The summer migration

On the road

Every year we head to Northland for our summer holiday. We go via Tolaga Bay on the East Coast which is a huge trip, generally three days on the road to our final destination. We have a family house/bach in Tolaga where we’d stay for a week or so before heading around the East Coast to Northland.
I love road trips. Make several in a year with my job but also manage to take a break several times a year with the whanau (family).

We always go home (our parents home) on Christmas day which is only 15 minutes from where i live. It’s always a great family day and I haven’t missed one for 20 years.  Then we hit the road sometime before New years Eve. Just whenever. We make plans as we go. You know, kind of organic travel plans? Which really translates to no plans at all. No organisation. Shall we go on Tuesday? Yep. What time? When we’re ready. Where shall we stop on the way? Where ever. No bookings, no preparations. It’s just the way we are.

But this summer we actually planned our holiday. We didn’t go to Mum’s or Tolaga bay. We did something I’ve wanted to do for years. We left home on the 22nd Dec, arriving at the bach in Northland on the 24th. One stop. I’ve always wanted to spend Christmas day at the bach. No last minute shopping, no working until Christmas Eve, no presents or the pressure that comes with that time of year. I think the whole thing is bullshit. The family and food isn’t, I love that. The pressure and cost and stress is. I could happily give that up for the rest of my life. Especially the cost!

The Bach
There is no electricity at the bach. No roads either. The only bit of organising we had to do was make sure someone was there with a boat. Otherwise you have to carry the gear in  at low tide over several days. You know, the most important things first, food, beer, blankets. Have actually done that several times but only because we had too.

All the cooking is done outside on the fire. I love it. Over the years you learn what works, what doesn’t. You be inventive as supplies run low and of course there is plenty of kaimoana (seafood) literally right out front. Rock oysters, pipi, cockles and fish like tāmure (snapper), gurnard, kahawai. Around a few bays there are flounder and Pacific oysters. If you go outside the harbour mouth there is paua, mussels and the fishing is even better.

My brother inlaw was at Whangaruru harbour to pick us in his boat. He and his family had a arrived the day before and was staying in the bach.We arrived on dusk and the first thing I did, before I even had a beer was set up the tent. Had too. Pitching a tent in the dark is a pain in the butt. Another thing I’ve learned through experience. The inlaw had dinner cooked and a gas fridge so his beer was cold.


Dawn Christmas Day at Ōmanu

Omanu is a beautiful place! Waking up to this every day is a blessing. This tree, like all the pohutukawa trees on the land is centuries old. One that had been cut in the past had over 600 rings. And it was an average size. This one,  like many others around the coast survives in the salt water. It’s truly amazing. The pohutukawa have dark red blossoms which appear around Christmas and is why it’s called the New Zealand Christmas tree. That and because people struggle or are too lazy to pronounce ‘Pohutukawa’. Lol.

The kids love it because they drop into the water from the twisted branches.



The camp

We pitched the tent under another Pohutukawa for shade from the sun and wind. Its huge with long gnarly branches. Another playground. As evening falls the ruru (owls) come and check us out. Probably a little peeved we’ve invaded their space. I would be. But they have a huge territory to hunt and are never too far away, calling all night from various trees around the land.

As you can see the beach is right there. The sound of lapping waves is constant  and the best therapy I know of.




I had forgotten it was Christmas Day until I started thinking about what I was going to cook for dinner. Thats usually around mid-morning. You plan ahead when the fire is your oven.

So we popped a bubbly to celebrate and built the fire. We’d already been out collecting oysters, pipi and cockles which you put straight on the grill. They cook in their own juices and pop open when they’re ready to eat. We spend a couple of hours eating kaimaona, everyday.

Later in the afternoon we built up the fire again with manuka. It is a solid dense wood and burns white hot. The embers hold their heat which is perfect for camp oven cooking. The key is to have  enough wood to build a huge raging fire so that you end up with a ‘pile’ of white hot embers.

You bury the camp oven (a cast iron pot with a fitted lid) with the embers and keep a constant heat for a few hours. That’s basically it but its not that simple either. The common thing that could go wrong is it doesn’t cook properly or it over cooks. I’m proud to say I’ve never under cooked a camp oven. This is how we cook our bread too. That takes real skill.

Chicken and Lamb Roast in the camp oven

Chicken and a lamb roast were the menu with salad, fruit, seafood, wine and plenty of beer.

It’s the most relaxing Christmas day I’ve ever had.

The brother inlaw and his family only stayed a few nights. We moved into the bach when they left. Lucky too because the weather turned. We had 3 days of wind and rain. The tent got hammered! One night we had an amazing full on electrical storm. We don’t get forked lightning where I live. So I was up for hours, listening, watching. Even managed to video some of it which I’ll post on You Tube once I get time to edit it.



So we were alone on the land until New Years eve when some relations arrived at their bach which is in the next bay around the coast. There were quite a few yachts and gin palaces parked up in the bay a few mornings. They take shelter here when the wind changes to a southerly. Which isn’t that common in these parts. Thank the universe for that.Omanu is such an amazing place. It’s our own piece of paradise and I know how lucky we are to have it. But luck doesn’t come into it. Like my father’s land in Tolaga Bay and further up the East Coast it’s a constant battle to hold onto such places. And that battle started centuries ago still goes on today. We just have to make sure that we hold on to the land and that it is well looked after so that the many generations to come can enjoy it as much we do.


Ōmanu Bay, Whangaruru Harbour

4 thoughts on “The summer migration

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