We did it! We’ve camped! We borrowed a ton of gear (a shit-ton to be exact), from some friends, made a bunch of food, packed an absurd amount of stuff (but sadly not enough warm clothes), and tagged along with a family who had, long ago, booked 2 campsites, and offered the extra one to us. Sean and I hadn’t camped since we were both teenagers, so it was both a test of our marriage and a test of our family, this first exercise in “roughing it.” I have to admit, the roughing it wasn’t very rough, as you’ll see. We had access to hot showers, toilets, and a community kitchen with freezers and fridges to store labeled food and drink, and four big sinks to clean it all up. But despite the cushy version of camping, I think we endured the requisite hardship to make coming home feel like we live in the lap of luxury, and I think we had memorable experiences so that our efforts will be rewarded by memories long into the future. So here we go!
Here are the food, clothing, and beach accessories bags. This doesn’t even include our bedding or the 3-room tent, tent poles, 4 stretcher beds, 4 portable chairs, and collapsible combined table-and-chairs contraption. We really need a roof luggage compartment.
We put the kids in and then began to pack around them. Thank goodness that Anaura Bay is only about a 50-min drive from Gisborne.
Sean could barely see out the back window (great!) and the kids had a physical and visual barrier between the two. That part kind of worked.
After 50 minutes or so, we drove through Tologa Bay and then came to the turn-off for Anaura Bay, a 5 or so minute drive along switchback roads to the coast. Here is what you see when you crest the hill and start heading down the other side.
We unloaded and began the challenge of erecting this tent. The day before, the friends who loaned it to us, thankfully went through the erection (sorry, I can’t stop myself!) from start to finish. We were pretty sure we could do it, but it was still a daunting challenge. Also, it was starting to look like rain.
We did it! Without anything nasty being said and later regretted. And in 50 minutes!
Here, you get a sense of the size of the thing. There is a fabric divider in the middle that separates the back “room” from the front “room” and so we could put the kids to bed and then later, shuffle around with flashlights in our mouths, searching for our pajamas and setting up our beds and then quietly cursing while we (I) tried to balance my little flashlight on my shoulder or on a mound of blanket while I tried to read. Not having a reading light: Irritating “Roughing It” exhibit #1.
The great thing about camping in New Zealand is that you can have “beach front” accommodations for nearly nothing. After getting the tent up, the adults sorted and Sean helped the neighbors to our other side get their tent up. They had unfortunately gotten to the site just as it started raining and people were tripping over one another to help them get their tent up and their stuff inside their tent as quickly as possible. And I got the kids out of the way by walking them down to the beach. Here you can see the campsite’s proximity to the beach.
The kids began with the required races on the beach.
The rain started to pick up, from a light misting to a windy drizzle. The waves were huge but dumpy (I didn’t feel bad not having brought by board), and it was cold and dreary. But that didn’t stop the kids from going in!
Thursday’s precipitation picked up to a steady light rain. We fired up our friends’ grill, warmed up the first of two batches of chili that I’d made, grilled up some sausages for the kids, drank some cold beer, and then worked our way to bed.
The next morning, Friday, was similarly dreary. It rained off and on. And so we decided that we should do the Anaura Bay Walk, that meanders through woods, through sheep pastures, criss-crossing a stream no less than 50 times, up into hills that finally found us at a look-out over the bay. Most of the walk looked like this:
Thora was quite enthused about this hike, despite the slippery rocks and muddy puddles, and mossy logs.
The conditions made the hike much more demanding than normal, and it was dicey at times, particularly when we came to the out-of-order bridge and had to get our family of 4 down and up two vertical faces of a 10-ft deep trench. But all the fallen logs that needed to be climbed over and under, the stream that we encountered so many times that we joked that it was now a member of our family, all that made the hike more memorable.
Our tradition, Arms of Triumph at the top!
The weather held and the rain stopped, although it didn’t really warm up. That night, we ate the second batch of chili and my pre-made green beans and bacon salad, along with a dish of our camp mates, new potatoes with mind-blowing bacon from their pig. Also, we had a pretty successful and enjoyable experience of banana boats (1) partially peel the bananas, (2) slice lengthwise and smother with peanut butter, chopped chocolate, and marshmallows, (3) fold the peel back up, wrap in aluminum foil and grill until hot and gooey, and then (4) peel the flap back and, with a spoon, enjoy the gooey mess.
Clearly we weren’t the only ones feeling festive. (Banana boats!) That night was the last night for a bunch of the other campers in the crowded campsite. So there was a bit of partying a bit passed the 10 pm curfew. And there was a contingent down on the beach setting off fireworks. And there was the poor vomiter who kept vomiting every twenty minutes just a couple tents over until long after 1 am when s/he finally passed out till morning. And there was an angry cow mooing in the middle of the night. And gale force winds trying to rip our massive tent out of the ground. So I didn’t sleep well. But thankfully the kids slept until close to 8 am each day so we didn’t also have to be up at the crack of dawn. My kids are pretty reliably awesome that way.
The next day we woke up to blue skies but the winds had only increased during the night. Great! We all clamored down to the beach for an obligatory, brisk 2-minute swim in the ocean, and then quickly back up to the camp site for a hot shower before they shut the showers down at 10am. Since it clearly wasn’t going to be a beach kind of day, and since we didn’t want to sit under the shade dome having mugs of tea blown out of our hands, thankfully, there was another hike to do, this one just on the Gisborne side of Tologa Bay. So we drove the 15 minutes and then tramped to Cook’s Cove, one of the first places that Captain Cook anchored after his less-than-hospitable welcome from the Maori in Gisborne (why he named it Poverty Bay) before heading up north where the welcome was more generous (why they got the name Bay of Plenty).
The climb starts up through the cow pastures (“paddocks” they say here).
Many of the hikes we’ve done so far take you through private farms. And so we climb over the farmers’ fences via wooden stiles. Auric loves encountering stiles. Seriously, he loves them!
After about 45 minutes, we crested the top and could see down to where the walk continued.
A view of the bay and the little island that we can see from our beach at Anaura Bay.
The faces of these cliffs seemed magical to me. So I kept taking pictures. Here’s another shot! Enjoy!
So then we climb practically straight down, through dense forest, down hundreds of wooden steps and a dirt path. The adults all pretty much dreaded the weeping that would surely happen when we all had to climb back up all those steps. But for the time, we were enjoying the downhill slope and cool shade of the forest. Here, we’ve made it to the Hole in the Wall and got an amazingly good picture of all 5 kids at once!
Here’s the Hole in the Wall. The scenery was breathtaking. I’m reading Peter Pan to the kids at the moment, and so I’m sure this felt reminiscent of the adventurous and magical landscape of Neverland. I’m happy to have found this place and look forward to coming back again with visitors. (Also, everyone made it back to the car without a single tear. Maybe one or two whines in the thick of the stairs. But all in all, it’s a challenging but very doable hike, even for our crew of 5 adults and 5 kids all between 8 and 3. So HUGE success.)
That afternoon, we grilled up Sean’s pre-made hamburgers. If you’ve ever had Sean’s burgers, you know how good they are. They’re so good, in fact, that they even held up to being cooked while still partially frozen (oops!), and fried in a small pan in the kitchen instead of on the grill, since for a short time we thought that the propane tank was empty. It wasn’t. Then the burgers got to sit around while we fed the kids until we warmed them back up on the grill. And they were STILL good! Also that night, we introduced our Kiwi friends to the magic of smores! First the banana boats and then the smores. I think they must be horrified by the American diet. (“Is there anything that they don’t shove marshmallows into?”)
That night was quiet and dry. The wind had settled down by the time we’d awoke. But we’d traded back in the wind for rain again. And so that’s how we left the beautiful (so they tell us) Anaura Bay, drenched in rain, disassembling the tent and all the gear, cramming the absurd amount of items back in and around our children’s bodies and over the middle console and all around my legs in the passenger seat.
The rain beat down all day, during the blessedly short drive home and for the next 15 hours or so. But boy did it feel nice to be inside, with a wealth of warm clothes in our dressers and cold beer in the fridge. After a nice hot shower and a change of clothes and a cold beer in hand, already my memories of the weekend were becoming fond. I think we might even do this again!