Secret Paradise Found - Just Down the Road

As a subtle chill descends on our evenings and the sun sinks beyond the impressive native bush horizon a few minutes earlier each day now, Summer shuffles softly into the distance and Autumn announces her arrival. I reflect on the first Summer of the Orchard Cottage guesthouse, and the different people we've had the pleasure of meeting. From as far away as Holland, England and Austria and as nearby as an hour drive away. While it's been a bit of a whirlwind with most nights in the height of the season booked up, it's been a wonderful start and exceeded our expectations. Undoubtedly a highlight has been chatting to our guests about their experiences as they discover the local treasures of this beautiful spot we now call home.

There's something incredibly unassuming about the attractions of the North, in particular those that don't feature in the 'top 5 reasons to visit' like the undeniably awesome giant Kauri forest, beautiful Bay of Islands and the celestial Cape Reinga. I'm always floored when we visit a new place of natural beauty around here, on arrival, there often seems to be a moment when we ask ourselves "Are we in the right place?". Until the functional but often humble signage is spotted to confirm our location and on further exploration, another place of wonder reveals itself.

One location that comes to mind was in my dreams this morning before I was reluctantly raised from slumber. I can still feel the tepid crystal water lapping softly over my feet and the soft sparkling white sand slipping through my toes. The place is Whale Bay and it truly is one of those that evokes a gasp even before you've properly arrived.

Unless you know where you're heading, the chances of driving right on by are very high. It's marked by an inconspicuous car park just up the hill from the very popular Matapouri Beach on Tutukaka Coast. In the height of Summer, you'd wonder why there's so many cars parked at the top of this hill but it's not until you're out of the car and gazing down the cliff through ancient Pohutakawa trees into sparkling turquoise water that you know you've stumbled upon something special.
The modest but practical signage leads you towards a few different pathways, there's a walk back around to Matapouri Beach that we're yet to do but I've no doubt it's as picturesque as the well-worn track to Whale Bay. It's an easy 5 or so minutes through stunning quintessential New Zealand coastal bush. Giant gnarly Puriri and Pohutakawa trees line the track, their wonderfully textured branches frame the view and conjure otherworldly adventures. Clusters of magnificent mature Nikau Palms stretching into the light, with spikey fronds creating graceful contrast. While a short walk, every step is enjoyable, each corner reveals another stunning view of the bays below and the vast ocean beckons encouraging only peaceful and whimsical thoughts.
Arrival down the steps to the beautiful soft white sand and sweet lapping water is a treat for the senses, Tui chatter in the trees and gulls swoop languidly. We recently visited with some friends and quickly stopped at Matapouri on the way, while the waves were crashing on shore providing a great boisterous beach experience there, the calm crystal waters of Whale Bay were welcomed by us and especially the littlest in tow. Being a late Summer weekend it was one of the busier days but this glorious bay with it's series of shade making Pohutakawa's provides each visitor with their own private piece of paradise to soak in the surrounds. Even our pooch is allowed to enjoy the spoils of this pretty spot (dogs are welcome as long as they are kept under control and they leave nothing behind), I couldn't resist snapping him rolling about after frolicking in the water, a picture of carefree bliss!
Many locals are well aware of this natural wonderland and will nod knowingly when it comes up in conversation, 'one of the country's best beaches' is often how you'll hear it described and yes, I would have to agree. We haven't even discovered it all yet, with another incredible natural phenomenon out further on the peninsula. The Mermaid Pools look, in photos as amazing as their name (you only need to Google search to know what I mean) and are definitely high on our list of 'must-dos'. Note: if this recommendation prompts a visit, please take note of the cautions as it can be a little dangerous at certain times.

I think there are a number of locals who are determined to keep the jaw-dropping beauty of this area a secret, and maybe this has something to do with the low profile of a lot of the attractions. I think some fear that if too many know about it, the region will be overrun and turn into another over commercialised visitor centre. Personally, I think these simple pleasures are for sharing, New Zealand is a sprawling stretch of natural beauty with an abundance of treasure to be discovered and our visitor economy plays an important part in preserving the glory.
Without doubt, a theme of the conversations we've had with our visitors is about the unexpected nature discoveries to be had within a short distance of their accommodation. More often than not they leave with plans to return and soak up more of what is on offer. We feel honoured to be part of these unexpected discoveries and excited to meet many more eager nature lovers from all over the world.


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