Camping & Crayfish Burgers
22 April 2022
A recent trip home to Martinborough saw us drive down the west coast over the back roads from Raglan to Awakino, then to Urenui, around the coast of Taranaki, and down through Whanganui to Palmerston North and across the ranges to home.
A visit out to Ngāwī on the South Wairarapa Coast is a must on every visit home. Often we will freedom camp right in the village at the assigned site and enjoy staying in the motorhome and having a beer in the local fishing club and food from the caravan, but we had heard that John Priest (known locally as JP) had opened a bar and café at his Waimeha Camping Village just a few kilometres before Ngāwī, so this time we decided to head out with family and stay the night in the motorhome and an on-site cabin.
We have talked about the campground before in these pages over the years. John is a local of long-standing. He is a farmer, fisherman, tour operator, and host unlike many you may meet, that’s for sure. Over the past 10 years he has been enthusiastically developing his ideas and dreams from a paddock on the farm to a camping site with multiple quality cabins to rent and powered and unpowered sites for tents and RVs. The view from the camp kitchen is like no other, looking out over Cook Strait to the Kaikoura’s. Gaming and pool tables sit alongside the dining area for the new café and bar.
We chatted and sat down to order from the menu – a blue cod burger for two of us, a crayfish burger for Peter, a vegetarian burger and chips for Bruce – what a feast. There was also pāua on the menu but the fresh crayfish patty won out. I can’t think of anywhere else in the country that I have seen a crayfish burger on a menu along with fries for just $25, and wow it was incredible. We all reckon this could easily become the best fresh seafood restaurant in the country with food like this.
John also offers other activities for you to enjoy. You can join him on the boat in the early morning and help pull in the cray pots in the bay, go fishing, book a personal lighthouse tour, book a cycle tour of the area, learn surfcasting from the beach out the front, or hire a kayak. We met a camp visitor who was back for a second trip out to haul in crayfish – at $80 pp I think this is incredible value and quite unique. Bruce got up early and headed out while I slept in, and they collected enough crayfish for all on the boat to get some delicious booty to take home including two for us, yummy. He was hoping they might see dolphins or maybe even a whale, but not so that day. I was disappointed that I hadn’t hauled my butt out of bed early enough and gone too.
They were only out a couple of hours at the most and the sea was smooth as silk, so it is now on my ‘must-do’ for next time. I have to congratulate John on what he has created on the side of a windswept, barren landscape. He is a man of many talents – demonstrated to us when he came to greet us on arrival after working on the farm that day before he headed off and reappeared later as the chef in the kitchen cooking us up a feed from the food he had harvested from the land and sea – crayfish, pāua, fish, venison, lamb and beef all featured on the menu.
Now, with the cabins, a bar, and a licensed restaurant, John has moved into hosting corporate groups, and weddings and parties are being booked, and in March this year, he is having a music weekend – the Waimeha Summer Party on March 13. By all accounts half of the 150 tickets sold within half an hour of going on Event Finder, offering bands and DJs for just $60 a ticket including an unpowered campsite. I know local Wairarapa people will take this event out. Outsiders likely won’t get a look in as this is such a popular place, but if you are looking for somewhere out of the box for an event of some sort, and want to enjoy a really down-to-earth Kiwi experience, I recommend you check this place out. I wonder what else he’ll have put in place when we get down there next?
Story and images supplied by NZToday-RVLifestyle magazine.
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