MAIN PICTURE: Debbie Griffiths and son Nate Wadsworth pause for a picture along the Tirohanga dunes trail. Photos supplied

AFTER only a few days enjoying Opotiki, TV3 The Cafe’s Debbie Griffiths has plans to return in the near future.

Debbie and 10-year-old son, Nate Wadsworth, explored the district while gathering content for a television segment which ran on Thursday’s edition of The Cafe.

Despite working at the 1XX radio station in Whakatane some time ago, Debbie says she had never been to Opotiki before.

“I got to choose where I wanted to go, and I have some friends who raved about the Motu River and the whole area. That’s why I put my hand up and said I’d like to explore the Opotiki and Motu area,” she says.
Opotiki impressed her.

“I was really pleasantly surprised by Opotiki. It’s a beautiful, welcoming little town that’s really held on to its heritage,” she says.

But the town itself is only the beginning with Debbie also praising the food available.

First visiting The Royal Opotiki Bar and Backpackers, she says her vegan diet was well accommodated by the chef.

“I’m vegan, and a lot of places find that a little bit awkward to deal with, but the chef was absolutely lovely. He created the most beautiful salad for me. It was a really high-class meal, and we had the same experience at the Two Fish cafe next door,” she said.

The cafe served up a vegan wrap for Debbie, meeting her plant-based diet requirements. “I was expecting hot chips,” she says. “It’s really nice when places actually cater for people individually.”

Back in the outdoors, she spent time exploring the Tirohanga dunes trail, and experiencing the Motu River jetboat.

She was particularly impressed with the dunes trail, enjoying how closely the trail followed the beach and the accompanying views. “I thought maybe the trail would run up alongside the beach sometimes, like most tracks do, they don’t usually follow along behind the beach the whole way,” she says.

A similar sentiment applies to the Motu River, which she describes as “absolutely stunning”.

Debbie and Nate journeyed along the river with their guide Mark Looney showing off the river’s secret waterfalls and off-map location.

“I thought it was absolutely amazing and seeing all the native bush and land I actually felt quite privileged to get to see that part of New Zealand, that I think a lot of people don’t even realise still exists,” says Debbie.

The natural wonders of Opotiki continued to amaze Debbie as she explored Hukutaia Domain, guided through the scenic spot by some knowledgeable volunteers. “The people who showed us around were just so passionate and helpful.”

RIVER RIDE: Mark Looney guides Nate Wadsworth and Debbie Griffiths along the Motu River.

She says the 2000-year-old puriri tree was of particular interest to her and her son.

“It was really cool, and for my 10-year-old to see a piece of history we didn’t know about was really valuable,” she says.

During her stay, Debbie also took a trip along the Pakihi track and spent a night at the Ohiwa Beach Holiday Park, before returning home.

Reflecting on the visit, she says she plans to revisit and fully experience the Eastern Bay.

“Opotiki made an impact on me,” she said.

“I’ll be taking my family back to the Eastern Bay. I want to do more of what I did and things I didn’t get to try, so I’ll definitely be back.”

She says the real magic behind Opotiki comes from the people.

“You’ve got beautiful scenery and activities, but that’s a credit to the locals. You’ve got all these people that are passionate about where they live and genuinely love it, and their love really comes through.”