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Go to the dark side-- Cooks Beach, Hahei, Hot Water Beach

By Suzanne Hansen

As we move into late summer, we look to be getting more bouts of sunny, warm weather. Many of us are itching to get out and no destination better than our own lovely Mercury Bay. One of our favourite day or overnight adventures from Whitianga is making the not so intrepid journey to the “Dark Side” to sample some of the fabulous eateries, and hospitality. A trip to Cooks Beach is the perfect remedy for blowing out some dust and it is accessible by multiple directions and various transportation methods.

Cooks Beach relies much more that Whitianga on seasonable visitors and bach owners, so the recent weather has been incredibly difficult for the business community, especially for weather oriented businesses like, kayaking and boat tours. However, while we were there

last weekend, there was a definite buzz fuelled by returning bach owners and three weddings. The place shone. So if you are bored and ready to get out and about, maybe walk, cycle, drive or stay over at Cooks Beach, it is worth the travel and it is close and therefore less prone to road risks.

For the walkers, and ebike riders, a ferry ride over to Ferry Landing takes you along one of NZ’s newest great walks, Te Ara o Hei (the path of Hei ) walkway. Once off the ferry, you walk or ride up the slight incline from the ferry which is well paved and of historical interest. The Mercury Bay Cemetery is on the left, dates back to the 1800s and is full of the memories of fascinating local personalities and stories. The replica of tiny Ferry Landing Public Library is also worth a look. The original library opened in 1950 when the building was deemed too small for a store and was dragged across the road by Toby Morcom and his father. It was demolished in 2011 because of incessant flooding and rebuilt as a replica that same year by caring residents. It is still an operational library.

On your left will be Cooked Restaurant (hours subject to change), which features the fresh flavours of Mexico designed to be shared amongst friends and family and can be enjoyed with a margarita or a local craft beer. Walking or riding further on, along a stunning beach road you will come to the iconic Eggsentric Café and Restaurant (open Wednesday through Sundays) sporting a licensed selection of brunch and lunch dishes of unique flavours and local produce.

After Flaxmill Bay, you can opt to go up the hill to the left to Shakespeare Cliff Lookout, which meanders along the cliff face. It is a bit of a climb in places but well worth the effort. Just a small walk from there is the Shakespeare Cliff Lookout which has a commemorative cairn to the arrival of James Cook in 1769 and fabulous views of the entire Mercury Bay with lots of information about what you are seeing. Alternatively continue on for a lovely walk/ride into the Cooks Beach village which has some lovely eateries and a retail set up.

If you are truly serious about your ride/walk, you can continue to the end of Cooks Beach to the Purangi Ferry, run by Shanan Laird from Coromandel Paddle Boarding, which is open until Easter every day from 10am till 6pm. Once across the Purangi you can continue on Lees Road on a meandering country pathway through native bush to the start of the Cathedral Cove Gateway Trail which crosses a private working farm to the DOC Cathedral Cove Walkway. The boat can take four people per crossing and 2-4 bikes if needed.

If you are more vehicular like us, then the drive to Cooks Beach is an easy 35 minutes with minimal roading issues. There are some great places to stop and hydrate or graze, including the Coroglen Tavern (Wednesday to Sunday) and the recently refreshed Hot Water Beach Brewing Co. (Friday to Monday).

On the way into Cooks, a standout winner is The Hive Purangi, which boasts a beautiful and rustic restaurant, an idyllic garden and orchard setup for out of doors dining and lots of room for kids to play. The menu of fresh local ingredients i made to be shared. The Hive operating hours from March are Thursday- Sunday 11am-9pm. The Hive shuts down from June to August and reopens 1 September.

Please try Mercury Bay Estate, where Simon & Veronica Ward channel Veronica’s Italian heritage with a yummy menu of antipasto platters, salads and Napoletana wood-fired pizzas matched with their estate grown wines. What better than to spend a warm late summer afternoon on the deck or under a shaded vine, looking out to beautiful Cooks Beach?

Fora casual outdoor setting after a stint on the beach, Vessel Bar and Restaurant is a great choice. They have added a new marquis providing a lot more sheltered outdoor sitting space, and they offer a diverse menu of food, craft beers and cocktails. The space is so relaxed that even togs are welcome. The marquis also was a great help in the recent storm. From 1 March, Vessel are open Friday (from 4pm) and from lunch until late Saturday and Sunday.

Because we wanted to have a serious night out at the moorish Kaizen Restaurant (once Go Vino), we went over to Cooks for the weekend and stayed at the Cooks Beach Resort. This Resort is a fabulous and cost-effective way to pass a few days at Cooks Beach sampling all the offerings. It features lovely cabins, villas, powered camp sites and tenting options. The amenities are fantastic for old and young alike, including a large pool area and an enormous spa pool for lazing after a good meal. The resort is also just a 500 metre walk from Kaizen.

Derived from Kai, the Maori/NZ word for food, with Zen a philosophy of enjoying the moment, Kaizen is an elegant but laid-back eating and drinking experience, which fortunately is open even in the winter months. The wine list is incredible and the cocktails are proper cocktails. From March 1 through December they are open five nights for dinner from 5.30 pm (closed Tuesday and Wednesday) with a tasty coffee window open from 8.30 - 10.30am Friday to Monday. Kaizen also has monthly quiz nights and wine clubs, cocktail training as well as themed dinners which keep them busy year-round. Their schedule can be found on their Website.

Caption: Lookout over Cathedral Cove

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