This charming Waikato town proves a great choice for a weekend away, writes Elisabeth Easther.
Two mothers, (one of them on the verge of turning 40) and their respective children set off for Cambridge, paying little heed to the weather bomb that was forecast to explode — it takes more than a spot of rain to put us off. And we're so glad we ignored the meteorologists because, two days later we left Cambridge singing the town's praises, adamant we'd be back.
Arriving in the picturesque Waikato township on a cold and stormy night, we found exactly the kind of comfort weary travellers dream of. Cambridge boasts a swag of motels, but we reckon we chose the finest in the Colonial Court Motel. With its cosy decor and friendly hosts, we had everything we needed, including warm beds and an especially well-appointed kitchen. The card and big block of chocolate for the birthday girl was an especially sweet touch.
Waking up the next morning, having listened to the rain drumming on the roof all night, we crossed our fingers that our jet boat dreams would come true. And what do you know? The moment we shook hands with Aaron from Camjet, the sun broke through the clouds. For 60 heavenly minutes the rain backed off and we were whisked up the river, squealing with delight, on the Dambusters Tour.
Aaron, our champion pilot, stopped occasionally along the way to give us a potted history, tell tall tales about trees, or point out enormous koi carp.
At journey's end, we clambered back on to land and the rain returned, but we didn't care because we were headed to the Boatshed Cafe, 15 minutes out of town, towards Karapiro.
Zipping through the beautifully manicured countryside, we knew we'd struck gold as we wound along the rural side roads, past horse-studded paddocks.
At the cafe we were promptly seated in elegant surrounds to do a little grazing of our own. The menu of simple, mainly organic fare was delicious, and the chocolate brownie (not to mention the warm service from Brodie our Texan-Kiwi waitress) will be remembered for a long time to come.
One of the kids declared his dish the best lunch he'd ever had, "just like a restaurant".
The Boatshed is also very popular for weddings and it's easy to see why. The gorgeous gardens and river views make it hard to beat for romance and relaxation.
To work off lunch, we took advantage of the Boatshed Kayak's offer to take a couple of canoes for a spin. There's a fabulous waterfall a little over a kilometre upriver and, had we visited in the evening, we'd have certainly done the twilight glow-worm trip.
Back in town, the local museum makes for a charming trip back in time, the stuffed kiwi, pukeko and rat particularly tickling the kids' fancies. As for the antique shops, you could browse for days and not be bored.
Finally, to ice the day's cake, we took a stroll round lake Te Ko Utu, (translation, "the place to scoop up water") where autumn's rich colours played a symphony for our eyes and hundreds of ducks sought refuge from shooting season.
There are several short walks fanning out from the lake, and you'd be hard pressed to pick a favourite.
We fell heavily into our beds that night, and with good reason, because the next morning we were off to Phillips Equine near Matangi.
Our guides, Lorraine and Ben, took us on an idyllic ride, and the kids thought they'd gone to heaven as they trotted along country lanes and — once again — the rain held off for the perfect length of time.
We could have stayed there forever hanging out with the menagerie that also included cats, a pig, chickens and a little family of welcome dogs, who came along for the ride.
As we were leaving, the kids were given a couple of horse shoes each as souvenirs, as if they weren't lucky enough.
Camjet: Jetboat tours of the Waikato River. Perfect for blowing out the cobwebs, thrills guaranteed, phone 0800 CAMJET.
Philips Equine: Horse riding for all ages and abilities, including holiday programmes and overnights, 123 Woodside Rd, Matangi, phone (07) 829 5605.
Colonial Court Motel: Lovely lodgings, snug and very well-appointed, 37 Vogel St, Cambridge, phone (07) 827 5244.
The Boatshed Cafe: Great food, friendly service and the gateway to a range of kayak adventures, 21 Amber Lane, Cambridge, phone (07) 827 8286.
Elisabeth Easther was a guest of Waikato Tourism.