Summer Camping at Robin Hood Bay
By: Christopher Cookson
Last Modified: 8-1-2022 17:58
It was a hot and sunny day as we crammed the essentials of summer masochism into the car; tent, airbed, child. We also packed a few other essentials such as stinky dried fish bait, and copious quantities of toilet paper. If there’s one thing the world has learnt from Covid, it’s that in the event of dystopian end of the world crises, one must be equipped with as much toilet paper as possible, and suppliers have constantly underestimated demand. I’m just waiting for some Hollywood disaster blockbuster where people trade toilet rolls as currency to survive, but I digress.
With the car loaded, we were ready to head off for one night of the kiwi ritual of a hot sticky night in a confined space in temporary accommodation, with a bed of uncertain reliability and comfort, in order to wake up, or possibly not sleep, to the sound of surf on the beach, and the wind disturbing our tent.
We’d chosen to go with friends, as in spite of the sleep deprivation that camping inevitably involves, kids can usually defer getting cranky until after they’ve got home if they’ve got playmates to build sand castles and swim with.
Within easy reach of Blenheim, there are a handful of beach campsites. Marfells Beach to the south is quite windswept, and the beach isn’t the greatest for swimming. Rarangi Beach is similarly not a great swimming beach. Whites Bay is probably Blenheim’s most popular swimming beach, with the large campsite surrounded by beautiful native bush, however Whites Bay is close enough to Blenheim that many people simply make a day trip to the beach there.
Fully packed up, my wife, daughter, and I jumped into the car and headed off, with air conditioning and ventilation on full to provide some relief from the heat. Less than a minute from the home, we had to turn back as my wife and I realised that each of us had thought the other had packed a frying pan for cooking, and dinner was going to be a bit of a challenge without something to prepare it in. That sorted, we left for a second time. We stopped in at the Warehouse on the way where I bought a few items of fishing gear including some sprat hooks which later turned out to be extremely useful. Heading north to Tuamarina, we met lots of heavy traffic coming the other way, presumably ferry traffic from Picton, possibly holiday traffic heading home as the official Christmas New Year holiday period was almost at an end.
At Tuamarina, we took the familiar route out to Rarangi, and then up the steep, narrow, winding road to Whites Bay, but when the asphalt ended at Whites Bay, we kept going, following the dusty road up and down, and around bends for another few kilometres till we finally descended at Robin Hood Bay.
DOC has a basic free campsite at Robin Hood Bay, which officially has ten non-powered sites, however their website suggests ‘Camp next to the beach’, and the DOC campsite isn’t exactly right next to the beach, but as we arrived, it became clear that lots of people were following DOCs suggestion quite literally, and the wide grassy strip between the road and the beach had become a heavily populated colony of campers in everything from small tents to luxury motor homes. The road through the bay is sealed, ironically, except near the official DOC campsite, so campers don’t need to worry about eating dust. Although the bay was crowded with campers, they all seemed pretty relaxed and quiet, and the almost complete lack of mobile phone coverage meant that although we were surrounded by people, we were cut off from the pressures of civilisation.
We found an unoccupied space where rectangles of yellow grass indicated the previous inhabitants had departed, and set to work unpacking and setting up camp.
Although there was a sea breeze, it was still extremely hot, so the first thing we did was to erect our gazebo to offer some shade. Our friends arrived about ten minutes after us and put their gazebo next to ours. We erected our tents, but I decided I’d leave the laborious process of inflating our airbed until the evening rather than pumping away in the stifling heat inside the tent. With accommodation organised, it was time to head to the beach. It was a couple of minutes walk along the road and down a track to the beach, because although it was only a few metres from our campsite to the beach, there was a steep drop of several metres behind a wire fence.
The kids of course all wanted to go swimming; my daughter grabbed her boogie board, mask and snorkel. I thought I’d make a decision on swimming once I’d tested the water temperature. Although Robin Hood Bay isn’t as scenic as Whites Bay, with pines rather than native bush on the surrounding hillsides, and is a longer drive, it has a couple of things going for it that make it an extremely popular Marlborough beach. One is that there is vehicle access to the beach so that boats can easily be launched and retrieved; probably the closest boat launching site to Blenheim. I don’t have a boat, but the feature of Robin Hood Bay that interests me, is that in my experience, almost inevitably, the water seems to be warmer there than Whites Bay. It’s a much larger bay than Whites Bay, and fairly sheltered, except from the south.
Small fish in a big bay
I decided to try my hand at fishing while I assessed with my feet whether I was prepared to immerse my whole body in the sea. I decided to go with a small sprat hook and a float that I’d bought earlier in the day, and this soon paid off. Unfortunately with no mobile coverage, I didn’t find out till after I got home that yellow eyed mullet are actually edible and indeed quite tasty, even though they’re small, as there was a steady stream of them attacking my bait, and I caught and released a number of them. The only other thing I caught was an angry paddle crab which raised a pincer at me in warning when I was trying to photograph it. It rapidly burrowed its way backwards into the sand, and I decided it was time to go for a swim.
I got my snorkel, mask, and flippers, and once I’d managed to find enough courage to immerse myself in the cool, but not too cold water, I set off to explore around the north eastern rocky coast of the bay. I noticed well equipped divers with wetsuits heading out to the coast near the mouth of the bay, and as I swam, I started to see why. Near the rocks there was quite a lot of marine algae and that supported other marine life. I saw spotties darting about beneath me, and large numbers of different species of molluscs. There were lots of blue mussels, but a reasonable number of greenshell mussels too, and I was tempted to collect some for a feed, but since I was the only person who really enjoyed them, I was content just to observe. Further out round the shore, the algae became thicker, and the water deeper, and paua shells on the beach revealed what divers where looking for. I’m personally not a big fan of paua. I think paua mince is like slightly seaweedy tasting gristle, and although it’s edible, I’d far rather devour a pile of mussels, scallops, or oysters, with mussels about my favourite, however I know for some people paua is a delicacy.
After a good swim, it was just about time to head back to our campsite and get dinner organised. There was a decent breeze blowing, so I did my best to shelter our camp gas cooker. We made up pasta with left over Christmas ham, and had some ginger beer for refreshment.
It was cool enough now to inflate our air mattress without dying of heatstroke inside the tent.
As the sun began to go down, we discovered that the campers next to us were nocturnal; they’d been quiet during the day, but began to get increasingly loud and vocal as the evening went on.
In the twilight, I went back down to the now abandoned beach with my camera and tripod to indulge one of my passions, photography. Summer usually isn’t the best time for artistic landscapes, as the light is too harsh with the sun high in the sky, and the late hour of sunset, but camped out overnight, I had time to wait for the conditions to be right for a good image. I took several long exposures of the bay until it became too dark to get a good image.
Back at the tent, I changed my clothes and crawled into my sleeping bag, which was barely needed. Being quite literally half deaf was quite convenient, as the wind was flapping the tent around quite noisily, and our nocturnal neighbours were even louder. I put my good ear down, and that fairly effectively blocked out a good deal of the noise. My wife was not quite so fortunate, and she told me in the morning that she hoped our daughter had not heard some of the conversations from next to us, as they were not really the things a ten year old should hear.
Some people talk about karma, but I prefer the te reo word utu or reciprocity. In the morning, I woke up fairly early around 6.30, and it wasn’t long before the rest of the family joined me, along with our friends with their kids. My wife claims that I have the loudest sneeze in the known universe, and although she hasn’t stated it explicitly, I almost get the impression it’s implied that the Big Bang might have been actually been caused by one of my sneezes. Changing temperature, like getting out of bed causes me to sneeze, so of course as I stepped out of our tent, I sneezed loudly, several times. Our kids came over with a loud, irritating electronic toy, and were arguing over who got to play with it.
I put our kettle on to boil on the gas cooker, and after a few minutes, it announced that the water was boiling with a cheerful whistle.
I’ll never know if our neighbours heard any of our morning activities. There was no movement from their tent, and perhaps they were enjoying intoxicated slumber that even cosmos shaking sneezes and rowdy kids couldn’t disturb.
My beach, my castle
Breakfast being done, it was time to head to the beach again, but it was a bit cooler. I decided to try some fishing again, and ended up with another yellow eyed mullet within a few minutes, but nothing else for a while. The tide was high but going out, so as it dropped, I started making my way around the rocky north eastern shore of the bay to try my luck at fishing there. I managed one small spotty, that was all, but with the receding tide, I was able to explore the rock pools and observe the diversity of marine life present. Having grown up on David Attenborough documentaries, I found that as entertaining as actually catching any fish, and spotted one or two organisms I hadn’t seen before.
Meanwhile, the kids had got stuck into some serious sand castle, or perhaps more accurately, sand city construction on the beach, which they then followed up with equally serious destruction.
We had lunch on the beach under the shade of our friends’ gazebo, and after another swim it was time to pack up and head home.
Cite this page
Cookson, C. (2022). Summer Camping at Robin Hood Bay. Retrieved December, 2, 2023, from https://www.marlboroughonline.co.nz/marlborough/information/commentary/summer-camping-at-robin-hood-bay/
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