Anna King Shahab finds herself hungry in Whangamatā
At the base of the Coromandel Peninsula, Whangamatā boasts a fine white-sand beach and a long peeling left-hand surf break, the famous Whangamatā Bar. The town's population swells in summer and also when the annual Beach Hop – classic cars, hot rods, and rock 'n' roll festival – rolls into town – which this year has been postponed from March to the last weekend in November.
To be fed and watered this summer, the most obvious place to head is the main street – Port Rd. You won't do badly at all in opting for the eponymous spot: Port Road Project is a great pick for brunch, their Turkish Eggs are a winner. Over the road, Six Forty Six is a longtime favourite with locals, a place I first got to know when I compiled The New Zealand Cafe Cookbook – favourite recipes from cafes all around Aotearoa – half a decade ago. Their solid breakfast and lunch menus are joined by a 3pm-onwards lineup of platters to graze on with a drink in hand.
Smoky Pallet is a newer fixture, the passion project of mates, lawyer Michael and ex-pro rugby player Kane who, as Kane puts it, "Naively decided to buy an old pub". They've renovated it, learned quickly how hard it is running a hospo venue, and now have a steady local following. Being a freehouse, the pair are able to stock as wide a range of beer, wine, and spirits as they wish.
Stock up on bread at Oliver's Bakery just off the strip on Aickin St. The sourdough is good value and the perfect vehicle for roadside avocados (read on), the narrow and nicely blistered ficelles are excellent sliced up and topped with cheese and enjoyed with a crisp glass of chardonnay. Also, don't miss out on a smoked fish pie.
Speaking of stocking up, I cannot resist a roadside orchard or honesty box, and our car journeys in and around Whangamatā were punctuated by frequent pulling over to assess offerings. This month there were mainly avocados and citrus, such as mandarins, lemons and late-season Mexican limes on offer, and not just out on the main highways, but out the front of pin-tuck neat, sunbleached residences round town, too – shout out to the house on Island View Rd proffering faultless avocados ($5 for 6 small ones), jars of honey and jams. Get cash out so you won't miss out on this dying tradition.
There's nothing like scoffing too-hot fish and chips with the tang of the sea in the air, and there are several places to choose from here for that. My pick is Sea and Salt on Port Rd – ours was a hefty order to feed three families and all the fish was beautifully fresh, the batter crisp and just the right colour, and the scoops generous in the chip department. The kids were also enamoured with the very comprehensive list of shakes and sundaes at Cara Melo (daily visits were required).
The Wentworth Falls walk (about 2 hours all up) makes a nice inland excursion, and from there it's only 10 mins drive down the coast to explore small, sleepy Whiritoa, which is graced with another beautiful squeaky-sand surf beach. There's only one spot to fill the tummy, but it's a good 'un: Whiritoa General Store and Cafe has a charming home-dining-room vibe and makes great coffee, but you really go here for the cheeseburgers – a generous stuffing of lettuce, tomato, beetroot, and cheddar perfectly melted over the Angus beef patties – with a big bowl of chunky chips on the side.
The town's clubhouses are well frequented, and their kitchens are as busy as their bars. At one end of town there's the RSA, where Ying's is open to the public, serving Thai cuisine – we couldn't fit that in but locals we know rate it highly.
At the other end, supping at the Whangamata Ocean Sports Club is a members-only affair, but depending on how busy they are, it's not too hard to slip in, a small donation to charity later and a guest pass in hand. We arrived early which was just as well, as the place was soon heaving, with folks borrowing chairs or sharing tables. You grab your own vessel from the chiller – coded by beer choice and size – to be filled at the bar, and order and collect food at the kitchen counter. Our mussel pot (Thai red curry sauce), sticky ribs, and sliders were served up fast and devoured just as quickly. I can't think of many or any other dining spots with quite the same setting – the building is perched in the dunes, looking out over the tranquil estuary to bush-clad hills, and to that famous surf break and the endless expanse of ocean beyond.
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