Six favourite places to go in summer

New Zealand is blessed with great summer getaways, from beaches and rivers to alpine lakes and island retreats. Six writers present a collection of favourites, from Waiheke Island in the north, to Arrowtown in the south.

ARROWTOWN

The memories are hazy and fragmented, but I can remember a river and the days being hot - very hot. There was an old gaol my sister and I ran around, squealing and scaring each other into believing we'd be locked up. And there were little cottages in a tree-lined street - the real-life version of the painting on my grandparents' lounge wall back in Dunedin.

The visual recollections might be foggy, but the memory of how it felt to spend holidays in Arrowtown and Central Otago as a child is clear. Ask anyone who spent sweltering summers cooling off in the likes of the Arrow River and they'll instantly recall that special feeling. There were no nearby jet-boat rides, bungy jumping, luxury spas or casinos. The charm of Arrowtown today is that you can ignore those flashy attractions more suited to its brash neighbour Queenstown and still have a laidback magical holiday.

The Arrowtown Gaol my sister and I once played in is still there. You can get a key from the Lakes District Museum if you want to check out the inside (you get your $5 deposit back when you return the key). It was technically the town's second prison. Before there were buildings in mining settlements in which to lock up people, criminals were instead chained to a log - a practice known as logging. This first "jail" managed to be quite mobile when one enterprising Irish miner up and left with the log. Apparently he didn't get too far away and was found having a beer, still chained to the log. The Arrow River, where gold was discovered in 1862, is another free attraction. You can walk, run or mountain bike on the Millennium Walk that flanks each side of the river (with two bridges creating a looped track) or on a hot day spend an afternoon leaping into one of river's swimming holes from the rope swings that dot the riverbank. Or you might get a dose of gold fever and try panning for gold - they say there is still some colour left in the river. Try it in winter and get an icy feel for why so many miners faced an early death. The town's Chinese Village (also free to visit) dates from the mid- to late-1860s, when Chinese miners came to rework ground deserted by European miners. The settlement was unearthed in the 1980s and since then has undergone a huge amount of restoration work and is a fascinating piece of local history. Again, try visiting it on a water-pipe freezing winter's day and imagine how tough you would have been to live there at a time when a scarcity of wood meant lighting a fire wasn't always possible. Perhaps, the more famous Arrowtown architectural feature is the row of quaint cottages I admired as a child, still lining the main street along with the sycamores and oaks. They received a well-publicised reprieve earlier this year, when the Queenstown Lakes District Council bought the buildings to prevent them slowly falling apart due to a lack of maintenance from the then owner. Then there are some attractions that aren't as old - or free - but they're good value. Dorothy Brown's Cinema & Bar is a mainly art house theatre with sumptuous decor, vast leg-room, beanbags, a brilliant book shop and an intermission in every film where you can tuck into wine and cheese or perhaps some gourmet ice-cream and a cup of tea. If you watch a film in The Den (the smaller of the cinema's two theatres, seating about a dozen), make sure you avoid the thrones - you may look like royalty but your butt will be numb in no time. I make up for the fact Remarkable Sweet Shop wasn't around when I was a child by visiting every time I go to Arrowtown. I recommend bypassing the floor-to-ceiling shelves of giant gems, whoppa stoppers and Dracula's milk to go straight for the free tasting of fudge (tip: you can't do better than the creme brulee).

The other major change in Arrowtown been the number of new restaurants - great options at every price range. But most importantly the fish and chip shop is still there. The memory is a little hazy, but I think I remember that - or one very much like it - from when I was a kid.

Recommended

Walking tracks: Sawpit Gully Trail, Lake Hayes Trail, the Arrowtown Millennium Walk, Tobin's Track and the track to Macetown (the remains of a town, not a real town) - the museum can supply maps and track conditions. Playground: Arrowtown School - race each other through the new confidence course. Rainy day excursion: the award-winning Lakes District Museum. Sunny day excursion: visit the Postmaster's Deli to load up for a picnic, find a shady spot by the river and perhaps try out some gold-panning (hire the pans from the museum). - Kirstin Mills

WHERE TO STAY

Budget: Arrowtown Born of Gold Holiday Park is in the town centre and has bowling greens, a swimming pool and 10km ski field. Cost: $15 per adult for power and tent sites, $7.50 per child. Tourist flats and studio units from $90, no pets. Contact: (03) 442-1876 Medium: Bains Homestay is a family-style experience. Be greeted by Biddy, the cocker spaniel and enjoy continental breakfasts with fresh bread and homemade preserves. Cost: $130 per night for two, children negotiable. Contact: (03) 442-1270 High-end: The Arrowtown Old Nick is situated on the site of an original police residence in the 1900s. It offers boutique-style accommodation and is right in the historic centre. Cost: From $165 per person, depending on season. Contact: (03) 442-1696

PUNAKAIKI

My summers were spent on the periphery of other people's Punakaiki holidays. Dad was a ranger, mum ran the motorcamp. I earned pocket money scrubbing burnt baked beans and bacon fat from the communal kitchen bench tops and washing strangers' hair from the shower block walls. In 1979, Punakaiki had four streets and three-digit telephone numbers. When we drove there to live, I thought we were arriving at the end of the world. Storms would bounce off the monumental limestone cliffs. One day it hailed so thickly, we built a snowman on the beach. But in the sunshine, it was our own private kingdom. We lived there and we were there first. We'd ride our bikes to the river and get the best swimming spots before the sneering townies arrived. That was our black and white collie dog that barked incessantly at the kids we didn't like. I made $4 an hour rolling ice creams at the Pancake Rock Tearooms, naming people for the flavours they chose. One night, at sunset, I met a boy called Maple Walnut on the beach and we walked and talked for three hours. But I was 14, and his family packed up their tent the next day.

Leftover Christmas ham still tastes like Punakaiki summers - sandwiches for picnics to be trekked into Punjabi Beach up the Porarari River, where a then- fledgling canoe hire business now caters to hundreds. You can go horse trekking there now. There's good coffee at the excellent craft shop and a pub on the corner so you don't have to drive to Barrytown. The sign behind the bar says no pot, and no foul language. The "to do" list by the kitchen reminds staff to fix the bachilla (sic) door and collect the whitebait gear. I remember tui and bellbirds drunk on kowhai nectar from the trees on the track to the beach, and learning to drive on the sealed motorcamp roads - where we'd walk, looking for new families with kids our age to play spotlight with in the pine trees. We had secret tracks to the top of the cliffs, knew the best places to read books (and smoke cigarettes and write really bad poetry) in secret. I grew up at Punakaiki but never got too old to imagine fairies and elves in the rain forest. Last weekend, I visited with my sister and her two children. I asked Samantha, aged three-and-a-half, what might have left the large, three-clawed footprints on the beach. She stopped dragging her stick in the sand, and counting crab shells and looked around and proclaimed: a tiger. On a fine day at Punakaiki, anything seems possible. - Kim Knight

WHERE TO STAY

Budget: Punakaiki Beach Hostel offers a choice of single, dorm rooms or a tent site. Cost: $37 per person for a single room, $21 per person for dorm, $15 per person to camp. Contact: (03) 731-1852 Medium: Hydrangea Cottages are five minutes from the beach and river mouth, and a short stroll to Pancake Rocks. Five cottages are available that sleep anywhere between two to seven people. Cost: From $185 per night for two, add extra for more people. Contact: (03) 731-1839 High-end: Located right on the beach, Punakaiki Resort is only 300m south of the Pancake Rocks. They offer standard rooms, suites and eco-suites. Cost: Up to $280 per person for an eco-suite and $117 per person for a standard room. Price also depends on season. Contact: 0800 786-2524

NELSON

Ice cream and summer holidays. Inseparable. Cool, creamy licks and bites; carefree, kick-back days. So when you journey south, be sure to treat yourself to the taste of summer in Nelson: a berry soft-serve. Berry fruits abound in this region. Blackberries, strawberries, raspberries and other varieties - plump and sun-warmed - festoon the vines of berry farms dotted around the outskirts of Nelson city. Pull in at one of the plentiful pick-your-own signs, take a punnet, fill it with your fruit of choice and pay per kilo at the shop counter. Now for the cherry on top: many berry farms have make- their-own machines, combining vanilla ice-cream with large chunks of crushed berries. You choose your own flavour combination. The result: delicious, soft-serve, berry ice-cream. It sums up the taste of the Nelson summer.

If you're exploring Nelson city and hinterland, chances are that at some point your travels will take you along the coastal highway leading to Motueka, en route to Kaiteriteri Beach and ultimately, to Abel Tasman National Park. Closer to the city, just five minutes beyond Nelson, is the turnoff to Mapua, a seaside village and home to Touch-the-Sea Aquarium. Take the name literally, for in this sea cave you're encouraged to touch any specimen of sea or shoreline life, provided you keep it in the water. Dip your fingers into well- stocked pools of paua, stargazers, scallops and sea stars. Get up close and personal with sharks, stingrays, seahorses, crayfish and shrimps. Eyeball grouper, moki, terakihi, leatherjackets, gurnard and the resident octopus. There's plenty of information about what you're looking at, because the aquarium is a popular destination for local school groups, especially with the recent addition of an education/workshop area. Aquarium access is through the gift and souvenir shop at the front of the building. Across the road you'll find waterside cafes and restaurants and the historic Mapua wharf. Entry to the Waimea Estuary, significant for its birdlife, is nearby. Mapua is a serene corner of the Nelson region and a worthwhile diversion from the vineyard and craft trails of the surrounding area. Touch the Sea: 8 Aranui Rd, Mapua, ph: (03) 540-3557.

In Nelson, Saturday is market day. A cornucopia of crafts and produce comes to town. To absorb the region's distinctive creative culture, simply meander among 100 and more stalls set up each week by local artisans. Artists, potters, weavers, woodturners, glass-blowers, sculptors, jewellers and furniture-makers all display and sell their wares. Intrigued by a particular design or look? Make a date to visit the artist at home or follow one of the 13 craft trails that take in studios, potteries and galleries based in the city and nearby rural settlements. For many cottage industries, market day is a window to the world. Home-made jams, relishes and pickles sit alongside boutique cheeses, handmade soaps and possum fur slippers. There's a range of colourful, funky mailboxes made out of gas cylinders, happy- faced animal mirrors that catch both the light and the attention of passers-by, knitted woollens with year-round sales appeal and original fridge magnets. If you're there in whitebait season, $5 buys you a mouth- watering West Coast fritter; you can try Dutch doughnuts, German bratwurst and every kind of bread. Local salmon, berry fruit, vegetables and flowers complete the market scene. It's a great way to start - or finish - a quest to find the quintessential Nelson. Montgomery Square, Nelson. Saturdays 8am- 1pm. - Maura Todd

WHERE TO STAY

Budget: Kaiteri Lodge has 21 rooms ranging from bunk rooms to family suites. There is also a beer garden, laundry, kitchen, TV lounge, spa pool and outdoor barbecue area with hire bikes available. Cost: From $20 per person for bunk room. Contact: 0508-KAITERI. Medium: Ambleside Bed & Breakfast has guest rooms with their own ensuites, a guest lounge with wireless broadband connection, off-street parking and complimentary refreshments. Cost: From $140 per night. Contact: ambleside@paradise.net.nz. High-end: A riverside retreat that offers fine dining and fly-fishing, Maruia River Lodge has seven luxury detached cottages with super-size king beds and underfloor heating. Additional accommodation supplied for accompanying chauffeur, pilot or guide. Cost: From $520 per person for one-bedroom deluxe cottage. Contact: (03) 523-9323.

WAIHEKE ISLAND

Beside the road leading from the Kennedy Point car ferry terminal there is a sign: "Slow down, you're here." It sums up Waiheke - take everything down a gear, unwind, chill, enjoy. We do, and have done so every summer for 10 years. Each year Sir says, "we should have bought at the beginning", but it's too late now; most property prices are up with the best of Auckland - and beyond on the prime sites.

Where else can you be only half an hour from the city - even less less for those who own or hire a helicopter - and yet a world away. We usually stay on the northern side. We prefer the swimming there and there is not the sight of the mainland giving an ever-present reminder of reality. Although nothing is very far away on the island (the loop route is 65km), the surroundings vary: steeper beaches on one side and hills almost everywhere else, plus bush, sand, rocks and wetlands. Buses go to the main beaches, but personal transport always gives more flexibility. Cars can be hired and adjacent to Matiatia ferry terminal there are scooters and bikes (I often wonder if the first-timers among the cyclists know how hilly Waiheki is). Flotillas of guided kayak tours are often seen doing point-to-point around the beaches.

If bigger craft are your thing, there is deep-sea and big-game fishing, but you can always just plop a hand line off the wharfs at Matiatia or Orapiu. You can, of course see it all on foot and there are brochures of walks of varying difficulty and times. If flat is your choice, the 1.6km of Onetangi Beach is ideal. On our first year, we could not get over the beauty of the place - "In Europe, people would pay thousands if they could find a place like this." Nearby Palm Beach is a shorter walk along the sand but you can add a steep climb to the road leading to the glorious cove that is Sandy Bay. From there, at low tide, you can go around the rocks or up through the bush to the even smaller Hekerua, where round rocks replace the sand. There is no road down to the beach and the zig-zag walk back up lets you know you've made an effort.

Although many places on the island can be crowded in summer, there are always hideaways to be found: nooks and crannies so undisturbed that kina lie out in the open in rock pools - so vulnerable it would be a sin to disturb them. And if you like to make a meal of your oysters there is at least one fantastic spot - but I'm not saying where. On Saturday mornings, the old Waiheke comes into its own at the Ostend Market, with fresh fruit and veg, second-hand clothes, jewellery, artisan foods, books, tools, you name it. Another oldie is Stony Batter at the eastern end, where the army built three huge gun emplacements linked by a maze of tunnels at the end of World War II. The invading hordes never arrived, but visitors can troop through the underground darkness with torches and help from the Stony Batter Protection and Restoration Society. When we attempted a visit, a long-running dispute over access was unresolved and the walk seemed endless. Now you can park almost around the corner. However, what the landowner giveth with one hand, he taketh away with the other: the public road to Stony Batter used to stop behind Cactus Bay, one of the most idyllic areas on the island. Vines now bar the way but those with boats can still enjoy the Queen's Chain of this fantastic cove.

There are now more than 20 other vineyards - some with accommodation, restaurants or cafes, others with tasting open to the public and cellar-door sales. Prize-winning olive oil is another feather in the cap. It is often said that Waiheke has a microclimate - whatever the temperature on the mainland, it's probably warmer on the island but it is also a microcosm of food. In little more than a decade, the changes have been phenomenal: first a supermarket, then delis, more and varied cafes, and restaurants from the eclectic to the exclusive. The same goes for accommodation: from B&B and apartments, to baches, lodges and holiday homes, to private estates with room for your helicopter. And although one summer starts to book up as soon as the previous one is over, there are often prizes to be had via other people's cancellations. Island life is good. - Maureen Marriner

WHERE TO STAY

Budget: Hekerua Lodge is situated in Little Oneroa, in an acre of native bush and has a natural stone swimming pool, barbecue and kitchen. Cost: $23 per person for dorm, $15 per person to camp. Contact: (09) 372-8990. Medium: Palm Beach Bungalows is a romantic retreat that offers secluded cottages, rental cars, breakfast and dinner, massage and pamper packages. Cost: $280 per couple. Contact: (09) 372-5146 Luxury: The Estate offers honeymooners 360-degree seaviews, super king beds, private balcony, courtyard, library, horseback riding and vineyard tours. Cost: From $450, twin share. Contact: info@theestatechurchbay.co.nz

ROTORUA

Your parents took you to Rotorua when you were a kid. You take your own kids there as soon as they are old enough. It's one of the few things we can do with our children in the sure knowledge we won't be disappointing them. The reason is simple: there is always something to do here. If you've done two geothermal areas and the luge, there's still Rainbow Springs Nature Park and Kiwi Encounter. Raining? There's the Agrodome, even if these days you have to dodge helicopters, bungy jumpers and Zorbers to get close enough to worry a sheep. And if it's sunny, there's the Buried Village.

They have been separating tourists from their money for a long time around here ever since guides led parties to view the "world-famous Pink and White Terraces", destroyed in 1886. Even today, in publicity material and numerous guide books, you'll encounter the nostalgic suggestion that "Yes, it's all very nice, but you should have been here when we had the Pink and White Terraces." Getting over it isn't a local strength. The residents will still trot out George Bernard Shaw's typically lugubrious quip that "It reminds me too vividly of the fate theologians have promised me", if you throw them a sixpence. In an attempt to replace extinguished glories, Rotorua has positioned itself as the Queenstown of the north, licensing all varieties of fatal - sorry, adventure - tourism. They didn't need to bother, because on one level, any kind of tourism is an adventure here. There's always the possibility someone will wander "off the path" in a geothermal area, break through the thin crust and strip the meat off their legs, down to the bone. Or that you'll be in town when a geothermal demon decides to make its presence felt in someone's back yard. The city has a perfectly adequate hospital for such cases, but other of life's necessities have not always been strong points, notably food and shelter. The former has improved considerably lately, the latter a little. The best shopping is done online.

Rotorua will sometimes insist you're having more fun than you are. Anyone who takes the gondola to the top of the mountain to enjoy the view is likely to find themselves repeating what tourists have been saying in this situation since God showed Moses the promised land from the top of Mount Pisgah: "Right, and what exactly am I supposed to be looking at?" Architecturally, with a few fine exceptions, you could be forgiven for thinking they buried the wrong village. But that's a rare let-down. Rotorua is the only place in the North Island I encourage visitors from overseas to see before getting themselves to the South Island as quickly as possible. Everything else in the north that might interest foreign devils - all of it landscape - is done better further south. But you can't find the colours and smells and sounds of geothermal Rotorua. Just keep to the path and your kids will thank you for the rest of their lives. They might even take their own children. - Paul Little

WHERE TO STAY

Budget: For the eco-minded, Lyons Lakestay claims to be Rotorua's only organic backpackers. It offers cheap breakfasts and picnic lunches, hire of mountain bikes and kayaks and free airport transfers. Cost: $26 per person in the bunk room. Contact: 0800 258-996. Medium: Accolades Boutique Hotel overlooks Lake Rotorua. The hotel offers gourmet meals, complimentary luxury toiletries, forest treks and guides for trout fishing. Cost: $450 for the Panorama Guest Suite. Contact: (07) 345-5033. High-end: Black Label Retreats is an exclusive collection of retreats that offers ultimate luxury. Guest services include a private chefs, butler and nanny. Lodge 199 is a 325 m2 abode 20 minutes from Rotorua. Cost: From $1800 per night for two guests, minimum stay of two nights. Contact: www.blacklabelretreats.com.

KAUAERANGA VALLEY

I confess: I have never really been one for the beach. I like being near the ocean, but do not enjoy the beach experience. Surf beaches are too rough, and tame beaches are too tame. I have come to realise that this has in large part to do with the early imprinting of The River on my mind. Swimming in a river is a completely different experience to swimming at a beach, and one which my brain accepts without question as being in every way superior.

The river that made such an early and complete impression on me wends its way down the Kauaeranga Valley towards Thames township. It was once known as Waiwhakauaeranga, or "waters of the stacked up jaw bones", which according to Ngati Maru history comes from a particular battle when the jaws of the defeated were stacked along its shores.

This valley has been the one unchanging thing since I became aware of my surroundings, which is not to say it hasn't changed, but it does so like the face of someone you know very well. Part of the Coromandel Peninsula, it has been beloved by trampers since its remaining native forests became part of the Coromandel Forest Park in the early '70s, not that it ever feels crowded - for the most part, the only sound apart from the birds is the occasional axe somewhere in the distance. The real logging ran out in the '20s and since then the native forests have been regenerating on the hills either side of the valley. It is the place I dream of when in lands far away, and then wake up not knowing where I am. In the centre of the valley is the river. The river, as in "what is the river like today?" or "have you been for a swim in the river yet?" Summer days could be divided into: haven't been for a swim yet; been for a swim; going down to the river soon. What could be better? When the day gets too hot to read even indoors, or you just can't stand it anymore, you gather whoever is willing and start down the hill towards the river.

On my grandparents' land, which was where we stayed, you went from the blinding sunshine around the house into the cool dim of the bush as you walked down the track to come out blinking at the bottom. If there was somebody else at your swimming spot you could hear them before you got there, but usually there was nobody there. Leaving your things on the rocks you could slide into the cool water and float out on your back believing you were the last people left on earth. Rivers can give you a sense of peacefulness and danger all at once. Even when calm, they can be unexpectedly fast or deep. You know well that they may have changed since you were last here; even if the outward appearance is the same, underneath the surface could be Anything. This imparts a very satisfying feeling of intrepidness, something which was of especially high value to me as a child who usually went out of herself to avoid being intrepid. River water is also soft and delicious. You don't have to wash it off afterwards - instead you come out of a river feeling like new.

When I was very small I remember my grandpa having a small boat in which he used to row us across the river so that we could picnic on the other side. I considered this mode of transportation extremely stylish and felt it showed my grandparents to have a high level of sophistication. The boat went the way of a flood, but the picnics and the swimming continue. We'll be there this summer, where a new handful of small people continue to ask "Can we go down to the river now?" - Laura Macfehin

WHERE TO STAY

Budget: Pinnacles Hut is a serviced 80-bunk hut in the upper part of Kauaeranga Valley. It is a three-hour walk from the road and has a cold shower, solar lighting, barbecue, gas cookers and a solid fuel burner. A warden is present at all times. Cost: $15 adults, $7.50 child. Contact: (07) 867-9080. Medium: Located on the Thames Coast, Te Mata Lodge is close to walks, water activities and glow-worm grotto. It offers wedding packages as well. Cost: $30 per person for a cabin, $132 for a two-person cottage. Contact: (07) 868-4834. High-end: Tuscany On Thames is an Italian-style villa in Thames. It offers 14 luxury units with super-king or queen beds and free guest laundry services. All guest suites include free Sky and cafe- style breakfast. Cost: $130-$160 (one to two persons), seasonal rates apply. Contact: (07) 868-5080.

Sunday Star Times