Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Beach Hop North- Only in Tolaga Bay


Just a short 20kms from Losiels Beach and we arrived at our next camp site; Tolaga Bay also known by it's Maori name Uawa. Uawa is also the name of the very wide river that flows down from the ranges behind and splits the bay in two as it flows into the sea.

The driftwood sign sits on the dunes overlooking the beach (I had to prop up one arm of the U for my photo shoot)...

...which is just across the road from the freedom camping area. And what a great site this one is. There are several large mown bays along the road with plenty of space, along with another area up by the toilet block behind where we're parked. The front bays have post and rail surrounds, the ones along the road behind me have small hedge rows and trees.  

Like many once thriving and prosperous towns around the East Coast, Tolaga Bay township has seen better days. Though there's one building that really stands out as you drive along the main street (which is also the main highway north). The historic Tolaga Inn is huge and certainly makes a statement sitting on it's prime site corner. The inn was built in 1930 after the original 1880s hotel was destroyed in a fire.

Designed by the French-Canadian architect Sholto Smith, the inn is a classic example of the Tudor House design he became famous for. Tolaga Inn is one of just 100 buildings Smith designed for New Zealand (he lived here for 16 years) and one of only two commercial buildings he designed in this style. Many of his designs were done for wealthy Aucklanders back in the 1930s and several Remuera & Epsom homes are still standing (and still occupied by wealthy Aucklanders!) 

There aren't too many streets to explore in Tolaga Bay but while seeking out the two local churches to photograph, we came across this delightful sight just off the main street.

Only in Tolaga Bay #1 - two little piglets taking themselves for a walk

Only in Tolaga Bay #2 - a mobile tattoo parlour parked in the main street.

But of course there really is only one thing that comes to mind for many when you mention Tolaga Bay- the Tolaga Bay Wharf. 

Due to the isolation and rugged countryside along the East Coast, the only way for many years to get product and produce (farm & forestry) in and out of  the towns, was through coastal shipping. 

Tolaga Bay is shallow so a very long wharf had to be built, at 600m it was in fact the longest wharf in New Zealand for many years. It's since been overtaken by Bluff's Tiwai Point wharf  which is 1500m long. The Tolaga Bay wharf was built in the 1920s and the last cargo ship called by in 1967. 

Since then the wharf had deteriorated quite considerably until a trust was set up and funds raised to restore it. The wharf is now one of the major tourist attractions along the coast. I took these photos on our last visit back in 2011, the concrete rails have now been restored You can see the repairs in some of the photos further down.

We were running late to get to Gisborne on that last trip (after spending too much time at East Cape) and I was disappointed I wasn't going to be able to photograph the wharf in daylight. We arrived just as the sun was setting but what a thrill to find that the white cliffs behind the wharf were this beautiful golden colour. It was a brief moment in time, the sun was gone within minutes of our arrival.

I visited the wharf several times during our latest stay, hoping to catch the different moods and to capture a repeat sunset performance but unfortunately it was a different time of the year and the sun wasn't so intense. I still managed some great shots though, and that's what it's all about; not trying to replicate old memories just capturing new ones instead!

Only in Tolaga Bay #3 - When the local yobbos photo-bomb your wharf shot...

Just as I was lining up the wharf- it's quite hard to get the full length in on my usual lens so I had just changed to my wide angle lens- this Subaru wagon containing two young ladies raced down onto the sand and did a perfect doughnut right there in front of me.

I went to have a chat with them and found out they were waiting for these two who were collecting mussels off the pilings. It wasn't the warmest weather, in fact the wind was very cold and the guys came back shivering and shaking with just a few dozen. They offered me a few (which I declined because they actually didn't have that many), and they told me they were off to cook them on the BBQ.

While I was waiting for the sun to go down I walked to the end of the wharf...

...where a handful of people were fishing. I talked to an old Maori lady who told me she'd been there since 7am this morning. Seven am! It was now about 6:30pm, very cold and windy and with a rain storm approaching from across the ocean. She told me she'd probably stay another hour or so. Now that's dedication, and she hadn't had much luck either. She told me she usually caught snapper, the odd John Dory, an occasional kingfish and one day a crayfish! 

Only in Tolaga Bay #4 - this fisherman had the right idea, have a little snooze while you're waiting for the big one. 

I raced back along the wharf to the beach when I spotted the sun moving towards the horizon (the sun sets very quick when you're doing a 600m dash!) but there were only subtle colours this evening. 

And I have to add a note here- just for those that are keeping track of my 'trips' - I fell off a driftwood pile in my scramble to get down to the sand and scraped my shin badly.  I managed to hobble off like nothing had happened after spotting several people watching. And it's still giving me grief!

Even though I missed a spectacular sunset I did manage a very moody sunrise the next morning... 

....grabbing a few shots before heavy rain arrived and we hunkered down inside for the day.

In keeping with the our special national day of remembrance tomorrow- ANZAC Day, April 25th- here's my last photo from Tolaga Bay.  Lest we forget. 


  1. we were there last week.. beautiful piece/peace of NZ

    1. It sure is, it's such a pity it's not a little more on the tourist trail so a bit more money could be pumped into the district. But then, mind you, it wouldn't be such an untouched gem. Catch 22.

  2. WOW! These images were really so beautiful. Thank you very much for sharing your beautiful experience with us

    1. You're welcome Robert, and thankyou for your kind comments.

  3. As usual, a great read Shellie with fabulous pics. Bought back memories when we were there Jan 17 for a couple of nights. We had boys diving off the wharf who allowed me to take some pics of them and some local fishermen with a large loud stereo blasting at the end of the wharf. An enjoyable time.

    1. Thanks Diane, much appreciated. You have some lovely memories too, it's a whole nother world along the coast isn't it.

  4. Great blog Shellie. We may head out that way later this winter to check it out.

    1. Thanks Carl, it's a lovely part of the country although I'd probably want to 'do' it when the weather is warmer (so as not to waste all those beautiful beaches) and the permitted camp sites are operating.


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