Heading to the beach bach? Monique Barden has some school holiday suggestions for keeping the kids occupied.
The sea is green and glassy, rippling under the morning sun. The kids gather around Fred like a moth to a flame. He baits their lines and gives instructions: "Hold the weight at the bottom of the line in one hand and the rod in the other."
They find a spot on the wharf and reel the line into the sea with eager anticipation. "Let the line fall to the bottom and then wind two reels up and lock the line," says Fred.
For newcomers this is a test in patience, some more adept than others, unable to resist winding up their line every few minutes. Some kids get too close and their lines tangle. More advice from Fred: "Don't get too close to each other." These are early lessons for a young fisher.
A steady wave of children move back and forth to have their lines rebaited and sometimes detangled. The thrill of catching a fish is motivating for everyone on the wharf, the fish are hungry, the seagulls are swooping and the atmosphere is exciting. Before long the fish start coming thick and fast and Fred is running all over the wharf helping to bring them in.
All attention turns to the wildly flapping silvery wetness on the line. Fred helps them grab their fish by the hand, which can be quite a scary experience for the first time, trying to get something moving so fast and feeling so foreign and a bit icky into your hands. They get a picture with their catch and their faces beam with pride. Sometimes the fish goes into the bucket or back into the sea, Fred demonstrates how to remove the hook from the fish with the least amount of damage. Kahawai, piper, mackerel and snapper are all fish of the day today.
According to a report by the New Zealand Marine Research Foundation, 700,000 people fish in the sea every year and recreational fishing is the fifth most popular recreational activity for adult New Zealanders, with one of the benefits being, "simply teaching the kids how to catch their own healthy food".
I booked my boys, aged 7 and 10, into four days of the six-day Fish Kid school holiday programme at Whangamata wharf. It runs for two hours a day at high tide, with the times changing by an hour each day. The scenery is picture perfect: boats moored in the harbour to the left, islands in the surf to the right and the sun reflecting on the ripples in the ocean. A couple of hours here feels a world away from city traffic and the office.
Teach a kid to fish and you'll feed them for a lifetime. Okay, so most of the fish are too small to make supper, however, one young girl did catch a large snapper on a tiny pink fishing line. The haul in was pure theatre, the entire wharf gripped as we watched Fred pull the snapper on to the beach. Producing a large, hook-like implement, he dramatically whacked the fish, ending its life. He then gutted it for for the wee one to take home for dinner. Right there was a lesson in where food comes from.
• Book into Fish Kid at Bubba's Fishing & Outdoors, Whangamata. Ph (07) 865 7464.
Whangamata is a renowned surf beach, famous for its bar and left break surf. All levels can surf here, so why not get the kids started in the spring school holidays ready for summer surfing. The following surf schools are running holiday programmes with boards and wetsuits provided.
Surf Life Saving Club
The legendary Whangamata Surf Lifesaving club will be celebrating 70 years in 2019 and has one of the longest-running junior surf lifesaving programmes in the country. Starting at Labour Weekend and running through to Easter 2019, Nippers is held every Sunday (and daily in January) for kids aged 5-12 years. Kids learn about beach safety, surf skills, first aid and surf sports. Junior surf club membership is $50 for the season.
Wentworth Valley Falls Walk
The Wentworth Falls walk is a scenic 2-2.5 hour round trip through the forest following the Wentworth river up to the waterfall. The path is an easy grade walking track with two bridge crossings over the river. This is a half-day trip with the kids if you include a picnic stop and a trek to two gold mine shafts. In hot weather the walk is a shady reprieve from the sun with a refreshing dip in the swimming holes. The track starts from the Wentworth Valley campground, which is a 7km drive from Whangamata on SH25.
The Whangamata Ridges Mountain Bike Park is a great destination for biking with tracks suitable for ages starting at 7-8 years. Located in the Matariki Forest, 4km north of Whangamata off Ridge Rd. You can hire bikes from the Pedal and Paddle shop and pay the $10 annual membership for use of the park. They also hire the very popular Crocodile and tandem bikes for groups of kids to cruise around town.
Kayaking and Paddle Boarding
The estuaries at either ends of the surf beach are great for kayaking and stand-up paddle (SUP) boarding on a calm, flat day. There are also guided tours to Whenukura island - a beautiful wildlife sanctuary located 600m from the shoreline.
Whangamata was voted New Zealand's best beach earlier this year. Spanning 6km, it has ample sand for endless sandcastles, shell collecting, driftwood for hut building, sand dunes for getting lost and found in and epic holes to be dug and filled in again. The beach is also home to the endangered dotterel bird, with some areas fenced off, so you can give the kids an impromptu wildlife observation lesson.