West Coast Weekends

When people hear the word beach, they generally imagine white sand, lapping waves, and a gentle sea breeze.  However, since moving to New Zealand, for me the word beach conjures up images of black volcanic sand, crashing waves, and the rugged natural beauty that embodies many West Coast beaches, including Piha.  About a 40 minute drive from Auckland’s CBD, Piha feels a world away.

Piha's main beach looking towards Lion Rock

Piha's main beach looking towards Lion Rock

Play

When you head to Piha, you do so to enjoy nature.  Piha is about 40 kilometres West of Auckland with a population of about 600. Once there, on the beach is definitely the place to be. While it is lovely to laze on the sand and work on your tan, it’s also a place that just begs to be explored.  From the Piha Surf Lifesaving Club, you can head left to climb Tasman Lookout or right to climb Lion Rock, an eroded 16 million year old volcanic neck.  The views from both spots are excellent.  A word of warning, straight up seems to be the preference of Kiwis, so there are no meandering walkways.

From Lion Rock looking across Piha's main beach to Camel Rock

From Lion Rock looking across Piha's main beach to Camel Rock

If you choose Lion Rock, traditionally called Te Piha, you are entering a site that is sacred to Te Kawerau a Maki people and their ancestors lived on its slopes. As such, it is important that visitors are respectful.  The climb is a bit tricky at the lower reaches, but luckily there is a sturdy railing to help you on your way.  Once you get past the first bit, there are stairs that make the rest of the climb up fairly easy for anyone who is reasonably fit and healthy.

If you have a bit more time, there are numerous other trails to follow around the hills that encircle the town. The area is gorgeous and there is enough to explore to keep most visitors occupied for quite some time. I suggest you take the time to slow down and really enjoy Piha. It has a great vibe that you will somehow miss if you just stop by for an hour or two. But be careful, it may be addictive and as soon as you leave you may be dreaming of your return!

Stay

The Piha Domain Campground is a nice base to explore from. Just a short walk to the beach, it's also right across from the Piha Cafe and the art gallery. The bathrooms have been recently refurbished and are clean, as is the kitchen. We suggest you arrive early, pick a spot to set up camp, and then set off to explore the area.

Pleasurable camping at Piha Domain

Pleasurable camping at Piha Domain

Eat

Piha Café is a great little place with lots of atmosphere and amazing food. This cafe has the best eggs benny I've ever eaten - perfectly cooked free-range eggs with heaps of bacon on homemade sourdough bread. The plate is garnished with a bit of pesto and it greatly enhances the flavours of the other ingredients.

Eggs Benedict Piha Cafe style

Eggs Benedict Piha Cafe style

I can also highly recommend their brownies (and as an American, I like to think I know brownies).  On weekends, this place is usually packed to the brim, so service can be a bit slow but who's in a rush at the beach anyway? If the weather allows, head to an outdoor table with a view (and an umbrella). 

What a way to end a day at Piha!

What a way to end a day at Piha!

Written by Stephanie Rummel & Photographed by Susan Blick

Dunners in New Zealand's Southland

Dunedin is a small city located in New Zealand's far South-East.  In it's early days it was one of the busiest cities in the country, but today it's a sleepy little town that's easy to get around that has a multitude of things to see and do.  Dunedin punches well above its weight.

Dunedin's railway Station

Dunedin's railway Station

Things to do

With its compact city centre packed with numerous historical churches and buildings there is a lot to take in before even leaving the city limits.  Namely, the old railway station better known in the old days as Gingerbread George is a major city sight in itself, but while there we highly recommend you book a sightseeing trip on one of the trains.  If you are pressed for time, check to see whether the 90 minute Waitati Seasider is running.  On the other hand, if you have a bit of time up your sleeve, take the 4 hour Taieri Gorge trip.  It will take you through the dramatic scenery of the gorge, over a number of very high viaducts and the trip provides an insightful commentary along the way.  And if the weather in Dunedin isn't too flash, you may be pleasantly surprised by better weather in the gorge.

Taieri Gorge

Taieri Gorge

Another thing to do is take a scenic drive around the Otago Peninsula.  This will take you past the Harbour Cone, which showcases Dunedin's volcanic history and through quaint little seaside towns like Portobello.  As you continue on you will reach Taiaroa Head where you can see albatross, seals and yellow-eyed penguins.  Numerous tours run from the area to get you close to the action.

Nearby hidden gem

Many travelers venture the 76kms to Moeraki Boulders, but few stop at Shag Point Nature Reserve that is right on the way.  If you are hoping to get up close and personal with some seals, this is the place to do it!  We got there at about 9am and stayed for one and a half hours.  For most of that time we had the place to ourselves and the fur seals were everywhere (even right beside the viewing platform).  See them sleep, swim and play!  And they were just as curious to see us as we were to see them.  It's a great place to see shags and other seabirds as well!

Moeraki Boulders

Moeraki Boulders

Fur seals at Shag Point

Fur seals at Shag Point

Stay

For a great location and good quality at an affordable price, it's hard to go past the Scenic Hotel at 123 Princes Street. Located in the heart of the city, this clean comfy hotel has spacious rooms that include a proper table to sit at along with tea and coffee making and a fridge. Free wireless internet and a free newspaper are also bonuses. There is valet parking in a parking garage, but plenty of street pay and display parking is also available. This parking is free between 6pm and 9am.

Eat

For great pub food, head to Mac's Brew Bar on Stewart Street. With funky decor, a great vibe, and delicious food, this place won't disappoint. As the name suggests, they have Mac beer on tap along with a variety of other choices in bottles. The burgers and chips definitely won't disappoint and the sliders looked great. Live music on Saturdays just adds to the atmosphere.

For something special

If you are looking to splash out a little, try Etrusco at the Savoy at 8 Moray Place. It serves up Italian food that will keep you coming back. We had the Pane Al'Aglio and Schiacciata with salami to start. Absolutely amazing! We followed this up with Sugo Di Carne and Nonno. There is a bit of chilli in the Nonno, but it's not spicy. Both dishes had the pasta cooked al dente and were seasoned beautifully. We topped off the meal with two delicious desserts and coffees. We went another day and had soup, salads and antipasto and nothing disappointed!