BAY OF PLENTY, NEW ZEALAND – I’ve heard a lot about Queenstown and Auckland and Rotorua in the years I’ve covered and written about travel. But I didn’t know much about the Bay of Plenty.
As much as I Ioved my recent visit to Rotorua, on New Zealand’s North Island, I’m too much of a beach guy to miss a chance to walk in the sand and get my toes wet. So with a bit of time to spare during my visit, I piloted my rental car (driving on the left side of the road is quite easy) to the Bay of Plenty area, about an hour east of Rotorua. I found a fantastic beach at Mount Maunganui, where the mountain looms over the water and feature beautiful hiking trails and sheep bounding through deep green meadows.
There were several surfers enjoying the rolling waves in the bay, which had beautiful blue-green water. With the beach and the mountain cheek by jowl, it felt a bit like Scotland meets the South Pacific. I didn’t have time to explore the town but there appeared to be several popular restaurants and a few cool-looking surf shops.
I spent the latter part of my beach day checking out something called Blo-Karting at a place called BloKart Heaven in the nearby community of Papamoa. Instead of a motor, a blo-kart uses sail power; which makes this feel like go-kart racing and sailing mixed together. I’ve never sailed but it wasn’t hard to figure out that the kart did a lot better when the wind was with us and that we had to build up speed to get through the “slack” areas when the wind was against us. It also wasn’t hard to learn to tighten up on the rope that controls the sail to get more power and to let go if and when we went to fast.
The instructor was very good, even if he did laugh at me for rolling backwards at one point when the wind was against me. I laughed right back and got on with the lesson. I didn’t go terribly fast, but some folks were positively flying around the track, with one of the rear wheels up in the air a few times.
Sometimes folks can blo-kart on the beach, but the Papamoa facility is inland and built on a series of twisting, asphalt roadways like a regular go-kart course.
As I was finishing my blo-kart experience, they asked if I wanted to try the “drift karts” they have on site, the Kiwis being a nation that just LOVES to invent new ways to spin, go fast and hurtle down large hills. I spotted a grandfather rolling about on the karts with his daughter and two grandkids, so figured “why not?”
The karts are quite low to the ground and feature a small motor and a front wheel, plus two wheels in the back; kinda like a fat, motorized tricycle. The gimmick, if you like, is that the rear wheels are plastic. Which means that if you build up some speed as you navigate the turns and twists of the course and then let go, your kart will start spinning in circles like a winning driver at a race car event
Again, I didn’t go too crazy but had a great time, as did the young boy going after his sister and mom and grandfather so he could bump their karts and send them spinning.
I’m surprised I haven’t seen either blo-karting or drift karts in Canada. They might be here, but I haven’t seen them. Certainly the blo-karts would work well in windy areas of Ontario and Nova Scotia, not to mention large parts of the prairies. The drift karts could go almost anywhere, including popular tourist spots such as Niagara Falls.
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