Mikhal Norriss discovers the perfect weekend destination
A mid-winter getaway complete with cocktails in the pool, a relaxing massage and a decent cheese platter is my idea of heaven. That's why, for the third year running, I enjoyed another weekend in Whitianga. It's a wonderful place for a girls' weekend and doesn't have the expensive price tag that the Pacific Islands do. Plus, it takes less than three hours to drive there from Auckland. Over the past few years I've perfected the weekend, and it goes a little something like this:
Leave work early to miss the Friday afternoon traffic and head straight to The Coroglen Tavern for a pint and some chippies. The bar has a quirky display of old chainsaws, some great local characters, and the wedges have the perfect wedge-to-sour-cream ratio. Plus, a handle of beer is less than $10 (a triumph as an Aucklander).
The morning kicks off with brunch at The Harbour House Cafe. It has views of the harbour and excellent cabinet food. We tuck into a delicious pumpkin risotto ball and courgette fritters. The cafe has great vegetarian options, as well as the usual breakfast items.
From here it's a short stroll to several op shops around town. I pick up two mint-condition 70s sleeping bags for $3 each, and my friend gets a complete set of retro beer glasses. Score.
Whitianga is flat, and most things are walking distance away, making it a great place to wander around. I love a mid-winter stroll along the beach.
The afternoon calls for a visit to my favourite thermal pools in the world, the Lost Spring. Legend has it, the owner spent 20 years searching for a geothermal spring. Locals, including his former wife, were sceptical he'd find one, but Alan sure did prove everyone wrong. The Lost Spring is delightful.
Walking down the driveway, you feel like you're entering another world. There's lush sub-tropical greenery everywhere, tuis and grey warblers flit about, and the sound of tribal drumming can be heard gently in the background.
The spa is a licensed venue, which means there's no kids and you can enjoy cocktails while you soak in the steamy water. Just wave down a staff member and minutes later a cocktail appears. They'll also bring you fries and cheese platters. It's glorious.
After a soak, we head off to the spa in our fluffy robes for a massage. The massage studios are a picture of relaxation: impeccably presented, they smell delicious, the lighting's dim, and the music is soothing. I opt for a firm massage, and the masseuse has me melting within minutes.
Suitably relaxed and ignoring the advice of the masseuse not to drink too much, we head to The Whitianga Hotel. The drinks are cheap, the locals are friendly and it's great knowing that we're only a 10-minute walk away from our accommodation.
Every Saturday there's an excellent covers band, and no-one's too shy to get up and have a dance. Apart from the great atmosphere, there are two things to note about The Whitianga Hotel. Firstly, there is Monster Energy drink on tap. Secondly, in the women's bathroom there's an assortment of photos of scantily clad gentlemen. Neither are to everyone's tastes, but worth a look, all the same.
Paeroa is the self-proclaimed "Antique Capital of New Zealand", and we take a detour here on our journey home. Only a handful of shops are open on a Sunday, which is ideal if you're just a casual antiques browser.
Once you've got your dorky photo in front of the giant L&P bottle, head for lunch at The Refinery. The cafe is housed in a — you guessed it — old refinery, so the space is large, with high ceilings, complete with rustic timber beams, and a massive floor space dotted with vintage couches and dining tables. You can browse through their huge vinyl collection while waiting for your grilled sandwich (or low carb bowl if you're feeling particularly healthy). It's off the main road but well worth a visit.
It also has accommodation if you decide you want to make your long weekend last even longer.