New Zealand-Chapter 23: Fleeing Rotorua and the Most Wonderful Surprise (pt.3)

In the two earlier parts of this post, I wrote about how I started the day in Rotorua, with full intentions of spending the whole day there, but had been compelled to flee from the crowds there. With little plan, I’d been able to take in some of historic sites and a wonderful museum in The Te Awamutu Museum. Looking at the road atlas before leaving Te Awamutu, I’d noticed some interesting looking roads leading toward the coast, so I decided to check them out.


 I first passed through lush agricultural lands. After passing Highway 39, I turned on to Kawhia Road, and the terrain changed to rolling hills. The road was also much different, zig-zagging across the landscape. The speed limit said 70, but there was no way I was taking those curves at that speed in my campervan.


I’d left Te Awamutu under mostly sunny skies, but I couldn’t have been more than 10kms on the Kawhia Road when the skies first began to cloud over, then a heavy downpour began. I began to question my choice of adventures.


I finally got my first views of Kawhia Harbor after 45 minutes of driving in the rain. The harbor figures prominently in Maori tradition, as it is traditionally the resting place of Tainui, the ‘canoe’ that brought the first Maori to New Zealand.



The pint-sized town of Kawhia, population 650, lies 7 kilometers in from the harbor mouth. I’d read in some of the tourist literature I picked up that Kawhia ‘Maintained it’s 1960s era charm’, and that was just about the best description of the town I’d seen.



I had read in one of my guidebooks that the pint-sized Kawhia Regional Museum & Gallery was really an exceptional collection for a museum of it’s size, and I was disappointed to find it closed. (I later found out it only has hours from noon-3pm Wednesdays through Sundays, and I had arrived around 4.




 As you would expect from a town of 650, there really wasn’t too much to the town- A general store, a cute-as-a-button library, a couple of motels and guesthouses, and a few seafood restaurants. As cute as the town had been, it hadn’t been the town that had drawn me to this area. I’d come here in hopes it would be a nice enough night to visit the famous beaches near Kawhia.



I took the short drive to the beach, disappointed that the weather didn’t look like it was going to cooperate and give me any sort of sunset .  I wasn’t surprised, since I’d spent a fair number of days along the Tasman Sea, and still hadn’t seen anything close to a sunset over one of the world’s most temperamental bodies of water, and this day didn’t look anything different from those.



It turned out I couldn’t have been more wrong.  All the angst I’d felt driving out to this point in the rain seemed to melt away as I realized that the sky in the west was clearing, just as the sun was beginning to set.



Part of the attraction of visiting Kawhia’s beaches were the hot water pools. At low tide, it is possible to dig a hole in the sand a create a personal hot tub when it fills with the geothermally heated water from below. It hadn’t been the warmest of days, and it had also been overcast when I left the campground, so I had declined the campground proprietor’s offer to lend me a shove to take down to the beach with me. I opted for sticking my feet in the collapsed remains of other people’s pools.



I spent the most relaxing hour of the whole trip strolling up and down the beach, watching the various stages of sunset over the Tasman Sea. I’d brought my tripod out with me, and I was able to set it up and experiment with the setting to get some of my favorite images of the whole trip. (I’ll be sharing many of those in the next post- A Kawhia Sunet Photo Essay)




 On the slightest possibility that the skies would clear, I’d stuffed a single beer in my tripod case before I left the parking lot an hour before- and now I was perfectly content to sit up on the bluff overlooking the ocean and watch the sun paint it’s remarkable colors across the sky and clouds as it set. It’s hard to describe the feeling of absolute elation I felt at having stumbled upon the scene in front of me. Had I stuck to my original schedule, I would have been in a campground outside Waitomo, probably working on my computer instead of enjoying this perfect setting.

To top things off, while cooking dinner in the common kitchen back at the campground, I made the acquaintance of two Kiwis who were riding their motorcycles around the North Island. They invited me to join them for a few beers and some conversation and we ended up sharing travel stories deep into the night. In another move out of my norm, I didn’t take one picture of that evening, in fact, the camera never even left the campervan after returning from sunset.

The whole day was a great object lesson for me about allowing myself to break out of the usually rigid pre-set itinerary I usually follow. Can I hold to this on future trip? Hopefully, but I’ll keep the memory of this day as a reminder of that forever.


NEXT: Photo Essay- Kawhia Sunset


Day Twenty-Three Photo Galleries:   Facebook      Flickr


Other links:

Kawhia Harbour Visitor Info

Kawhia Ocean Beach Natural Hotpools


The New Zealand 2012 Series:


14 Responses to “New Zealand-Chapter 23: Fleeing Rotorua and the Most Wonderful Surprise (pt.3)”

  1. Absolutely gorgeous photos Erik – the footsteps is definitely my favourite. Sometimes, nature really does do all the talking doesn’t it?! 🙂

  2. Wow! Erik, beautiful shots of that much-deserved sunset! I also love when you listen to your gut and do something spontaneous – such as ditching all the plans and going wherever the universe takes you 🙂

  3. Up. Down. Sun. Rain. Agony. Ecstasy. That’s travel. I so understand that blissful moment on the beach. Glad you made it there.

  4. FABULOUS! I can’t believe I missed this while in New Zealand. Well…I just must go back. Like now. Your photos are remarkable, especially the ocean ones.

  5. snowbird says:

    Wonderful, all of it! I loved the footsteps on the beach and the beach pics.xxxxx

  6. fotoeins says:

    Great story of happenstance, and really like the shot of the footsteps in the sand! 🙂

    • Erik says:

      Hopefully I’ll be able to learn that not having things planned can be very rewarding- We’ll see though. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks 🙂

  7. This is awesome, Erik! I can completely relate to that inexplicable feeling of elation, bliss, contentment – I had much the same just wandering Dunedin, especially the Botanic Gardens 🙂 Those moments are the icing on the travel cake!


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