East Cape Escape – Part 4:  Ōpōtiki to Te Araroa

November 2021

Despite not having an early start planned, true to form I was up early so decided to go for a walk to explore Ōpōtiki and stretch my legs before I got back in the car for the day’s driving.

Ōpōtiki is the gateway to State Highway 35, which takes you around the East Cape of the North Island and had a large Māori population before Europeans arrived – it is thought to be the location of some of the earliest Māori arrivals.  It was also home to a number of bloody battles in the Māori tribal wars.  So much so, when European missionaries made an initial attempt to reach the town in 1821 they went straight back to Tauranga when they walked in to the “carnage of a just-concluded battle”. 

The missionaries  returned in 1839 and from 1840 to the 1860’s they struggled to continue to “spread the word” as the hostiles continued.   European whalers and traders also became active along this part of the coast around the same time, but it was not until after the fighting (of the New Zealand Land Wars) ceased in the 1860’s that European settlement truly started in Ōpōtiki, initially as a military settlement.

As part of their discharge, the European soldiers were given 50+ acres of land (which was not really their land to give away) depending on their rank.  The land proved fertile and the town became the Government centre in the Bay of Plenty.  Today Ōpōtiki is a relatively quiet town with a population of approximately 5,000.

My early morning walk really just consisted of a ‘wander’ – I completely lost my sense of direction as I strolled down quiet beautiful tree lined street (not sure what they were but they were bursting with fragrant flowers).  From here I found the Otara River and followed the pathway along it.  Past slides and rope swings (it must be fun in the summer) with beautiful views back to the Urewera ranges in the distance.  There are also a number of bike trails in the area as part of the Motu Trails.

As always I got a little distracted with the little things.  Flax flowers just coming into bloom and already surrounded by busy bees with full pollen sacs.  And let’s not forget the cool bollards.

Back on the main road, there were lots of bordered up shops 🥲sadly it is a normal sign in small town New Zealand these days.  On the flip side, many of the historic buildings have been well maintained giving you an insight in to the history of what was a busy town – hard to imagine it given the quiet streets I was walking around (ok – it was still 7.30am on a Monday morning).  Definitely no other ‘tourists’ around and people must have thought I was mad taking all my photos. 😂  I loved the street art by local school children which brightened up the town.

I happened across the Ōpōtiki Museum just as they opened so decided to take a look around.  Like most small town museums it was packed full of ‘stuff’ – match boxes, saddlery, tractors, stuffed animals, machinery, dolls …..  Not an exhibit but I was intrigued by a sign requesting patrons to ‘please remove stiletto shoes to protect varnished floor’ – just how many people turn up in stiletto heels around here??

Despite all the ‘stuff’ on the ground floor, the other 2 floors (yes there were 2 whole floors and a mezzanine) has some really interesting information about the history of the town – both Māori and European, as well as information about the journey of the Treaty of Waitangi in the region in May 1840.  (For more on the Treaty of Waitangi, check out my blog from July 2021 Now to the North(land).  They also have a great collection of old photos depicting historical town life.

After some breakfast I was ready to hit the road and I set off down the Pacific Coast Highway towards my next stop – approximately 150km or just over 2 hours away.  I had a list of places to stop and sites to see and some were more successful with than others lol.  My first stop was supposed to be at Torere Beach to see a carved Māori gateway at the entrance to school.  Unfortunately there were road works right outside the school, and it was clearly playtime and the children were all outside – I did not want to appear to be some kind of stalker so I drove straight past.

The road was beautiful and lined with large pohutakawa (yep – I was still 1-2 weeks early for them to all be in flower).  I would definitely have a lot more photos if I was not driving or if there were more places to pull over and stop (one of the problems of solo road trips).

My first proper stop was at the small town of Raukokore at its beautiful white stone church – Christ Church.  The church was designed by Scottish man, Duncan Stirling in 1894 and went on to marry a local chief in the church on 1896 and build other churches and buildings around the East Cape.

A Macadamia farm I had hoped to visit was not open so I headed straight to my planned lunch stop at Waihua Bay – ‘world famous in New Zealand’ for being the location for the filming of the 2010 movie Boy, and the home town of its director and actor Taika Waititi (who is actually world famous for his work on Thor movies amongst others).  Interestingly he was actually born in Raukokore – my previous stop.

Just like in the movie, the ‘boys’ were out hanging in front of the General Store which had been featured in the movie, so I didn’t want to take a photo 🥴 .  Instead I had some lunch and a short walk along the water front, which was beautiful before driving the last stretch of driving for the day. Thankfully the ‘boys’ left before I did so I got my shot lol.

As a child, we had had a family holiday travelling along this coast and I had fond memories of staying at the Holiday Park in Te Araroa, so had decided to stay there on this trip – talk about a nostalgia failure!  The place was run down, they were completely unprepared for me and I didn’t feel particularly comfortable.

As they were not ready for me, I said I would go down to ‘town’ to get some supplies and then I would come back.  What I was actually doing was going to ‘town’ to consider my options which were actually very limited!  I took a quick break from worrying about where I would spend the night to see what is supposedly the oldest pohutakawa tree in the country – Te Waha-o-Rerekohu which is approximately 600 years old.   

Te Araroa has a population of approximately 600 people, so it was not surprising there was no other accommodation to be found.  I needed to stay in the area and the only place anywhere near was a motel, back towards Hicks Bay so I backtracked and got a room there.  It ended up being a much more expensive night than planned but worth it to be comfortable.  When I called the other place to say I wasn’t staying, they apologised for not being ready and offered to refund me – I said not to bother as it was only fair for them to keep it as I ‘cancelled’ very late – and it was pretty cheap and everyone in tourism is doing it tough these days.

My new room was on the hill overlooking Hicks Bay which was lovely but the room was hot with the sun streaming in so I sat on the deck by the reception with a cold cider enjoying the breeze and relaxed for the rest of the late afternoon.  It was not quite the evening beach vibes I had been anticipating but there was a beautiful sunset nevertheless and I had a good sleep in a comfy room 👍🏻

My lesson for the day was learnt – don’t set your expectations too high when trying to relive a past memory!!

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