Chris Schulz checks into Papamoa Beach Resort.
Getting there: Anyone who's ever left Auckland on a Friday evening to head south knows how painful the traffic can be. We had the bright idea to leave on a Friday morning, after the commuter traffic. We blitzed down the motorway, got to Tauranga, headed towards the Mount and then drove 11km down the coast to Papamoa. The whole thing took under three hours. Too easy.
Check-in experience: They make this easy. Drive up to reception, park up, hop out, and grab your key. You'll get a quick briefing about the place, and a code to open the barrier arms. Drive slow — there are often kids running wild, as ours were five minutes after arrival.
Room: We scored a pretty sweet spot, a two-bedroom apartment with a small kitchen (used a lot), a mid-sized heat pump (used quite a bit), and a giant TV (which remained unused). The kids had a room to themselves; the adults had a king-size bed in the lounge.
Price: Our two-bedroom apartment is just under $300 a night, but there are plenty of options, from camping spots to caravan sites, cabins and more. Check their site for mid-winter specials.
What's so good about this place? The beach is the biggest drawcard. Opening our sliding door led to breathtaking views across the ocean. That door stayed open most of the time, and only got closed in the evening when it got a bit cold. The place is very well set up for kids: there's a playground, plenty of grass to run around on, bikes and trikes for hire, and giant jumping pillows.
And the bad? Our stay was at the tail end of winter, so we couldn't make full use of that beach. In summer, the park can fit more than 800 people.
But there were just a smattering of us, including some hardy campers, a few lush campervans, and only one person that I saw game enough to enter the throbbing surf outside.
What's in the neighbourhood? Papamoa is well kitted out for ex-Aucklanders. There's a giant Pak N Save nearby, a plaza and plenty of eateries. If you want to branch out, or want to warm up in some hot pools, The Mount's just down the road.
Food and drink: You could easily head out and about to find food. But why would you, when eatery The Blue is right next door? They're open for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and deliver solid service. Three plates of eggs bene and coffees on a Sunday set us up for the day.
The bed: Soft, comfy and freshly made every day.
Bathroom: It was large and sparse, but it did the job. The showers were super powerful.
Toiletries: A limited array of shampoos and body washes. You're not staying here for the fancy amenities. You're staying here for that beach and that view.
Free Wi-Fi? We ran through our first free 1GB in the first day. After that, you have to pay.
Noise: Our kids made the most noise, especially when they were on those jumping pillows. Sorry about that.
Room service: Nope. But we made full use of the kitchenette for whipping up scrambled eggs and pasta.
Value for money: If you're heading there in winter, you might want to check their website for a special on an apartment with a heat pump.
Exercise facilities: You can hire bikes, go for beach walks, swim, surf. Ideally, you'll want beers chilling in the fridge as you put your feet up outside on the lawn.
Perfect for: A family-friendly stay, wearing out the kids, scoring some sun and grabbing plenty of beach vibes.
The bottomline: A great place for a mid-winter break.