A relaxing weekend is not for everyone, writes Tina Moore
A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I crawled over the Harbour Bridge on our way out of Auckland in Friday afternoon peak-hour traffic and driving rain, bound for the promise of a sunny mid-winter getaway in the Bay of Islands. The stresses of the working week fell away as the city lights trailed away behind us. Just three hours' drive north to Paihia and we'd be on what you might call a "staycation". Sound relaxing? Think again.
This was to be no chilled, lounging-around-with-cocktails-and-books weekend. Call me bonkers, but my idea of a good time is extreme skiing, mountain climbing, whitewater rafting — anything physically demanding and potentially injurious. You get the picture; I love adventure.
I'd signed myself and my unwitting boyfriend up for The Fullers Greatsights Bay of Islands BEAST — a scary-sounding event that has been growing in popularity since its inception a few years ago. The promoters promised a tough 7km course over rolling countryside; navigating swamps, river crossings, a little bit of mud, some very steep hills and rugged, uneven terrain.
We did very little in the way of research about the event, so it was a surprise to see more than 1000 eager participants at the start line, the majority of them fully decked out in crazy costumes, with their shoes taped on (a hot tip I soon came to wish I'd known as I lost a shoe metres deep in "Swampy McSwamp"). There were groups variously dressed as road cones, Smurfs, prisoners, and fairies. Maximum effort for costumes that were swiftly mud-logged and soggy.
Squelching through knee-deep mud straight out of the starting gates, it was clear what we'd got ourselves into. "A little bit of mud" turned out to be quite a lot more than that. It was actually a laugh a minute, and an epic journey of camaraderie with all involved. The hose off at the finish line by the local firemen with blasts of freezing cold water was, in fact, a luxury.
It goes without saying that we earned our dinner that night. After showering five times (no joke, that mud got EVERYWHERE), we strolled the few hundred metres from The Scenic Hotel into town and down to the jetty, where we discovered Charlotte's Kitchen. We fell in love with it so much we came back for breakfast, lunch and cocktails the next day.
The restaurant is named after an early settler woman by the name of Charlotte Badger, a criminal from the UK who stole a couple of guineas and a silk handkerchief, thereby finding herself sentenced to seven years' penal servitude in New South Wales at the Parramatta female factory. Long story short, Charlotte commandeered a vessel and crew and set sail to the Bay of Islands and by all accounts got up to a great deal of mischief and naughtiness along the way. It's this character that sets the scene for the restaurant, establishing a casual, quirky vibe.
Aside from the pumping atmosphere and killer bay views, the food was outstanding. We gorged ourselves on steamed pork buns, crispy calamari, and a trio of fish dishes to die for, and washed it all down with a glorious local Omata Estate pinot gris. It was 7pm, and the All Blacks' deciding Test match against the Lions was about to kick off but we were so tired from the day's efforts and so overcome with a food coma that we ditched the rugby and headed straight back to The Scenic for an early night.
The recovery sleep was much needed, because we had a date with Jonny from Paihia Mountain Bikes early in the morning, for a guided tour of the newly opened Waitangi Mountain Bike Park. Jonny kitted us out with some top-notch bikes and helmets, and drove us the 10 or so minutes from town to the park, giving us some history along the way.
On arrival we met Tiff Holland, one of the driving forces behind this extensive community project, who gave us the run-down on the cultural and historical significance of the area, and the importance of the park to the Paihia community. There's no doubt that, once complete, this park will attract world-class mountain bikers and tourists in droves. More new tracks will be opening in spring.
Extensive consultation has been carried out about the exact location of each trail before it was built. This includes the Department of Conservation, Tangata Whenua — Ngati Rahiri/Ngati Kawa and Taiamai, Geometria for archeology, the Horse Trekking Concessionaire and a Kiwi Detection Expert. The sustainably built and maintained trails are also designed to assist conservation efforts with spraying of gorse and other weeds and pest control initiatives to restore native birdlife. Considerable effort is being made to ensure the safety of the local kiwi population.
With a far greater appreciation for the park from a cultural perspective, we set off for a ride. After a morning of rain (spoiler alert: sometimes it does indeed rain in the sunny Bay of Islands), the track was nice and wet. Excellent, more mud! An hour of thrills (and a couple of spills) later, and the aching muscles could take no more.
Fortunately, we'd had the foresight to book the one and only relaxing element to our weekend getaway in advance — a couples massage at La Spa Naturale at Paihia Beach Resort & Spa Hotel. Exactly what the doctor ordered. After a relaxing 20-minute session in the steam room we were treated to a delicious hour-long massage.
Unfortunately, just as we finally got to relax, we had to pack up and head home. We were back in Auckland just in time for a stunning sunset — the perfect way to end a perfect weekend of adventure in the Bay of Islands. Well, at least I thought so. My boyfriend tells me I'm not in charge of our weekends away ever again.
IF YOU GO
Staying there: The four-star Scenic Hotel Bay of Islands has island-influenced architecture with beautifully landscaped grounds and light airy rooms. The entire property has been extensively refurbished and expanded. It is at the entrance to Paihia and is a pleasant stroll into town to the main wharf, visitor activities, dining and shopping.
Further information: See visitboi.co.nz.