We’re freshly back from a weekend trip up the Coromandel Peninsula, and let me tell you- it was an adventure in more ways than one. The weather was cloudy with a bit of rain, but what’s a bit of water in the face of adventure?
The road is long and impressively winding. Where the highways I’m used to cut forcibly through the landscape in unforgiving straight lines, this one winds gracefully up, down, and between the mountains. They’re the kind of roads you see in Bond movies, with a vertical cliff face to your right and a straight drop miles down to your left. And bonus points for the frequent scenic outcroppings complete with parking areas.
At one point, there was a narrow, overgrown pathway that led to a view that Sheep couldn’t get enough of. He even thought he heard some Kiwi birds…
Upon arrival in Whitianga, we did a bit of exploring and went out in the bay for a bit of swimming and kayaking. It was still rainy, so the escapade was cut short by my worry at the level of waterproofing of my camera bag, but it was fun while it lasted. The next morning we spent a bit of time wandering around in town, where one of the local shopkeepers recognized me from the day before by my hair. It’s a good thing I’m not a spy, really- hard to keep a low profile with a highlighter on your head…
Next, Hot Water Beach!
Hot Water Beach has a hot spring under it, and you can go during low tide and dig holes in the sand. The holes fill with spring water from under the ground, and you get a nice hot tub effect while hanging out on the beach. It’s a great idea in theory, but there are some issues. First is people- it’s a very touristy spot, and I was lucky to be able to take a few pictures before too many came to stake their claims.
The second issue is that you’re supposed to start digging your hole while the tide is still moderately high for Maximum Hot-Spring Enjoyment Factor… which is difficult. You start digging your hole, and a wave comes in and washes the whole thing flat again. you try to build a barricade, the wave washes it away. You try to use a human as a barricade, the water gets around him and washes sand into his shorts. It’s sort of destined to fail from the beginning. Didn’t stop us from trying, though!
The boys tried a couple of approaches while I stood by with the camera. Eventually, they started trying more obscure digging methods…
The cool thing about it is that you can see the hot water bubbling up through the sand if you’re looking- too hot, actually, to stick your foot in. I heard surprised yelping in several different languages in the few hours we were there- like I said, it’s a very touristy place. Eventually, it became impossible to dig without fear of beaning an innocent bystander with a spade full of sand, so we left in search of less crowded adventures.
We decided to go explore Cathedral Cove next- it’s a spot I wanted to visit and also a pretty cool hike.
The hike takes about 30 minutes, and there’s all manner of interesting things to see along the way.
The interesting thing about the New Zealand countryside is that there is so much of it, and yet it’s all so different.
At one point, as you walk over the top of one hill (It’s about the halfway point)- the view to the left is a perfect description of the rolling hills, rocky outcroppings, and lush greenery that seems to mark New Zealand’s summers:
Standing in the same place and looking to the right, however, reminds you that there is in fact an ocean surrounding this place, and you’d do well to pay attention or risk falling off the edges of the earth.
After the 30 minute hike to Cathedral Cove, which may have been slightly longer on account of all the breath-catching that had to be done because ‘lung capacity’ is not on my list of strengths… we emerged:
Cathedral Cove is exactly as beautiful as they say: times about a million. Because of the weather and the time of day, there were only about 12 other people there with us, so I took advantage of the photography. The wave sounds that can be heard echoing through the cavern are haunting and beautiful, and the water is so clear that you’d swear you were the only other human on the planet.
I’m having this problem with the scaling of everything- there are no words, and no photos that can accurately describe the intense largeness of the cavern- or the feeling of smallness you get from standing inside it.
Here, for your viewing pleasure, is what the start of the return hike looks like:
On the way back, we met this dapper fellow and his lady friend- at first they were afraid, but I crouched down to take photos while Jon made some whistling sounds, and our new feathered friend came over and posed on a rock so I could take his picture.
By the time we got back to the house it was dark, which turned out to be just fine considering the sunset. Although it was cloudy and rainy for most of the weekend, the skies cleared up enough for a night-shot of the view from our front porch. Off to the left is Shakespeare cliff, which was on the list of things we would have done had the weather improved.
The next day, we went on a new adventure to see what apparently has been voted “New Zealand’s Most Beautiful Beach”- It’s another one that you have to do a bit of hiking to get to.
After getting distracted looking at seashells for a good half hour, we went inland where I was surprised to discover an area that looked like it was the hand-built set from a Jurassic park movie. Everything was still, and you could hear but not see the ocean through the undergrowth. It was beautiful, and creepy all at once.
It was, actually, a beautiful beach. Another stroke of luck with only 10 or so other people around, and this little lean-to constructed out of palm fronds and tree bark:
Far enough up the beach, there are even sand dunes that look out over the water. Birds nest on the dunes, which is cool as long as you abide by the natural order of ‘you stay on your side of the rope, I stay on my side of the rope’ -Otherwise, eyeballs get pecked out.
Here we are: the sun sets over New Chums beach…
And walking back, we could see the beach from between the trees:
You’ll forgive me for saving the biggest adventure for last.
After all the adventure we crammed into the ‘annual camping trip’ this weekend, I figured we were about finished with it all when we packed the kayak and everything else up and headed for home. Sheep was more than happy to stand guard while we put everything else into the car and took off- after a quick pit stop for fish n’ chips, of course.
Unfortunately, about an hour and a half into our return trip (and stops every 15 minutes or so to let people pass us and make sure that the kayak was in fact secure- it was) we drove around a corner and a gust of wind hit us so hard that it shook the car. There was a loud clap and a bang, and I watched as the nose of the kayak swung around over my window. We pulled off the road, and Jon started working on assessing the damage. I, meanwhile, was trapped in the car by a twisted piece of the roof rack which had levered itself against my door. About a minute after we pulled over, a police officer found us and pulled off. She saw the twisted pieces of metal that remained of the rack, and Jon told her that it had snapped in the wind, and we were trying to fix it. She helped to twist the kayak back to its proper position, which partially freed the piece of metal against my door, and then apologized because she was on her way to an accident further up the road, and left.
After Jon pried me out of the car, we set to disassembling the wreckage and reattaching the kayak facing, once again, front to back. It took about two hours, one tarp, a duvet, a bungee cord, and 20 feet of rope to get it tied back on, and by the time it was tied, the car battery was dead from the hazards and headlights. When we attempted to flag down an officer for help, he refused, laughing, and drove away.
I was a little miffed that nobody else stopped to help us (considering the eight other police cars that drove by), but I counted it as a win because the only major damage was to the roof rack. I figured that was the end of it, until this popped up on the NZ National News two days later:
According to the original article, police pulled over an Irishman who told them he though that was how kayaks were supposed to be transported- and was ‘unrepentant’. Basically, the story went viral, and even more viral when they found out that the driver was actually about as close to being Irish as a bottle-nose dolphin. The police ended up having to actually apologize to the entire Irish nation -Foreign relations and all. If you’d told me a few months ago that I’d be on an extended vacation in New Zealand, I would have laughed in your face. Imagine what would have happened had you told me I’d be four day’s worth of top story on the nightly news after only a week abroad! It might say a thing or two about the comparative importance of news stories here and in the US, to be sure.