Peter and Elizabeth - RTW 2009-11 travel blog


























September 2, 2011

Our stay in Auckland was brief as we were hiring a car for the next few days and heading to a part of the country we’d skipped before. The car hire company collected us at around 10.30am and by 11am we were on the road and heading for the Coromandel peninsula. The peninsula is almost next to Auckland but about a 100km drive south and across. The drive was quite enjoyable after the headache that was Bali driving and after an hour or so on the highway we headed into the Coromandel region itself.

We headed first for a place called Whangamata, on the far eastern coast where we’d heard of a great little takeaway to get fish and chips (or fush and chups if you’re a local) called Craig’s Traditional Fish and Chips. The weather was pretty grim and had rained the whole way but we still managed to grab our food and find a table reasonable covered to enjoy our food. Elizabeth got the deep-fried fish offering but I went for the fish cakes instead and with a huge portion of proper fat chips each, we were soon stuffed. In fact, we even had some chips left but I kept those so I could make a chip butty later on! We stopped by the beach to use the toilets and these were of particular amusement. The doors were electronic and inside you had a little speaker. Firstly, as you locked the door it told you that after 10 minutes, the door would automatically unlock, a sign you should probably get on with your business. Also, as you went about your business, it played you some nice melodies and even thanked you as you exited. I’ve never known such a polite place to have a pee.

After lunch, we drove to Coromandel Town and found our hotel. We’d taken a longer route to get here and after almost 2 hours to Whangamata and another 2 to Coromandel Town, we were glad to be off the roads for a while! Most of the roads we’d driven on were paved but many of them around the peninsula aren’t so I’m sure we’ll see more of those over the next few days!

After a laze around the hotel, we went for dinner at Umu, a local café. Elizabeth tried the pumpkin soup and I had the mussel chowder and we followed it up by sharing a nice pizza. We’ve eaten such big meals of late that we’ve decided to buy stuff in the stores for the next few days so we’ll be having sandwiches for lunch and pasta with veggies for dinner to follow!

September 3, 2011

Today we headed to the north of the peninsula. The drive to Fletcher Bay was long, windy, rough in patches and amazingly scenic. Thankfully, the bendy, windy road wasn’t too bad to make me want to regurgitate my cornflakes but it was certainly a bit of a rollercoaster. If it wasn’t for the fact I was driving, I’d have blamed the driver!

The road followed the coast most of the way, veering off into the hills every now and then, and the views across to the islands in the Hauraki Gulf were wonderful. The weather even played its part, providing a gorgeous sunny day, a little crisp but perfect for driving around and enjoying the countryside. To get to Fletcher Bay, we had to go via a town called Port Jackson and rather disturbingly the GPS originally said that the drive would take around 4 hours. I don’t like to “race” the GPS but I was certain I could cover 30km in less than 4 hours! We stopped in a town called Colville along the way to fill up the car. The General Store in the town was also the gas station and was also stuck in a 1950s time warp. This wasn’t even a one-horse town – he’d died and been made into glue years ago! So, half a tank of gas heavier and $60 lighter, we carried on our way.

On reaching Fletcher Bay, a drive of under two hours, we decided to stop for our lunch and tucked into our homemade cheese sandwiches and a bag of crisps. Fletcher Bay is the start of a coastal walking trail which extends to Stony Bay, about a 3 hour walk away. We didn’t have the time nor the inclination to walk this and back so we headed out to see how far we could be bothered going. Despite being a supposedly “easy” walk, I was knackered after about half an hour of ups and downs through the sheep-filled fields. The regular stops to take pictures of scenery and young lambs were great excuses to try and get my breath back! One particular lamb had lost its mother and decided to bleat and follow us for a while. Other lambs ran when we got close but this one was quite happy sniffing at the camera and sitting by Elizabeth’s feet. She wanted to take it home; I wanted to roast it with mint sauce and roast potatoes. After about half an hour, we had climbed up quite a way and had some good views and the path only seemed to climb higher and away from the coast so we decided to head back. The views from here though did take in a lot of the small, surrounding islands in the Gulf and included the impressive Great Barrier Island, barely off the northern tip of Coromandel.

Not wanting to feel like we were missing out, we decided to drive to the other end of the trail and see what was there. Heading back down the unpaved road out of Fletcher Bay we crossed the peninsula and headed for Port Charles. According to our guidebook, the roads around here were supposed to be paved but there wasn’t much tarmac in sight. This didn’t matter too much as the hire car was capable of anything (!) and soon the white exterior and clean interior looked decidedly dusty! The roads got windier as we headed east and north again and as we left Fletcher Bay and climbed the hill the constant back and forth and braking and accelerating were making Elizabeth feel a bit queasy. It was a relief when we started descending into Stony Bay and were rewarded with some more breath-taking scenery. When we were here before, people almost chastised us for not coming to Coromandel and told us the scenery was amazing. Given we thought the whole of NZ was amazing, we weren’t sure that Coromandel was going to offer us anything new or different but we have both been pleasantly surprised with a great mix of coastline and hills and forests which probably isn’t unique in this country but is still beautiful and almost too much to take in when you’re trying to concentrate on the roads, too!

The drive to Stony Bay seemed to take forever but thankfully the drive back went past much quicker and we were soon on the drive back towards Coromandel. The main roads were much easier to drive on than the unpaved ones but they were no less windy or hilly. Along the way back we passed through Kennedy Bay which had some really cool Maori gates along the side of the road and it was the first real reminder we’d seen since we’d been back of the heritage of the nation.

We stopped in the local supermarket to try and get some dinner supplies but it seems we picked the crappiest store in town! We were just able to grab some pasta, sauce, a couple of veggies (one fresh onion and tinned corn) and some beans to make a suitable dinner for tonight with leftovers for tomorrow. As we’d driven around yesterday, we’d discovered some local beers from the Coromandel Brewing Company. We’d not heard or read anything about it previously and it was only when we went looking for something else did we discover it. They made four different beers so we’d bought one of each to try over the next few nights and tonight we tried the first few! I started with a beer called The Dark Side, which was like a strong bock beer, and Elizabeth had the Easy Rider, a sort of fruity wheat beer. Accompanying the pasta, they were really nice and made the pasta even more bearable! After dinner I had another beer, this time trying the Cloud 9, supposedly in the style of a classical Belgian wheat beer spiced with coriander and orange zest. I don’t know about any of that but it was as easily drinkable as the other two!

We had a private room at the hostel and the advantage of that was a TV. It might sound silly but having a TV is quite a luxury for us. Even though we had cable in Zurich we only had one English channel so to be able to CHOOSE what to watch is quite a novelty! Elizabeth and I had been watching quite a bit of the World Athletics Championships in Korea over the past couple of nights and it was great to able to flick between that and some of the films that were on.

September 4, 2011

Having had a late night watching TV, the alarm was swiftly ignored this morning (like yesterday, too!) and we eventually got out of bed around 10am to grab some breakfast and decide where we wanted to go. The weather was again lovely and bright and we decided to head to the east coast today and make the most of the weather. We decided to head for Cathedral Cove and there were two ways to get there – the quicker, Highway 25 or the slower, unpaved “309 Road”.

We took the latter option as there were a couple of things we wanted to see along the way. The road wasn’t as bad as it had been made out to be and although it was windy and up and down and rough and bumpy the scenery was still amazing and we were surrounded by large forested areas which broke away to leave views down into the valleys. Everything looked so bright and green with the sun out and the contrast between the green of the land and the blue of the sky, interspersed with the odd white, fluffy cloud, was very distinct. No gray and rain here, no thank you!

Our first stop was the Waiau Falls, a small, pretty waterfall which was a lengthy 2 minute walk from the road! The surrounds of these falls were pretty and had it been warmer we might have stayed and had a dip in the pool at the bottom but we decided to continue on, warm and dry. The next stop was the Kauri Grove. The kauri tree used to populate this area of NZ much more widely than they do today but they were targeted by loggers and now only a handful remain. No-one knows why these trees were not chopped down with the others during the late 19th century but they did survive this carnage. During WW2 the government wanted to remove them and use them in the war effort but the local residents prevented it and stood firm, saving the trees. The site of these trees is now protected and there remain 13 kauri trees which are around 600 years old. The path to the trees from the road is quite impressive, too. You start one side of the small valley and have a great view across to these massive trees and after about a 15 minute walk you find yourself in amongst them, the massive trunks being around 6m in circumference and extending way into the sky, towering over us mere mortals.

We continued along the 309 Road and continued to ignore the GPS’s ridiculous calculations of a 21km road taking 3 hours to drive along and within about 90 minutes we found ourselves at the car park at the head of the trail leading to Cathedral Cove. We did stop briefly at the general store in the town to grab some drinks and crisps and we nearly had a heart attack when the till flashed up with around $15 for 2 drinks, a bag of crisps and some Mentos!

Now, you might have noticed from my previous writing that I’m not in very great shape but the walk to Cathedral Cove was supposed to be a 45 minute, easy walk that even the guide book said was easily doable in about 30 minutes. This walk seemed to sap all energy out of me and although we did take a couple of detours from the path it made me realize how out of shape I really am. I don’t seem to have a problem walking for 3 or 4 hours when the ground is flat, as we did a couple of times in Zurich, but as soon as there is any slight hill I’m puffing away like an asthmatic. I will say though, that the two detours we took to the inappropriately named Gemstone Bay and Stingray Bay (we say neither gemstones nor stingrays) were quite steep trails down and back up and in the case of Stingray Bay the path was muddy and slippery and quite a challenge both ways. Still, we ploughed on and were soon at the top of the path overlooking Cathedral Cove with just the 100 or so steps to go down to reach the beach. Cathedral Cove is named due to a rock formation here which looks like a big church and joins two beaches together. The hole in the rock was massive and quite impressive but was spoilt but the equally massive yellow signs surrounding the entrance telling you not to go inside. Apparently, the hole is prone to shedding the odd rock and as a result of a recent rock fall, the hole is closed to tourists. Cathedral Cove itself is actually on the far side of this hole in the rock so we weren’t actually able to go right the way through but we had made it this far! Unfortunately, making it this far meant having to make it back, which we did in about half an hour. It seems the guidebook was right and I should probably stop being a whingy, whiney girl. Exercise is good for you, right?

We arrived back at the car park a little sweaty but very hungry so we grabbed our lunch and ate our sandwiches over-looking the surrounding coastline. I hate to say this, but the best views we had from this whole experience at Cathedral Cove were from the car park! We’d done our main thing for the day and as it was barely past 1pm we decided to drive around and try and find one of the local wineries. We eventually found a place called Purangi Estate but on entering the driveway it looked like a couple of old shacks and when Elizabeth said it looked like something from “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, we decided to skip it. A little further up the road we were greeted by the Mercury Bay Estate, just outside of Cook’s Beach. We decided to stop here for a taster or two although it didn’t look very open as we arrived. The appearance of a man with a chainsaw, of all things, didn’t make it seem any more inviting but his wife soon beckoned us into the shop. They were expanding the shop to include a larger seating area and a large panoramic window, the views from their property down to the beach being absolutely stunning. On top of that, their wines were amazing and of the 8 we tasted, 3 used grapes that were grown locally and the rest used grapes from Hawkes Bay, further south down the coast. The Sauvignon Blanc was lovely, as was the Pinot Rose and Pinot Noir and the Cabernet Merlot Reserve was also very, very drinkable. Honestly, I could’ve had any of them but we went for the Pinot Rose, which had won awards, and left with a bottle to accompany our leftover pasta tonight. Even when we try to eat cheaply, we end up spending money on wine or beer to go with it!

After that, we headed back, preferring the main road to the 309 but even this is pretty windy and hilly, especially just outside Coromandel. About 5km outside the town, it seems like you are climbing and climbing up into the hills and you know that at some point you want to be down at sea level, your place of residence being in a little coastal town. The last couple of kilometres wind down with some fantastic views but they weren’t much to Elizabeth’s liking today as she again felt a little sick on the final leg of the trip. As we entered Coromandel Town we stopped at the Coromandel Smoking Co., not to pick up some cigars but to try some of the fish and seafood which we’d seen advertised everywhere. I bought a pack of mixed smoked fish and a small pack of chilli marinated mussels. Elizabeth isn’t a fan of fish or seafood at the best of times and with her feeling a little queasy I think she was keen to leave. Oh, she didn’t buy anything!

Back at the hostel I decided to try my fish and really enjoyed the smoked mussels. I got Elizabeth to try one but she pretty much vomited in trying to swallow it. I told her to spit it out but she said she was OK but as she started retching she finally gave it and ran to the bin to get rid of it! It was such a waste of a lovely smoked mussel! The other smoked fish were really good and Elizabeth tried a bit of that, successfully managing to swallow this time, and the marinated mussels were good although I saved most of these to have with my pasta tonight! I didn’t really need a mass of smoked fish mid-afternoon but what the hell…! With my fishy delights, I shared the last of our Coromandel beers with Elizabeth. This one was called Good As Gold and was more pilsner style. I didn’t think it tasted too much like a pilsner though and was very nice and tasty. All four beers we’d had were really good and it’s a shame we probably won’t find them anywhere else – we’ll have to revert back to Monteith’s and Mac’s with the odd Speight’s mixed in!

Back in the room we both did some travel journaling, got our laundry done and Elizabeth took a nap and I watched some TV and messed around on the laptop. By the time Elizabeth was hungry for dinner, I wasn’t really but we got the pasta ready anyway and it still tasted just as good, especially with a helping of mussels and a glass or two of rose wine! We spent most of the evening relaxing and watching TV again, enjoying the final events in the athletics and getting excited about the Olympics next year!

September 5, 2011

We’d had another late night watching TV so for a third day running we ignored the alarm and continued to snooze. We’ll get a shock tomorrow when we have to be up at 5am and leave not long after to get back to Auckland! After more cornflakes for breakfast, we took the hour drive to the main town on the peninsula, called Thames, named after the river in London.

The town was like a throwback to the 1920s which is probably when most of the inhabitants here were born, too. Thankfully though, there was a little life here and after wondering around and buying Elizabeth some pens (her travel journal is hand-written and she writes a hell of a lot more than me!) we decided to find somewhere for lunch. We’d hoped to find somewhere with free internet but we settled in somewhere with appetizing pies instead! The sign for homemade pies was too much to ignore and a steak and onion pie and a mince and cheese pie later (plus some potato wedges) we hit the street fully loaded. The street was lined with lots of old stores but it seemed that every other one was a used bookstore and those in between were selling antiques. I’m sure to many of these people, they weren’t antiques at all but some new invention they’d yet to see like the television and radio cassette player! At the post office I picked up a rugby magazine and asked about free internet. We were told the library might have it and McDonald’s did, too. Ah, good ol’ McD’s.

After unsuccessfully trying to find the library, we headed for McDonald’s and were very grateful to find it was in an open food court and we were able to use their internet without actually buying any of their food. Having spent a few minutes getting up to date with the world, we strolled around the small shopping mall and managed to find ourselves in a massive store selling cheap sweets and chocolates and struggling to resist the temptation. Elizabeth did manage to acquire a USA flag though which she will be able to put to good use in Wellington in a couple of weeks when the USA play Australia.

After that, we were lost for much else to do so we decided to head back. Our three days in the Coromandel had been great but we’d pretty much seen coast to coast, north to south and lots in the middle. Back in Coromandel we stopped for petrol so we didn’t have to fill up at some unearthly hour tomorrow and grabbed some bread and dips for dinner tonight… as well as some Monteith’s cider, yet another cheap dinner gone bad! Elizabeth and I had both got a few days behind on our travel journals so we forced ourselves to spend a couple of hours writing/typing before dinner and I’m glad we did as I managed to get almost up to date, with just today to write after dinner. Hopefully I’ll soon find a decent wireless signal and I’ll be able to upload it to the website for other people to read!

We “treated” ourselves at the store to a nice loaf of bread and when we tore into it for dinner we were glad it was as good as it looked. I had some pate with mine and Elizabeth enjoyed hers with cheese and a tomato hummus dip. We had plenty leftover, too, so we made up sandwiches to have for breakfast on the road tomorrow. The cornflakes we’d bought tasted hard and stale and bland so we decided we’d leave those in the hostel for someone else and eat our tasty bread instead!

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