Saturday, 23 March 2019

Magnificent Maitai Bay- Karikari Peninsula


From Mahinepua we headed north by-passing Taupo Bay (we'll save that for another time) and Mangonui (we'll be back for their famous fish and chips), passing through Doubtless Bay's beautiful beach settlements of  Coopers Beach & Cable Bay, through a busy Taipa before turning right up the Karikari Peninsula. The Inland Road up the middle of the peninsula reminded me of the Mahia Peninsula; a dry landscape of  rolling sand dunes, dune grass and scrub, pine trees and sparsely populated barren farmland.

Tokerau Beach from Ramp Road Reserve
We stopped at the public reserve at the end of Ramp Road for lunch, just a few hundred metres south, and accessed by a rough sand track, is the Ramp Road freedom camping area (click on the photo, you can see some vans by the pine trees). We may come back here to stay but for now we're heading to the top of the peninsula.

There are a couple of rare yellow pohutukawa flowering in amongst the red flowering trees planted along the edge of the beach in the reserve. Yellow pohutukawa descend from a pair of trees discovered in 1840 on Motiti Island in the Bay of Plenty. The yellow species is a taonga (treasure) to Maori.

Rush hour- Tokerau Beach. 

Once again proving that we're just 2 degrees removed here in New Zealand, I posted the photo above on a motorhome Facebook page I belong to and the guy on the bike responded, "Hey, that's me!" He also mentioned that it was 9.2km to the top of the beach (below), he was heading back to the Ramp Road camp when I captured him.

There's a large dune lake at the end of Ramp Road- in fact it's beside the track to the freedom camping area- it's colloquially known as Coca Cola Lake because of it's tannin stained water. Dune Lakes don't have rivers or streams flowing in or out of them, the water seeps through the sands over hundreds of years, darkened by peat and tannins from the Manuka scrub and other leaf litter around them. Apparently the locals extol the beauty and health properties of the water but you wouldn't get me swimming in there; the water's too dark to see if anything is on the bottom! Like big fat eels.

We stopped at Lake Rotopokaka (it's official name) later in our stay but unfortunately the colour wasn't as easy to see on a cloudy day. Roto= lake, pokaka= native tree, and kaka is our bronze/brown coloured parrot.

We bypassed the seaside settlement of Tokerau Beach for now and carried on to the top of the Karikari Peninsula, passing through the middle of the 1200 hectare luxury Carrington Estate on the way. The estate includes top-end accommodation, the Karikari Estate Winery & cafe and a championship standard 18 hole golf course. I'm not so sure I'd want to stay here though if I didn't have my own transport, it's a pretty isolated area.

The views from the villas out over the protected wetlands to the white silica sands of Karikari Beach are spectacular. That's Mt Camel/Tohoraha you can see in the middle picture on the left. Mt Camel forms the north head of the Houhora Harbour way across the bay and on the way to the top of the North Island.

The last four kilometres of road are gravel and then with a sharp right turn we finally reached our destination, Maitai Bay DOC Camp, and while it looks like that's Maitai Bay ahead of us as we drive down into the camp, it's not. There are two small bays side by side and this one is Waikato Bay.

There are also two sections to the camp; the top camp and the bottom, we take the road to the lower level and find a site in a large grassy bay very close to the day car park with walking access to Maitai Bay. The camp is a large one and is very popular with families and boaties during the holiday season. Although being early December we have the whole place to ourselves until evening when a few tourist vans arrive for the night.

A little further on from our camp site the road ends at a small boat ramp into Waikato Bay.

Disappointingly for us, and in the way we do it, it's a little bit too far to tow the Takacat inflatable, so we reluctantly make the decision that there'll be no fishing for us here.

Waikato Bay, Karikari Peninsula, Far North
The decision is actually made easier by the fact that there is a rahui (fishing & seafood collection ban) on until March 2020 to allow fish & seafood stocks to recover from being overfished. The rahui covers most of Waikato Bay & all of Maitai Bay. While David could head out and fish up and down the coastline on either side of the bays he's not that comfortable going so far out and especially in rougher seas away from the sheltered bays.

Located between the bays and up on a rise, these two pou (carved wooden poles) were unveiled  to mark the start of the rahui. The pou represent Kahutianui and her husband Te Parata, tupuna (ancestor) of Te Whanau Moana and Te Rorohuri. The other side of the pou, facing the water, represent Hinemoana and Tangaroa, the female and male atua (gods or spirits) of the sea. 

With plenty of camping bays and shelter belts of trees around each bay, the bird life was prolific. I watched a cock pheasant strut around our bay and in and out of the trees for much of the day. Then when I heard a commotion and saw a flurry of action as he chased another cock around and around the grass before disappearing into the next bay, I carefully crept up on them to see that they were having a stand-off...

...before once again engaging in a full out war on each other! They weren't in any hurry to call it quits either chasing each other through the trees and into another bay before disappearing down a bank, each one still keen to get the upper hand. The photos are in order as they happened, left to right, click on the photo story to enlarge. 

I later saw the object of their affections and the cause of the fight sneaking past the van; female pheasants are very, very shy, and while they may come across as drab in comparison to their male counterpart, in my opinion their markings are superb. 

I did see my male pheasant the next day limping past the van, but still on the warpath.

A pukeko family also spent much of their day pulling grass clumps out of the nearby soft ground and stripping off the tender shoots. 

What a lovely sleek juvenile this one is, he (or she) was very wary of me as I stalked them along the bush line. 

'Mum, help Mum, she's after me!!'
And by now you're probably saying to yourselves 'So where is Maitai Bay?"
Well, this is beautiful, stunning Maitai Bay...

Of course I had to leave the best for last...

Maitai Bay is a perfectly shaped horseshoe bay with turquoise water and bordered by a golden sand beach.

A sheltered bay for safe swimming, rock pools for snorkeling, a large campground with new amenity blocks, bush walks, a handy boat ramp, blue skies and hot weather; I can see why families make the long trip to the Far North for their summer holidays. 

I can imagine the beach would be very busy over the holidays but for now there are just a handful of people enjoying the early summer sunshine. I took this photo with my wide angle lens to capture the whole bay in the one shot. 

 And this one is a panoramic capture of the bay; four photos stitched together.


  1. Shellie Evans- You have great talent as both a story teller and a photographer. Thank you for sharing this beauty.
    In addition, may I add that the underwater life of fish, sea creatures and plants is abundant and very accessible for those who snorkel with a mask. We saw more fish and closer up than on any 'mainland' location' including Goat Island. This is now a powerful fish nursery and an excellent advertisement for the benefits of fishing free areas. We were there late February. The water was lovely and clear and warm.

    1. Many thanks for your kind words David, I'm glad you enjoy the blog & photos. I'm so pleased that the sealife is recovering at Maitai Bay, long may it last and perhaps the rahui will be extended, could we even hope that the area becomes a marine reserve. Interesting that you thought the sealife was more abundant than Goat Island too.


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