By Suzanne Murrell.
(This was Suzanne's first visit to Whitianga in 30 years. She was the writer for the Whitbred Yacht Race.)
At last, the much-anticipated time has come. A getaway from the big smoke. I get to the Auckland domestic terminal full of excitement. I see the big Air New Zealand planes sweeping down the runway. But where is the Barrier Airplane? Someone points to what look like a toy. But no, it is the Cessna Grand Caravan, a sturdy little workhorse of the skies. It seats 12 including the pilot and is reliable, safe, but a little scary. The ground below us is lush and green, then the sparking blue sea of the coast below looks so close. I clutch my fellow passengers hand but we land so smoothly. We arrive safely at Whitianga airport in half an hour! Amazing.
It takes longer to get to the airport from my house than the flight from Auckland to Whitianga.
First stop that night is Grace O’Malleys Irish pub where they serve great ales, splendid fries and spicy chicken wings. There is rumoured to be an Authentic Irishman in residence, but I didn’t spot him. Then it is on to the famous Mercury Bay Club where it all happens. This is the big Quiz Night hosted by Vegas and Liz Brown, which is jam packed every Wednesday. They do good inexpensive meals, big steaks, chips, tacos, tasty salads. I don’t win a prize, but the puds are yummy - apple crumble, sticky date pudding and ice cream sundaes.
I am staying at the Marina Sands Apartments (yes you got it right, on the Marina)… big gin palaces and elegant sailing yachts abound. It is a great spot to watch people setting out on their boats in the morning. I make friends with Sailor, a retriever kelpie cross who lives on board with his family.
Then there’s the launch of 30 new marina berths next door. Manager Dave Munday, swells with pride at he thanks the large crowd and the Chairman and Project Manager at the opening before we all tuck into a tasty grazing table laden with local cheeses and breads plus bubbles to wash it down.
A little later that night, it is time to front up to the Mercury Bay Game Fishing Club. The meals and quick-fire raffles are legendary. It is extremely MEATY. Huge sides of beef and great haunches of pork along with chunky chickens are raffled off. A quaint local quirk. The winner of the chicken raffle has to catch when it is hurled in their direction! Bogan.
Friday night, I am off to discover one of New Zealand’s best kept secrets - The Lost Spring. This was a truly magical place with its soothing pools and waterfalls surrounded by lush tropical vegetation. The water comes naturally from a hidden spring 669 metres below the earth’s surface, to soothe and calm the body. Diners in the adjoining restaurant are serenaded with soft pacific tunes while we are transported to another world.
Then it is Saturday and time to hit the local Whiti markets on the village green. Tarot card readers, local crafts and interesting stalls. Shoppers are serenaded by Dave Kennedy, a local musician. A quick stop at the Monkey Theatre, host to the Easter Bazaar a great variety of trinkets and a great raffle…. (there are no monkeys but apparently there used to be). People are everywhere enjoying themselves in bustling cafes and busy streets. I stop in at the fabulous Fagans Emporium and pick up a gorgeous cushion with a dog on it. Dogs are everywhere.
Saturday Night, I am with my friends hosting a meal at Salt Restaurant.
Easter Sunday, bright and sunny, is the perfect setting for the Buffalo Beach Meet run by the American Muscle Cars Street and Custom Car Club. There are over 200 vehicles, muscle cars, hot rods, bikes and trucks. More music cheers along the large crowd by the Spring Chicken Band and Doc Jeffries. The beach is named after the HMS Buffalo which sank in a storm in 1840, just hundreds of metres from the shore.
Sunday night, it is back to the Mercury Bay Club for a night of frivolity and local fun, serenaded by the Honky Tonk Playboys. The country music is excellent -dancers twirl and stomp and everyone is having fun. I have an early start, so can’t stay too late because at eight am, it’s my flight back to Auckland on the warrior of the skies, Barrier Air.
The weather was perfect with brilliant blue sunny morning. skies.
This has been a fabulous weekend filled with music, clubs, muscle cars, great food, warm clear water and dogs.
Whitianga has so much more to see and do. Smitty’s Bar and Grill was open every night and if you’re late thinking of dinner then they are always open. There’s a Gun Club, Pickle Ball Club, Squash Club, Whiti Stitches, Spiritual coffee mornings, Line Dancing classes, Dog Walking Group, (yeah), Quilters, and so on... So much to do, so little time. But I’ll be back. Maybe for good, but at least for a good time. GOODBYE AUCKLAND - HELLO WHITIANGA.!
Caption: Suzanne Murrell, (writer),