Anaura Bay at sunrise. © Westend61

Summer in Anaura Bay: a simpler time

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Anaura Bay, late summer, twelve old friends toast the sunset believing we are among the most blessed on the planet.

We sit on rickety camp stools peeling veges as the sun sinks below the horizon in a kaleidoscope of gold and red. We cook by gaslight on an old BBQ mounted on the back of a trailer, eat at one of those collapse-if-you-bump-them camp tables and sleep on self-inflating mattresses in tiny tents and ancient camper vans, hiking across the paddock in the pitch dark to shower and go to the loo.

It’s all to do with nostalgia, recreating a simpler time in our lives. Anaura Bay was where we always went in summer when our children were young and we never gave a thought to the fact those idyllic holidays would fizzle out one day. So we recreate them now and again, when time, weather and busy lives permit.

The level of excitement earlier in the day when the text message circulated among the ‘Gizzy Group’ was extreme. With the promise of perfect weather for the weekend, within an hour we had packed enough food and wine for a month and left our large houses with comfortable beds and fully-equipped kitchens and bathrooms, to travel an hour up the East Coast to a remote camping ground on the beach.

Bay-utiful locations off SH35 on the East Coast of NZ.

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We arrive in time to walk the length of the sickle-shaped bay, barefoot in the soft white sand, and to swim in the frothy surf, lukewarm after a long, hot summer.

The school holidays are over and we have the beach and camp to ourselves.

Next day, we awake with the sunrise, knowing we are among the first on the planet to see the light of the new day in this most easterly of beaches.

A few crayfish pots are rowed out by boat and dropped off by Motuoroi Island and a fishing line is launched before the team head off on the two-hour Anaura Bay Walkway, a loop track that winds its way through native bush and grassland to the ridge overlooking the bay.

We’ve seen it a hundred times before but we are still caught off-guard at the beauty of the seascape.

Standing on the ridge, I think back nearly 250 years to the day Captain James Cook made his second landing on Aotearoa soil in the bay below us.

When HMS Endeavour entered Anaura Bay on 21 October 1769, the crew were welcomed by Māori in their waka. Cook and his men were given a cordial reception by local chiefs and were able to fill their casks with water from Hawai Stream, where there is a plaque marking the occasion.

Anaura Bay was home to the first comprehensive written description of Māori horticulture and historical records tell us the crew of the Endeavour were astonished by the neatness, regularity and extent of the gardens in the area.

14 Crays

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Later in the day, back in the present, the men retrieved the pots and pull in the long line. Dinner is oversized crayfish, fresh sweet tarakihi and pinot gris. 

On the last day, en route back to Gisborne, we hike the two-and-a-half hour (return) Cooks Cove Walkway at Tolaga Bay, another treat for the historians in our midst.

The crew of the Endeavour came ashore at this sheltered cove, named after their captain, of course, and dug a well to collect fresh water. There was a great deal of friendly contact between the locals and the visitors while the ship was anchored in the bay, with Māori taking fish and kūmara to the crew by waka.

Joseph Banks, the botanist on board, collected 20 new plant species, some of which the sailors sampled. One of the crew described the landscape as ‘agreeable beyond description’. They were impressed with the Hole-in-the-Wall (Te Kotere o te Whenua) rock formation, an archway carved by the sea and, these days, a perfect frame for photographs. Excellent information panels at the cove explain the history of local iwi, Te Aitanga a Hauiti, and the excavation of an archaeological site once occupied by Māori.

You can kayak out to nearby Mitre Rocks and Pourewa Island on a calm day.

It’s late in the day but a walk to the end of the historic Tolaga Bay Wharf is traditional. The wharf, the longest in the Southern Hemisphere, is still standing thanks to the outstanding efforts of fundraisers who could not bear to watch it crumble into the sea. Local kids and backpackers are fishing and jumping off the end of the jetty, hooting with glee as they hit the water. A handful of tourists in campervans are having a field day with their cameras. The 660m-long wharf is a stunning sight stretching far into the blue-green sea against a backdrop of sheer white cliffs.

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