I could live in Tairua, it's got everything I need in one nook. From decent surf with multiple breaks and a few secret pozzies, to offshore Islands offering calm trailer-boat shelter with thousands of water adventure opportunities above, and especially below. At the right time it possesses gin-clear water, with bottom structure creating habitat to enable almost anything to take up residence, and they frequently do.
Furthest offshore however, are the crown jewels, The Alderman Islands. Just 20km out, visible from the mainland and on par with the legendary Poor Knights Islands marine reserve, except out here you are allowed to bring a selection home for a pescatarian feast. For scenic scuba divers, there are magnificent caves and even a long island swim-through for the truly adventurous. That's it, that's all I need in one place, happy buttons activated.
Now I realise that not all reading this might necessarily share the same rabid obsession I have with offshore wet areas, and I will broaden this piece out shortly, by mentioning the trout fishing. But dad jokes aside, to understand Tairua is to understand its deep connection to the sea.
Part of that is its incredible history of people travelling here to enjoy the marine environment. The name literally translates as "two-tides" and in a Māori midden one of the earliest ever artefacts was discovered, appropriately; a fishing lure. Made from a Pacific Island oyster shell, it suggests that this was an area selected early as a desirable place to live because of what the sea offered.
It still offers it today. Tourism fishing is a significant visitor driver. People travel from all over New Zealand to book charters and try their own fishing luck over the harbour bar and beyond. One popular operator pre-Covid enjoyed 75 per cent of his bookings from Australia, all with one fish in mind. It turns out that so legendary are our yellowtail kingfish (distributed globally yet we have almost all the world records) that anglers come from everywhere to tackle a big one, and on this front Tairua delivers.
I have early childhood memories of driving up from Gisborne with my dad to enter the Tairua "Big 3", where I caught my first ever hāpuku, complete with a prize-giving at the now sadly removed Sir George Grey Hotel.
There is something about East Coast seaside towns that make them just a bit more chilled than the rest of the country. Arriving into the small-town strip via a one-way bridge, which doubles as a local high-tide bombing spot, acts as a type of circuit breaker to make you suddenly relax. The anxiety of the drive lifts, and mentally you are already slipping into shorts and Jandals.
With a smattering of shops to cover necessities, from cafes, a pub, fishing clubrooms, a supermarket, pharmacy, takeaways, a butcher and more, you are well covered for a weekend escape.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
The sense of local community spirit here is also really strong and during lockdown local fishers and hunters distributed fish, wild pork and venison to the elderly, people checked on each other, properties were kept an eye on. A case of the community working to its collective strengths. There is also an interesting group of downscalers who now call the place home, people who have shunned the big corporate gigs and lifestyles they once had, and truly figured out life.
For best viewing of locals in the wild, I'd recommend popping into Out of the Blue cafe early on a weekday morning, where, with luck, you might overhear a guy called Scott telling terrible jokes over a cup of coffee.
There is much to explore and do in Tairua, I haven't even touched on the remnants of the once-thriving gold mining and logging industries, which have become a series of walks and places to discover in the valleys and hills beyond. Just perfect for those days when the sea keeps you stuck on land.
Clarke Gayford is the host of Fish of the Day, returning tonight, 5.25pm on THREE