Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bream Bay

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More than a month ago, on our road trip up the New Zealand coast from Wellsford to Whangarei, we cut off on a loop past Mangawhai Heads. Then, I dropped you in the parking lot behind the hotel in Waipu while I wandered off talking about Kiwi motorsports and kauri forests. Just be glad Im not your travel agent. The folks at the hotel would have politely asked you to move on. Freedom campers are usually welcome for two or three days at the most.

Now, it’s time to pack up the barbie and your dirty clothes and head on up SH1 to Whangarei. Yes. I know you could have walked from Waipu to Whangarei in a month, but I’ll tell you anyway what you might have missed along the way.

Bream Bay stretches in an arc from Langs Beach, a little below Waipu, to Marsden Point at the entrance to Whangarei Harbor. This map shows you Bream Bay and where we’re headed. About an hour and a half north of Auckland, Bream Bay is popular for its sand and surf, diving and snorkeling, big game fishing, and kite sports– traction kiting. Kite ATBing (kite-mountain boarding) is similar to kitesurfing but you surf the land instead of the water. Even newbies to kite sports can enjoy a ride in the sea breeze. Equipment is determined by weight and experience. It might be a good idea to test your skills over the water before surfing the hard stuff.

Hard Case
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The 2008 National Kite Championships were held in Ruakaka– a short distance up Bream Bay on our way to Whangarei. (Whangarei begins with the F sound for those of you who want to pretend you know something about the Maori language.) Photos and videos of the
2008 Championship might encourage you to take a dip in the surf. The 2009 National Kite Championships will be held February in Christchurch. At Ruakaka you can rent kiting equipment, explore the Ruakaka Wildlife Refuge in a kayak, rent dive or snorkeling equipment to check out the reefs or the nearby Hen and Chicken Islands, or try your luck at big game fishing. This whole area of New Zealand is sub-tropical. Dive and sportshops are spread from Kaitaia down the coast to Mangawhai. Find the area you’re interested in exploring and contact a local shop. These are usually small shops that offer personal services and you’ll get a fair price. It’s pretty hard to find a Kiwi who won’t give you an honest deal. Good dive locations are mainly on the east coast where you’ll find sheltered bays, sandy beaches, and many, many reefs and offshore islands. Wreck diving can be found up the coast. Two old warships are artificial reefs off the Tutukaka Coast and the Rainbow Warrior is in the Cavalli Islands.

We’ve been talking about offshore islands as we move north from Auckland. Just east of Bream Bay, about 12 kilometers off Bream Head, Hen and Chicken Islands are prime kingfish areas in the summer and a great spot for diving and underwater photography all year round. Named by Captain James Cook in 1769, they became a scenic reserve in 1908 and a wildlife refuge in 1953.

Stan Thorburn with Kingfish
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These warm sub-tropical waters are popular with big game fishing enthusiasts. Bream Bay Charters can help you plan a diving/snorkeling or fishing trip in Bream Bay. If you’re really after a bragging size fish and enjoy tournaments, Lion Red Beer and Carters sponsors Beach & Boat Fishing Competition the end of February/ early March each year in Ruakaka. Over 2000 anglers compete for prizes and trophies. Before the tournament, a snapper is caught and tagged. Catch this slippery devil during the tournament and win $100,000. If you enjoy big game fishing, plan to be in Ruakaka during this tournament. Information and pictures can be found on the Beach & Boat Competition site. Even if you don’t win the $100,000 prize, you’ll enjoy three days of fun. Just be sure to book a place to stay way ahead.

The Ruakaka Reserve Motor Camp is right on the beach and close to the tournament. A family oriented camp, it’s one of the largest camp sites in New Zealand with 180 RV sites and 111 tent sites. This is a popular motor camp that’s usually booked from Christmas to mid-January when the Kiwis vacation and also during the tournament. If you’re traveling by auto, five backpacker cabins are available in the motorcamp. There are also nearby motels.

Greg Whithan
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That short loop that jogs off Hw1 to the northeast at Ruakaka takes you to Marsden Point and One Tree Point at the neck of Whangarei Harbor. Both are good places to watch the yachts thread their way through the channel on their way into Whangarei Town Basin. One Tree point is a small community. At Marsden Point on the eastern side, the
New Zealand Oil Refinery’s Visitors Center is open most days. At the Visitors Center, you’ll find a 1/33 scale model of the refinery as well as models of their pipeline from Marsden Point to South Auckland. Admission is free.

If you’ve spent your day snorkeling, kiting, fishing, or sightseeing and you’re knackered, you’ll find motels and two good motorcamps in Whangarei. If you’re traveling in a self-contained campervan, you can park for the night at the Whangarei Town Basin near WOADS down past the wharf. Free parking is also available at Marsden Point in the Harbour Board carpark.

And we finally made it to Whangarei! A good place to eat, drink and spend money.

Lyn Harris

RV in NZ: How to Spend Your Winters South in New Zealand

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