NZ travel: The best way to spend a day in Kāpiti Coast
Melissa Nightingale takes a tour of the best spots in the seaside town of Paraparaumu on the Kāpiti Coast.
Where to get the adrenaline pumping
I’m standing on the shore of Raumati Beach stuffed into a wetsuit, watching our skipper bend down and write something in the sand. I am not too sure what to expect of this.
Tewera Henare of Waka Kāpiti Eco Tours has just finished telling us that we would start our waka experience with a greeting. He writes the words in te reo Māori on the shore for us to introduce ourselves, then we share a hongi.
We help Henare push the waka out on to the water and leap in. Next thing we’re speeding across the surface of the water.
A word to potential sailors, however: bring a pair of sunglasses or something to cover your eyes, as you’re low enough to be hit full in the face with the spray of the water. Henare lent me his pair so I could enjoy the ride with my eyes open.
You can sit down in the body of the waka or up on the netting on the sides – or tramps, as Henare calls them. Sitting up on the tramps suspended above the water feels a little bit like flying, and is altogether not too shabby a spot to view Kāpiti from.
Henare slows the waka down for us and we float gently on the ocean’s surface while he tells us about the history of the area.
One story that sticks with me is that of Kahe Te Rau-o-te-rangi, who swam the channel from Kāpiti Island with her baby strapped to her back to warn allies on the mainland of a coming attack from an approaching tribe.
“My favourite part of taking out tourists is sharing my culture, sharing our history, sharing our stories.” Henare says to me afterwards as we sit on the shore, watching the sea try multiple times to drag his waka back into the surf.
“For me, revitalising waka is very important to our culture.”
His website states he can take people aged 2 to 99 years old on the waka, but he tells me he’s even taken an 8-month-old baby out. Babies tend to fall asleep on the tramps, he says.
Henare, a certified scuba diver and free diver, with nine years of commercial fishing experience, takes schoolchildren out on the waka as well when he’s not taking tourists.
He sees the impact it has on youth who might not learn well in a classroom environment to be taught how to sail. Henare takes them out to Kāpiti Island where they can collect marine data, as well as kai to take home.
Where to grab a bite
After working up an appetite on the water, it’s time for a trip to Sunday Cantina for lunch.
The cafe has a gorgeous outdoor dining area surrounded by lush greenery, with comfortable nooks to sit in with a coffee.
“I wanted it to be a relaxing, fun, bright, comfortable and friendly environment for both customers and staff,” said owner Fi Greig. “I wanted it to be different to anything else on the coast.”
Being the predictable creature that I am, I order a Hawaiian pizza and my nostalgia forces me to get a spider – a fizzy drink with a scoop of icecream. But for those with more sophisticated tastes, there’s plenty to choose from on the menu.
Greig opened the cafe one week before the first Covid-19 lockdown.
“So I can’t lie, it has been a stressful few years, but we have come out of it relatively unharmed.” She says
The opening of Transmission Gully helped in a “huge” way, with more people using the long-awaited road.
Where to get the best view
Having seen Kāpiti by sea, it’s time to see it by air.
I head over to the airport where it’s time to pile into a Kāpiti Heliworx helicopter for a scenic flight.
It’s my first time in a chopper and I’m reminded oddly of a motion master ride at a theme park as it lifts slowly into the air, tilts forward and shoots off.
Our captain, Dennis Young, takes us over to Kāpiti Island while we listen to an informative recording briefly touching on the island’s history and its characteristics.
The side that faces the land is bushy and green, but when we cruise around to the other side I’m struck by sheer cliff faces and rocks jutting forth out of the water.
Next, we’re cruising over Transmission Gully and admiring the hilly landscape from above before making our way back to the airport over a sun-soaked Kāpiti Coast.
The hum of the helicopter and the movement as the rotor slowly comes to a stop is enough to make me want to fall asleep, but there’s still one more place to visit.
Where to quench your thirst
What better way to finish a hot sightseeing day than a gin-tasting?
We gather at The Bond Store’s tiny factory where owner Bec Kay takes us out back to show us where the magic happens.
She and co-owner Chris Barber decided one day to quit their day jobs and start a business, and found themselves making award-winning drinks from limoncello to kawakawa gin – infused with leaves hand-picked from Kay and Barber’s own rural property.
One of their creations is a rosehip-flavoured gin called Down the Garden Path, made in collaboration with Friends of the Wellington Botanic Gardens.
But the really refreshing part of our tasting is their range of canned cocktails, which they serve to us in petite sherry glasses sourced from secondhand stores.
My favourite is The Magician, a sweet mixture of kawakawa gin, Koakoa limoncello, blackcurrant, and lime and tonic.
It’s a perfect – and tasty – note on which to finish a great day.
Air Chathams flies direct from Auckland to Kāpiti in 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Alternatively, fly to Wellington with Jetstar or Air NZ and drive to Paraparaumu in 45 minutes.