Jan 30 - Coromandel
Auckland Anniversary weekend - the last long weekend until Easter, and therefore the perfect opportunity to tackle the last readily accessible section of the North Island we were yet to explore - the Coromandel Peninsula. We were hoping for fine weather, and sure enough as we charged over the Bombay Hills early Saturday morning it was promising to be a scorcher. Steadily we made our way to and past Thames, the furthest point to which we had previously reached. We then followed the black ribbon Northward between the sea cliffs and the wave-lapped rocks. After Coromandel township we stopped for a picnic lunch at Oamaru Bay, watching a family or two loading up a series of dinghy trips to ferry themselves and their provisions out to a nearby island, on which we could spy a bach - nice idea!
We pressed on Northward, and reaching Colville we soon reached the end of what Coromandel could offer in terms of sealed roads, and continued on the rutted gravel, stopping occasionally to admire the views, and to rest Rosie's arms. The last stretch from Fantail Bay to Port Jackson was particularly adventurous - more a farm track than anything, despite us encountering more traffic on that stretch than we've encountered on many other much better maintained stretches of the NZ road network. The views that were our reward made the anxious journey worth it however, offering a vista of the boundary of the Hauraki Gulf - aptly named the Barrier islands. We could also however see grey weather closing in off the Pacific, and sure enough it was raining fairly steadily by the time we reached the comparative luxury of the sealed roads once more. We therefore abandoned the original idea of pressing on over another such gravel stretch to the campsite at Kennedy Bay, and returned to Coromandel town to push on over the hills to Whitianga. As the rain increased in intensity, we abandoned altogether the idea of camping, and instead sought a solid Cabin roof at Harbourside Holiday Park in Whitianga, and a hot meal in one of the local eateries.
The next day the rain had eased off enough to afford us a view of Mercury Bay and Whitianga Harbour before we left Southward toward Tairua and Pauanui. We arrived in the former earlier than we had expected, and therefore continued on to take a tour of the latter, despite the fact that although the two settlements are less than 100m apart at the harbour mouth, one must travel a good 10-15 minutes down the road to reach the first bridge. An inconvenience only to visitors however, a passenger ferry catering to the local needs. After exploring the primarily residential area of Pauanui we returned to meet our friend Elke at her family's Tairua batch, where we were spoiled to the tune of a hot coffee and tea - and the offer of a room for that night. Although the weather remained imposing, we pressed on with ur original plan, heading North again slightly to make our way to Cathedral Cove - however, despite the weather we were unable to find a parking space even remotely near the popular attraction, and even if we had the attraction of the place would be largely lost when accompanied by such large volumes of people. Advice: visit only in shoulder season, or even a fine day in Winter.
We therefore relinquished that intention, notching it up as something to do when we eventually revisit - this was after all primarily an exploratory expedition - and continued to Hot Water Beach. Although also quite the popular attraction, we were at least able to find a place to park, and it was no busier than many other beaches in summer, merely concentrated around the zones of subterranean thermal activity rather than the safe swimming spots. It really is an uncanny place, where one may burrow one's toes just centimetres beneath the sand and be nearly scalded by the geothermal heat from beneath, and in but a moment be soothed by the water sliding its way up the sands. We tarried a while, but before long returned to Tairua and made the climb up the cloven ex-volcanic cone that is the town's most prominent feature, enjoying a picnic lunch with a view. After our descent we then continued our exercise for the day by carrying a couple of our generous host's kayaks down to the harbour to try our hand at harbour paddling. Although we did not venture out into the open sea, we still found how different it was to river kayaking - whereas in the latter one has a reasonably constant current that aids one in their intended direction, in the former one has to contend with the currents constantly trying to spin one around, and although the tide was on the rise, even going with it was made difficult by the waves and what seemed to be conflicting currents. And returning to where we had set off, against the tide, was certainly quite the exertion. Nonetheless it was extremely enjoyable on the whole - even when it started raining once more, and although that only intensified as we hauled the kayaks back up the hill to the bach ('holiday home' for non-NZers), we could at least look forward to a hot shower and a hot drink, and a wonderful home-cooked meal later.
The precipitation continued at quite a strength, only easing occasionally and briefly as if to taunt us, and we did start to worry about flooding preventing us returning home - until we realised that would mean another day off work that is! Luckily that was not to be, and the next day we said our goodbyes as the clouds gave the impression of thinning, and as we stopped for lunch at Bowentown at the Northern end of the Tauranga Harbour, it started to become quite warm indeed, which only continued as we cut through the hills over to the Waikato plains, and therafter the now familiar homeward stretch, although we did take some few diversions to prevent us from being stopped in traffic at least - even if we gained no time from such, we at least took a few ways that offered different sights than the norm.