Wednesday 18 April 2018

Beach Hop North- A Whale & Loisels Beach, East Coast


I figured because I've done a 'Beach Hop South' series; when we stopped at all the beaches down the east coast south of Napier, I might as well call these next few blogs around the East Coast, the 'Beach Hop North' series.

Whangara Bay, East Coast
Gisborne District Council  is one of the more enlightened councils around New Zealand when it comes to freedom camping in their district. Rather than ban camping at their many lovely beaches, they have a permit system that allows camping at eight beaches (and one inland river site) for a small fee over the summer period (day-light saving months). 

There are basically 2 conditions; the maximum stay at any of the sites is 3 nights and whether in a tent or a vehicle, you must have a chemical toilet available to use. You do not need to be CSC (certified self contained) but must be self-contained. Most of the camps sites have a temporary cassette dump station available along with a public toilet. They also allow freedom camping (at no cost) at some of these beaches, but not all, over winter.

There are 3 different permits available, and a number of rubbish bags are supplied with each permit. These can be left for collection below the sign board on each site. We chose the $31 permit, $3.10 per night is a pretty good price to pay to be able to stay at some stunning camp sites, as we were soon to find out.

CostNights - rubbish bags issued
$16 up to 2 nights - 1 rubbish bag
$31 over 2 nights up to 10 nights - 5 rubbish bags
$66 over 10 nights up to 28 nights - 14 rubbish bags
We decided not to stay at the first two beaches- Turihaua & Pouawa- as they were just 16kms and 18kms north of Gisborne city and while the beaches were lovely, the camping areas are long narrow strips alongside the road. These beaches are very popular with Gisborne locals over the summer holiday period and are usually wall to wall canvas and campervans. 

Before we arrived at our first night's camp we took a short detour to check out a special place; Whangara Bay (see the first photo). I've wanted to visit this little settlement of Whangara for a very long time. We missed it the last time we travelled down the coast in our regular car 7 years ago, it was getting late and we had to be in Gisborne before dark. I wasn't going to miss it this time, even though we had the 5th-wheeler on the back. The road in was very narrow and we got some strange stares as we passed a few houses on the way in.

Can you spot it? Sitting on the roof?

How about now? This is the home of the whale rider and the carving, atop the Whangara Marae, holds a very special place in the hearts of local Maori. The Whangara people believe their presence in the bay dates back a thousand years or more to a single ancestor, Paikea, who escaped death when his canoe capsized by riding to shore on the back of a whale.

The iconic 2003 New Zealand film The Whale Rider, staring 'Academy Award Best Actress' nominated Keisha Castle-Hughes was based on the Maori myth and filmed here in the bay. Unfortunately due to the influx of tourists after 'The Whale Rider' became famous, access to the village now requires the permission of the local iwi.

Luckily we were able to turn the rig around near the entrance to the village and stop on our way back out, near the top of the road into the bay and still see the carving on the Marae roof and also the church (see first photo) which I can add to my Country Church collection.

Just as we were about to pull away we spotted another fifth-wheeler heading towards us. What are the odds of that? Not one vehicle had passed us on the road, I bet the locals did a double take when they spotted these guys after seeing us half an hour earlier. 

They stopped to say hello (as you do when you come across another 5th-wheeler), they were looking for a beach to have lunch at. We told them about the turnaround further down the road and that there wasn't any access to the beach and left them to it as we pulled out and headed back to the main road.

The next destination was going to be our camp for the night, we'd been warned that the 6km road into Waihau Bay/Loisels Beach was narrow, winding and had very few places to pass any oncoming traffic (and in fact it was just a vehicle width only for the last 3kms or so).

With a little bit of trepidation we carefully drove round the blind corners, along a cliff edge with a massive drop-off, down through the tiny seaside settlement to the end of the road. Luckily we didn't meet another vehicle because one of us would certainly have had fun backing up.

And in case you're wondering, there are two Waihau Bays around the East Coast; this one is just above Gisborne and the other more well know bay is on the other side, just below Cape Runaway, in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.

Loisels Beach is just 42km from Gisborne but with very few campers on the road at this time of the year (late March) it felt like we were hundreds of miles from civilization arriving at a beautiful deserted beach. 

Although there were still half a dozen shuttered up caravans parked up after the summer break (which must have been a good one going by the flag pole!). 

With the Easter holiday break due in a couple of weeks I'm guessing camp regulars (who must have a special deal, as it's a 3 night maximum stay) have left their caravans here to use over the long weekend.

David backed 'Out There' onto a reasonably flat area near the entrance to the reserve so we could make the most of this fabulous view along the beach. 

and with this view out the back kitchen window, I was more than happy...

How to make your fifth-wheeler look huge- park it up on a rise higher than the ute.

Later in the afternoon while we were walking along the beach, we were overtaken by the only other person we saw on the beach while we were there. He was an American, staying in one of the holiday homes above the reserve. He told us he was having a fabulous time and couldn't get over how beautiful the bay was and how he had the beach to himself most of the time.

He was heading to the north end of the bay, we only walked a little of the way, climbing to the top of a hill overlooking the beach further along...

Waihau Bay- looking south...
...and north.
...before slowly wandering back to base along the incoming tide line; you can see the van parked up middle right, the holiday settlement behind the reserve and if you look carefully (click to open the photo up), the road into the bay cutting around the edge of the bluff on the left.

When we'd arrived we'd decided against driving to the other end of the reserve to check out the camping spots past the caravans because of the thick sand along the rough track. Which was probably just as well. Early the next morning, around 6am, I woke up to a whole lot of revving and garbled shouting. Other than one other couple in a late model caravan, we'd been the only ones in the reserve when I went for a wander before going to bed around 10pm the night before. 

When I looked out in the pre-dawn gloom, I could see two small sleeper vans stuck in a deep sandy pot-hole in the middle of the track, with about 4 or 5 dark shapes pushing and rocking the vehicles. After much effort (and noise), they managed to free one of the cars and then used it to tow the other car out. They all piled back in and roared off out of the reserve. I'd say it was pretty good karma. 

Now wide awake, I waited for the sunrise. Though this isn't just any sunrise, this is sunrise on the East Coast of New Zealand; pretty much the first place in the world to see the new day's sun. And it didn't disappoint.

It never fails to amaze me how often the sun rises on a reasonably clear sky and then the clouds roll in not long afterwards. These photos were taken 30 minutes apart.

Of course it also never fails to amaze me how often a certain someone wakes up, looks out, and says; 'What an awful day, where's the sun?'


  1. Thanks for sharing another piece of your wonderful life

    1. You're welcome Denys, glad you're enjoying sharing it vicariously with me.

  2. Good info on camping in this area Shellie, also get some of the joys in getting into the small places with a fifth Wheeler....still it's life on the road and you share the warts and all, which I like!
    Currently heading for a bike ride around the Wairarapa Vineyards.

    1. Hope you enjoyed a few tipples along the way Jimu, we've not done any of the vineyard runs there, Marlborough or Hawkes Bay. Must change that one day :) Glad you enjoyed the blog.

  3. So lovely to hear our home described in somebody else's words. Beautiful photos

    1. Many thanks, pleased you enjoyed the blog, it's a lovely part of the country.


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