Elisabeth Easther heads north to the township built by oil.

Origin of name:

Rua — burrow or hole and kaka — native parrot which means Ruakaka — burrow of the native parrot.

Population: 3543 with a heavy swell in summer.

Claim to fame: The township sprang up largely thanks to the Marsden Point Oil Refinery.


Town slogan: The Gateway to Marsden Point.

Old news: Bream Bay was named by Captain Cook because he mistakenly thought the sparkling waters were teeming with bream, although the fish were more likely snapper.

Famous locals: Cameron Leslie, New Zealand paralympics swimmer, was born and bred in Ruakaka. Roger Hall (the surfboard designer, not the playwright), Yvonne Judge, star of New Zealand's first glam rock band Noazark and also a member of New Zealand's first all-girl rock band The Fair Sect.

Best website: breambay.co.nz.

Big business: The Marsden Point Oil Refinery provides a lot of work for locals.

Town fiestas: The Ruakaka Racecourse runs dozens of family-friendly events each year, among them Where the Turf meets the Surf and sometimes, early in the morning, you might catch sight of a majestic steed training on the sand.

There are also several fishing competitions including Beach and Boat and the school puts on a biannual gala. And be sure to peruse the Marsden Cove Market, held on the third Sunday of each month.

Best reason to stop: The beautiful long white sandy beach - it's sublime.


Kids love: Anywhere along the beach is dandy while down at the estuary there's a place locals refer to as "the swimming hole" where you'll find a swing rope from which to hurl yourself into the water at high tide.

Best park: Right in Ruakaka Village there is plenty of space to run around on the soccer fields, and the new skate park is just about to open.

Best playground: The playground at the park has everything you need to swing, slide and climb.

Yvonne Judge, the owner of Scavengers, is world-famous in Ruakaka. Photo / Michael Craig
Yvonne Judge, the owner of Scavengers, is world-famous in Ruakaka. Photo / Michael Craig

Keen for a stroll:

Ruakaka Pipeline Road Track

is a 3km trail where you can enjoy back-of-the-dune access to the beach. Or check out the Ruakaka Estuary Walk, another beauty.

But best of all, a section of Te Araroa passes through here, called the Bream Bay Walk, it's 27km from Marsden Point to Waipu, not too demanding track-wise but it does take about seven hours to complete so make sure you're properly prepared with food and gear.

Best view: The cafe at the Waipu Golf Club has a stunning outlook.

Best swim: Anywhere along the beach or at the estuary although between the flags outside the surf club makes the safest sense.

Best museum: For a surprisingly interesting outing, take a look around the Port Marsden Oil Refinery Visitors Centre with its scale models and videos. You can learn how petrol is made. Fascinating and free.

Fishing for compliments: You can fish in the sea of course, from a boat, the beach or at the estuary, or you can try your hand at fly-fishing for trout at the Wilson Dam, just off the main highway. And if it's not your lucky day, there's a very fine fish and chip shop at Bream Bay.

Shell be right: Slip into the tide and use your toes to find pipi and tuatua for a feed of kaimoana.

Top shop: Scavengers, run by Yvonne Judge, has been serving the Ruakaka community for nearly 20 years, turning people's trash into treasure by recycling and passing on essential (and not so essential) household items. In a nutshell, it's about people helping people

Cream of the coffee: Three places do great coffee — SeaChange Cafe near the surf club, Two Birds in the village and Land & Sea down by the marina - so wherever you are, you can get your fix.

Wet your whistle: The Land & Sea Cafe and Bar at the marina is great for a cold one, plus the food is amazing. Seafood, buffalo wings, steak, fries, salads — yum.

Stay awhile: Pitch your tent at the Ruakaka Beach Holiday Park, set upon 13ha beside the pretty blue estuary, it's just a five-minute walk to the surf club. A lovely camp for families, they even have tennis courts.

Best adventures: Diving, fishing, kite surfing, kayaking, wakeboarding and surfing (when the wind is right) it's all available at Ruakaka whether you have your own gear or want to hire and be guided.

Best kept secret: Waipu Caves are magical, mystical and mysterious. Take a torch and sandshoes and enter that big open mouth, all studded with glow-worms. Stunning and just 15 minutes' drive from Ruakaka.

Best kept secret #2: Piroa Falls, found in Waipu Falls Scenic Reserve on the northern side of the Brynderwyns, it's a short walk to the base of the falls, where the pool is so cool for hot summer swimming.

Wildlife: At the mouth of the river you'll find protected breeding grounds for rare and endangered birds.

The verdict: A little treasure.