.

By the time my bedraggled - and empty-handed - other half got back to the beach I'd dug out my limit of tuatua and one Maglite, the latter perhaps lost to the ocean on a previous scallop-scouting excursion.

Defeated but optimistic, he decided it was a bit late in the season to expect them to be thick on the seafloor. There was always next year.

In any case, it seems I needn't have worried about my choice of holiday spot. As soon as we were back within reliable internet range I sprung hubby googling "Opito Bay property".

The prices told us it was time to buy a Lotto ticket, though I suspect we'd have
more luck pulling a scallop out of that beautiful bay.

Fact file

Getting there: Opito Bay is on the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, about 3-3.5 hours' drive from Auckland. Turn off Highway 25 at Kuaotunu but be prepared for unsealed roads.

Accommodation: Bachcare.co.nz offers a range of Opito Bay rental properties.

Launch with care: A 4WD is definitely required for boat launching off the beach but even that might not be enough when the waves are dumping. Talk to the locals about where to get a tractor - apparently a guy up the road will drop boaties in and pull them out for a small fee. Alternatively, there's a concrete ramp at Kuaotunu, about 15 minutes' drive away.

Know your limits: See the Ministry for Primary Industry's website for fish and shellfish size and catch restrictions.

Stocking up: Whitianga's the nearest town, so grab supplies at the supermarket there. If you forget anything, there's a general store at Kuaotunu.

Eating out: Head to Luke's Kitchen at Kuaotunu for delicious fresh food in a laid-back environment or stop in at the adjoining art gallery for a browse and fabulous coffee. The general store is famous for its ice creams.

- Spy.co.nz

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