It’s a place as whimsical as its name, if its name casts the same old-world charm on you as it does me. Not that Wenderholm Regional Park, whose name means ‘Winter Home’, is old world much; rather, it lies on the coast of New Zealand, only a half hour’s drive north of the New World city of Auckland.
However, despite its situation not far from the peopled tourist attractions of Waiwera‘sThermal Resort and the increasingly cosmopolitan town of Orewa, it shrugs off urbanity and cloaks itself with an older vibe, one more akin to New Zealand’s pre-European past, and in fact, the area was a centre of Maori settlement for almost a thousand years, as overflowing as it was with kaimoana, or seafood, and this ancient echo seems to reverberate through the centuries. Huddling between outcrops of land within the embrace of the Puhoi and Waiwera Rivers, it shelters from the modern world’s intrusions, its estuary flowing to a primordial lunar rhythm without reference to human presence.
What to do, what to do…
Modern humans, however, are welcome here, but they come in numbers that avoid feeling like an invasion, and out of season, you may find yourself virtually alone, the beaches and the walks beneath trees which have witnessed the gathering of people dead over a hundred years, deserted now. A long stretch of white sand beach invites swimming and sun worship, or contemplative strolls from cliffs along the wooded spit of land which guides the Puhoi River inland. Turning in along the river’s outlet into the sea, the water laps into a series of shallow coves, each with its own personality.
Bring food along, and when hunger strikes, you can set up an impromptu picnic with your choice of surroundings, but tables are available closer to the campground, and can be booked in advance for larger groups.
Bush Trails and Walks
There are also trails through native bush with expansive panoramas out over the Hauraki Gulf and coast and inland towards the historic settlement of Puhoi. Look out for rare North Island robins, or toutouwai, which have been reintroduced into the forest, and other treasured native forest birds like kereru and tui.
History for the Buffs
On the site, historic Couldrey House in its landscaped gardens presides over the park. Built in the late 1800s by the first European landowner in the district as a wintering homestead, hence the park’s name, it is now a museum of local history, open to the public only on weekends as it’s run by volunteers.
All Out to Sea
Besides bush and coastal exploring, there is also the Hauraki Gulf and its islands, and the Puhoi River with its mangroves and local views along the Puhoi River valley across to Mahurangi Regional Park. To this end, there are boat ramps for small to medium boats, and kayaks are available for hire onsite at times during the year.
Where to stay
In terms of accommodation, there are basically two options, depending on taste and budget as always, one being tenting, or caravaning. There are camping sites for up to 40 people, with bathroom facilities and a potable water supply. The small sites lie unobtrusively under and between the native pohutakawa trees so that it feels as if nature is not subdued here, but sanctions our presence. The beach and estuary are brief strolls away on either side, and the incessant susurration of the sea on the shore lulls tired holiday makers to sleep at night.
The other option for overnight accommodation is more elusive, requiring months of foreplanning to book ahead, but so worthwhile. Wenderholm Beach House, another historic building, is unpretentious and quaint, and sits alone at the end of the peninsular, wrapping itself in tranquility and the sound of sea and birdsong. Enveloped in self-imposed isolation, it is often the haunt of artists-in-residence, some of whom have left a creative echo in work which remains at the park. Look out for one such display in the estuary; the outlines of three waka, or canoes, in semi-submerged stone, evoking the area’s seafaring past.
At the height of summer or in the gloom of winter, Wenderholm is a small wonder well worth sampling, and easily accessible from the Auckland region.