Time to start planning her next beach holiday at Te Ngaere, says Sarah Ell.
A long time ago, in the era Before Children, my husband and I took a relaxing road trip holiday around the Far North, fantasising about where we could have a bach. We stumbled upon what we felt was the ultimate destination at Te Ngaere, north of the Bay of Islands on the coast road between Matauri Bay and Whangaroa Harbour.
This year, now with two preschoolers in tow, we finally made it back there, hiring a bach for four nights to find out if it was as good as it looked. Short answer: Yes, it certainly is.
Following winding roads north of Kerikeri, we find our home for the week, just over the road from the beautiful curving beach. It's definitely more of a "holiday house" than a bach, with a huge, fully enclosed section and a massive deck. And best of all, it's beautifully quiet (our kids excepted). At night we sleep with the windows open and can hear the surf rolling lazily on to the sand.
Thanks to 2015's golden summer, each day of our break dawns fine and sunny, with light breezes. Although our kids aren't quite old enough to handle a full day at the beach, it's just a few steps from the bach, so we can return to base for food and rests.
Four-year-old Florian tries boogie-boarding for the first time in the gentle surf, and 2-year-old Natalie enjoys playing in the soft pinky-gold sand. With older kids and few beach toys — kayaks, maybe a small yacht to explore the coast and rocky islands offshore — you could have them entertained for the whole day.
One day we take a trip back over the hill to Matauri Bay, one of the north's most beautiful white-sand beaches. Though most of the bay is privately owned, there is a campground at the northern end. The Rainbow Warrior rests near here, and the Chris Booth sculpture which commemorates it stands high on the hill above the campground.
You'd need to have visited here before to find the start of the track to it, and large signs warn against entering the campground unless you're staying there, but apparently respectful visitors are welcome. We climb the steep hill to be rewarded with not only the sculpture's archway but also a stunning view of the coast and the Cavalli Islands. The sea is an almost unnatural bright turquoise, and we can see right through the swelling lines of surf rolling on to the beach.
The next day, having climbed one hill carrying a toddler in a backpack, my husband decides we should take on another, this time the scramble to the top of St Paul's Rock, which towers above the harbour settlement of Whangaroa. After a decent climb, including some rock-scrambling — there is a chain to hang on to, and it doesn't pay to look down — we are rewarded with spectacular views of the long, deep harbour.
Such a scramble deserves a fish and chip lunch at the pub, and we enjoy fresh fish and a great view of the small marina through tropical-looking palm trees. And the fish doesn't come any fresher than this: the kids and I watch a wild-bearded, snaggle-toothed local fisherman unloading his catch at the wharf over the road, carefully stacking snapper into a fish bin.
"Wow, that's a whopper!" says Florian.
"Na, mate — this is a whopper," he says dryly, and whump! flops out the biggest snapper I have ever seen. Florian's eyes are nearly as big as the fish's.
The Kiwi bach holiday of sun and sand, barbecues, icecreams and fish and chips might sounds like a cliche, but there's a good reason for its enduring popularity: it's simply the best way to spend the summer.
Te Ngaere was everything we hoped for, and although we may never be lucky enough to have a permanent place there, it's nice to know we can visit whenever we like.
Need to know
Te Ngaere is about half an hour's drive north of Kerikeri, on Wainui Rd, which then runs for about another 20km to the Whangaroa Harbour. There are several baches to rent on bookabach.co.nz and holidayhouses.co.nz. Our bach cost $300 a night in the peak season. Sleeps at least 6.