By Jodi Bryant
Kerikeri has often been a detour stopover for lunch enroute to Doubtless Bay for me so to actually spend a night there was something new.
It turns out, there's heaps to do and one night doesn't do it justice so it was challenging narrowing down my ever-accruing list. In the end, this was helped by a number of factors; businesses still closed post-lockdown (now mostly re-opened) and the weather. Also, being a family trip, I decided to leave the vineyards (although they are family-friendly) of which there are plenty, for another occasion.
Kerikeri's central location makes it perfect for exploring the Bay of Islands and the rest of Northland but Kerikeri itself oozes charm and character.
An attractive, vibrant and progressive town, rich in history, it boasts the country's oldest wooden building, Kemp House (1821) and the oldest stone building the Stone Store (1832) both set on the riverside amongst walks and eateries.
We arrived on Saturday in time to catch the end of the Old Packhouse Markets (also open Sunday) which were conveniently enroute from Whangarei. Northland's largest market, this place was thriving with lively music and you could tell it is the hub where many locals conduct their weekly catch-up. There was all sorts here, including a wide variety of fresh produce and edibles and stalls of jewellery, fudge and more. I got distracted browsing the beautiful paua-wrapped handmade soaps and ended up purchasing a few for gifts, while my children's stomachs rumbled. With plenty of options for lunch, including two in-house cafes, an artisan bakery and deli selling local cheeses, my boys opted for pies from the pie stand before we headed into town to my favourite sushi place where, I've noticed, the friendly lady always pops a few extra pieces in.
Next it was onto our accommodation, Stay Kerikeri. Originally Abilene Motel, this 70s three-star establishment was taken over five years ago by Northlanders Bill and Paula Schwass, who saw its potential and conducted a complete refit. Using their vast travelling experience, they turned out top-end contemporary and fashionable boutique apartments and studios. Their taste proved a winning formula and it went on to win the Expedia Best Redeveloped Accommodation category in the New Zealand Hospitality Awards in 2017 and Tripadvisor Excellence Awards for several years running, amongst other accolades.
The spacious rooms have a light and breezy ambience and are comfortably homely with aesthetically-placed bright, trendy splashes of character throughout. The balconies have large tables offering the option of al fresco dining prepared from the fully-equipped kitchens. After going for a wander around the beautiful sub-tropical gardens, sculpted by Bill and Paula over the years and taking in the pool area, we soon settled in.
I'm pretty sure, by memory, upon arriving at a motel as children, the first thing we would do was make a beeline for the hot chocolates, pool and games room. These days, it's the WiFi code. So, I was pretty keen to get them out and make the most of the physical activities that Kerikeri and its surrounds have to offer. This was found in Waipapa at the TeeTree Café Golf & Archery Range.
We were given a bucket of golf balls, along with a couple of undercover bays and, in beautifully-manicured and peaceful surrounds punctuated only by rooster calls, whiled away the next half hour aiming balls at targets, or, for some of us, ahem, clubs at balls. The kids had a ball (sorry) with all memories of cyber land forgotten as they lived in the real world. Then it was onto the archery for some bow and arrow action. Again, it was great to see the competitive spirit come out in my boys in real life, rather than idly adjacent on screens.
Set on six hectares with adjoining café offering an all-day menu and homemade cabinet food with indoor and outdoor eating areas, this is also a good option for bringing younger families (and the dog) with its small animal farm and large children's play area. The range of package deals include families, corporate, party and other functions, with happy hour deals, golf concession cards and a winter archery competition also on offer.
After this fun and relaxing activity, we turned off to visit the Rainbow Falls. Kerikeri is blessed with a unique river system, incorporating an abundance in waterfalls, which eventually runs out to sea at the Bay of Islands via the Historic Stone Store area and fabulous Plough & Feather pub (more on this later).
Less than a minute's stroll from the car park brought us to the first look-out platform where we could take in the 27m high breath-taking cascade of water surrounded by plumes of mist. Another few minute's walk took us down to the bottom for a different vantage of the water tumbling into the popular swimming hole. From here, the track continues onto a more adventurous trail through native forest, eventually emerging at the Kerikeri Basin.
We returned to our accommodation – aptly named, as we quite happily would've stayed in that night – to relax and think about dinner options before setting out for the short walk into town.
We ended up at the locally-owned Burger Fiasko, which had a pumping Saturday night vibe, on the main street where we could watch Kerikeri nightlife in action. I ordered The Eddie – a beef burger with double cheese, pickles, onion, tomato, lettuce, mustard and aioli and, when I return, that's what I'll order again. There's a reason why The Eddie is listed top of the menu. These were definitely not your average burgers and the kids were equally happy with theirs.
The next day our luck had run out weather-wise so our planned trip to Aroha Island had to be called off. Back in January, some German tourists mentioned that they were on their way to visit this island and, having never heard of it, I had to Google map its location.
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Although closed until October, the caretakers had kindly offered to show us around. The island is a 12ha sanctuary in the Kerikeri inlet linked to the mainland via a causeway about 12km north-east from Kerikeri. It is a natural haven with a wide diversity of New Zealand plants and birds, including the rare North Island brown kiwi.
From October, visitors are welcome by day or to stay in the range of accommodation which includes the Aroha Kiwi Holiday Home, beach or bush campgrounds and cottages where they can enjoy swimming, bush walking and kiwi spotting in peace and tranquillity. Also used for retreats, conferences and other special events, Aroha Island is an important archaeological site where middens, stone alignments and heaps, terraces and two burial grounds have been discovered.
Transferring Aroha Island onto the summer list, instead, we went on a parrot safari.
The Parrot Place is a Bird Display and Breeding Centre with approximately 300 birds, including 50 varieties from all over the world. Paths lead through subtropical gardens with water features flanked with both open and closed aviaries. But that's where the serenity ends.
"Hello" squawked the friendly cockatoo upon our entry before we were each handed a bowl of nuts and seeds to feed the birds.
Pug, the Australian King Parrot, Tiki, the Indian Ringneck and Speckles, the cockatiel, were each deposited onto the kids, to their delight, and began eating from their bowls before our attention was diverted by Snowy, the mischievous 50-year-old short-billed Corella, who sneezes and dances on command.
The colourful array of exotic birds was a sight to behold as we strolled alongside and through the walk-in aviaries with many entertaining us with their antics and cheekily calling out 'hello' on our passing.
The Parrot Place also runs a successful breeding and rearing programme with a range of parrots, both hand reared and aviary bred, for sale, as well as a pet supplies store offering a huge range of paraphernalia.
There is also a large activity park for kids alongside the coffee kiosk 'Sweet Tweets'.
It was lunchtime and, upon enquiring on local dining, the recurring recommendation from locals was the Plough & Feather.
Based in the prime waterfront location of the Kerikeri Basin, the Plough & Feather is an English-style pub with a Northland twist. Sunday lunchtime was humming with groups of happy diners both inside and out on the enclosed and cosy veranda overlooking the river and its passersby.
Our service was friendly and prompt. I ordered the fish and chips – gurnard that day and delicious – while the twins soon devoured their ham and pineapple pizzas and the oldest enjoyed a chicken tikka masala. I will definitely be back for more of this ambience with both family and friends.
Happy and full, we took a stroll by the river before heading for home with a plan to stop enroute at Makana Confections for a sweet treat. However, this, along with many other businesses was still shut at this time, so we called in at the next stop along the way – The Rusty Tractor Cafe – for a small takeaway cookie.
Thank you Kerikeri and it's warm, welcoming people for giving us a lovely time.