Kawakawa Station, Cape Palliser

Dreaming of your next summer holiday? Sarah Heeringa hunts out a dreamy hideaway to rest and recuperate.

By Sarah Heeringa.

The drive is made even more enjoyable in a Lexus ES 300h. This top-of-the-line hybrid combines fuel efficiency with the best in comfortable design.

The road to the Cape Palliser lighthouse, at the bottom of the North Island, is known for it’s dramatic coastal scenery – and the late summer’s day we travel along it more so than most, as an intense blue sky and equally turquoise ocean contrast with a white fringe of foaming surf and black sand beach. The drive is made even more enjoyable in a Lexus ES 300h. This top-of-the-line hybrid combines fuel efficiency with the best in comfortable design. Pulling the car over to take photos we step out into tall weeds, their seed heads dried and golden. It’s all a bit disorientating. Apart from the cool breeze, it’s as if we’ve been transported to the Mediterranean coast somewhere near Turkey, rather than in the Wairarapa, 50-odd kilometres southeast of Wellington.

Today our destination is not the lighthouse or the fishing village of Ngawihi – famed for its fleet of huge beach tractors – but a private camping spot over the hills. So following instructions we turn off the main road and along a track to the farmhouse of Kawakawa Station. There we meet our friendly hosts, Alex and Christine Furniss, who guide us to a hidden campsite nestled between several large hills.

There’s a romantically large luxury tent with a big comfy double bed, table, soft chairs and even a pot belly stove – not that we’ll need that during this stay. Cooking facilities are at the ready in a two-walled covered kitchen, which backs onto a simple bathroom. The site is gas-powered so there’s a hot shower – with an open window for dramatic valley views. Kawakawa Station has 4,000 acres altogether, so the land to people ratio is low and the privacy stakes are high. Even better, there’s no cellphone coverage.

Between a few lazy afternoon wines and the prospect of a slap up barbeque dinner and outdoor bath, some sort of excursion is in order, so after a while we set off along the stony riverbed and clamber up several ruggedly steep hills to arrive back at the coast. Sitting on the ridgeline on a clear afternoon such as this, you can enjoy the last rays of the day as well as views across the Cook Strait to the South Island’s Kaikoura Ranges.

We’ve done enough to earn our steak and soak in the bath – but by midnight a cool breeze is starting to swirl about and we take care to time our damp dash back to the tent between gusts.

Twenty-four hours is long enough in a place like this to feel thoroughly rested, but given the option I’d dally far longer. Before heading back along the coast to town the following day, we check out Ngawihi and the Cape Palliser lighthouse (built in 1897). At various points along the road you can spy (and smell) the North Island’s largest fur seal colony lolling about on the warm grey rocks.

Cute retro baches are dotted along the foothills and the thunderous sea is now a moody grey compared with yesterday’s sparkling turquoise. This is a treacherous stretch of ocean with many 19th century ships wrecked in or around Palliser Bay. Stepping away from the car to take just one last photo, I have to steady myself as a particularly strong gust nearly knocks me over. Seems I’m not far from Wellington after all. 

For more summer travel inspiration, see Sarah’s Kapiti Island feature here

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