Some places just have good energy.
You drive up under the giant pohutakawa trees, park your car, and set up your tent. Then you swim, fish and kayak in your own private bay. At night you can build a fire on the beach and stare at the stars.
This is New Zealand at its best.
It’s certainly off the beaten path and easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it. Maraehako Camping Ground is located in the eastern Bay of Plenty up the coast from Opotiki on Highway 35. No big signs—swing around the turn too fast and you’ve gone past it. This no-frills campground has a small office, a bathroom and not much else. It’s laid back.
The campground is on Maori land, and a friendly Maori woman greets us inside the office, which is also a small store with cans of spaghetti, beans, chips, and marshmallows. Off to one side is a cooler with ice cream and fish bait.
We set up the tent. Later, I return to the office.
“Yes, I’d like to rent the kayak for an hour.” A bright orange kayak for rent sits in front of the office.
I hand the woman a few bills.
She doesn’t bother to check the time. There are no forms to fill out. No waivers. No liability releases. No safety regulations. No signing my name anywhere. No leaving a credit card or a driver’s license. No where-you-can-go-and-where-you-can’t-go. Nothing.
Matthew and I roll the kayak down to the beach. For the next hour we paddle around the bay crossing over through a small rocky channel into the next bay and then go around a point farther out to sea.
Later, we go to see a waterfall. Drive a few kilometers up the road and pull off at the sharp corner just before the road goes uphill. Again, there are no signs. If we hadn’t heard about it, we’d never know it was there. A faint trail—it takes a short while to find it—follows a stream up into the bush. After about twenty minutes, the trail ends at a waterfall.
Driving in the other direction, we walk on a remote shingle beach. Unknown to us, this is a breeding area for a colony of terns. We inadvertently startle a flock of birds hidden in the rocks. I snap a quick picture of a well-camouflaged egg in the rocks.
Back at the campsite, you can watch White Island, a volcanic island, far offshore belching smoke.
The sunset is magnificent. At night, we build a fire on the beach, sip wine and talk. By the time the fire goes out, so many stars fill the sky it is frightening.
Eventually, we crawl off to bed.
All photos by the author except as noted.