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More Inside Than Outside On The Coromandel Peninsula

After Paul’s folks departed, we remained in Nelson for another week savoring the sun. There were several more walks down the hill to and hacky sack sessions on Tahunanui beach when we weren’t just relaxing with the view over the bay.

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Days track to Tahunanui beach

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Garden art at “a room with a view”

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View of Tasman Bay from our apartment “a room with a view”

On Sunday, we parked Zed and boarded a small plane for Auckland. The next five weeks we planned to spend seeing some sights on the North Island. Once we picked up our rental car, the first destination was the Coromandel Peninsula. From Auckland it was about a two hour drive. Fortunately our timing meant we would be driving out of Auckland when the majority of the traffic was heading back into Auckland after the weekend. It was nice to be able to avoid the traffic jams that regularly plague the Auckland area. Soon we moved beyond the edge of the metropolitan area watching rolling green hills and lots of dairy cows go by, like we’ve seen almost everywhere we’ve been in the country so far. It was not early enough in the day to make it all the way to Coromandel Town before dark, plus we decided to stock up on groceries at the large supermarket in Thames which meant we drove up the coast of the peninsula in the dark. From what we could tell from the headlights and moon the scenery promised to be stunning in the daylight. The road was narrow and winding, which was not a surprise. We easily found our apartment called “the treehouse” in Coromandel Town and quickly settled in.

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The next morning we met Dom, a local who happened to be staying in a nearby cabin and working for the owners of the property where we were staying. He immediately mentioned New Chums beach as a must see while we were on the peninsula. Since the sun was out, and it was still the weekend, we decided to check it out. Thankfully, he had explained just how to get to the beach and told us it would involve crossing a stream that could vary considerably in width and depth. We found the sign post and the instructions a bit confusing and the track rather difficult to find which made us even more thankful for Dom’s information about how to access the famous beach.

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The stream we had to cross

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Navigating the boulders on Whangapoua beach to the track over to New Chums beach

We unintentionally arrived near low tide and we were so grateful that it worked out that way because we only had to wade across a small shallow water channel on Whangapoua beach. From there we made our way across the boulders scattered along the edge before finding a very steep track up and over a little neck of land that separated Whangapoua beach and New Chums beach. The light sand was so sparkly and seashells were scattered everywhere. As you walked the sand squeaked underfoot. It reminded me of walking on snow on an extremely cold winter’s day and hearing it squeak on my boots, except that it was not cold at all and I was barefoot. It was so fascinating. There was only one other lady at the beach. The leisurely walk down the beach and back was delightful.

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New Chums beach

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New Chums Beach

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New Chums Beach

 

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sparkly sand and seashells at New Chums Beach

The following day was cloudy, but not rainy, so after Paul finished work we walked into town to have a look around and have lunch. We stopped in at Umu’s café, another of Dom’s recommendations for lunch and tea, and it was awesome. It didn’t take long to see town, as it’s a rather small community. We were glad to be outside and of course found time for hacky sack in the park before going back to the treehouse. Then the rain came, continued all night long, and through the next day and night too. By that time, we both had a severe case of cabin fever as we’d chosen to stay inside and dry. There was enough space to hacky sack inside, which we did a lot. We only kicked it out through the open window a couple of times. Yes, it’s odd that the windows would be open during the rain, but they were designed such that the rain did not come in and the clouds and rain were actually making the temperatures rather mild for this time of year we were told. Besides hacky sack, we skyped, we read, we watched TV, we surfed the internet, I colored, Paul worked, we sat, we ate, but not necessarily in that order.

 

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Paul retrieving the hacky sack that apparently was as eager to get outside as we were.

The clouds still hung low on the third day when Paul finished work. Despite the threat of more showers, we headed out for some fresh air. We prepared to get wet and set out to do the Harray track. We turned off the main road and walked just a short distance before coming to a tree with a large arrow on a sign saying “Harray track please cross here” next to a creek that after 2 days of rain was rather swollen. You could see a line of stones across the river, but the water flowing well over them and cascading rapidly down the other side.

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The beginning of the Harray Track, as far as we made it.

We didn’t stand too long considering our options before turning and going back to the road. We found another short loop track and walked that before walking into town for tea at Umu’s café. By the time we finished, the clouds were breaking up and we could see patches of blue sky. We found another track that lead to a lookout over Coromandel Town on one side and the ocean on the other.

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Coromandel Town from the lookout

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The ocean from the lookout

We continued on and made a loop of a few miles that passed by the other end of Harray’s track then around the wharf and back into town. It was simply wonderful to be outside.

We were treated to another dry day the next day and took the opportunity to check out the Driving Creek Railway at the recommendation of one of our hosts. It was only a few miles up the road, so we had a nice walk in addition to getting to ride the little train up to the “Eyefull Tower.” It was an awesome ride up the rails that zig zagged up the hillside, complete with a double decker bridge and tunnels.   The entire operation was the vision of one man, Barry Brickell, and he did most of the work himself to build not only the railway but the trains as well. The whole thing was quite a unique experience. Our train operator had worked for many years for the owner and could point out many of the retaining walls he’d built from glass bottles. These, and the artistic pottery that dotted the route were my favorite parts of the experience. Interestingly, the entire railway project started as a way to get the clay from the hill down to Barry’s workshop so he could pursue his passion of sculpting pottery. The railway morphed into a project that has become a huge tourist attraction which was well worth the visit.

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riding the Driving Creek Railway

 

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With the forecast calling for more rain, we wanted to see as much as we could during the clear weather so after the train ride we walked back to the house for the car. We drove down to the carpark at Long Bay. Our host told us there was a walk over to Tuck’s Bay and along the way a giant ancient Kauri tree. We’d heard a bit about these trees and wanted to check it out.

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“baby” kauri trees

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huge kauri tree estimated to be 1200 years old

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Ancient Kauri tree

Wow! This one was massive and apparently not the biggest one here on the North Island of New Zealand. Tuck’s Bay was lovely and a perfect spot for some hacky sack on the green grass.

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Tuck’s Bay

The rain came again, just as forecasted, and we watched from inside just as expected. I took a few minutes to bake an apple crumble in between the other inside activities already mentioned. In between rain showers we enjoyed watching the adorable resident fantail and quail.

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Fantail

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Quail

That brought us to the weekend and there were still a couple of places we wanted to see before leaving the peninsula, but as we got ready to head out for the day, the rain came again. We paused, considered and decided we would go anyway as we likely would not have another opportunity. The locals casually advised us to drive the 309 road over to the east coast. Our destination was Cathedral Cove. The 309 road, which we expected to be at least a two lane highway, was, well, mostly two lanes but gravel for much of the way. Soon after we crossed the top and began descending to the opposite coast, the sun came out and blue skies welcomed us at the carpark for the walk to Cathedral Cove. We were in disbelief, simply astounded at how crystal clear the day turned out to be.

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View from the carpark at Cathedral Cove

We walked to Cathedral Cove, strolled along the beach with plenty of time to take pictures and then paused to take in the scenery at both Stingray Bay and Gemstone Bay on our way back to the car.

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View from carpark at Cathedral Cove

 

Rather than drive the 309 again, we chose to take another route, one we’d driven earlier in the week. This let us see a little more of the east coast and as we turned west, we faced a band of obviously heavy showers directly in our path. When we pulled off next to the ocean to take a few pictures, we both decided it would be much more pleasant to watch the rain fall there than while trying to drive the curvy narrow road.

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In a matter of ten minutes the black cloud moved over us, pelted the car with water and moved past revealing blue sky with the sun illuminating a brilliant rainbow against the backside of the black curtain. It was a wonderful day spent in unexpected sunshine. The next day more clouds and drizzle arrived, we waited for a clearing and walked into town in the afternoon; we didn’t quite make it before another round of drizzle blew over. The next day was much the same, though after we got rained on, we kept walking and did get a few hours of clear skies to walk up to the lookout again.

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Walking along Wharf Road in Coromandel Town

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We tried to remember those lovely moments in the fresh outdoor air as we spent yet another day inside when the downpours returned.   Cloudy skies remained the following day but thankfully it was not raining. We went out for a long walk before getting to spend some time on the deck at the treehouse for the first time. We walked into town for dinner, arriving at the restaurant where we intended to eat an hour before they began serving dinner. So, we kept walking and discovered that the Umu’s was open for dinner, so we looked no further. There was no rain, no clouds and no street lights on our walk back to the treehouse. Three ingredients that combined for the most brilliant night sky. Trying to navigate the path in the dark staring up at the milky way with our mouths agape caused us to bump into each other more than once. The clear skies resulted in much colder temperatures overnight, but the next morning the sun punched through that clear sky and lit up the tree ferns, flowering bushes, and palm trees against an intense blue sky. We were eager to get outside after Paul finished work. We knew we wanted to find a beach and we decided to head for New Chums beach again, aware that the tide would be high at 4pm and we may not be able to get over the river to the track.

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The channel close to high tide, would have been well over 6 ft deep in the center.

 

We arrived at about 2pm and immediately could see that Whangapoua beach looked much different than the last time we were there. The channel was deeper but not over our knees, so we crossed, took a few more steps then paused to look at each other. We realized we were thinking the same thing. If the water channel was already about as deep as we wanted to cross and the tide was still coming in it would be considerably deeper by the time we walked to New Chums beach and back again. Plus looking ahead around the beach where we’d pick up track to New Chums we could see the water was already covering many of the rocks. It didn’t take us long to decide to just stay on Whangapoua beach. The water channel deepened and widened rather quickly and one couple coming back from New Chums nearly had to swim across. We breathed a sigh of relief that we’d chosen to simply stay put. The sun stayed out all afternoon.   We strolled along the beach and back again. We sat and had a snack and played hacky sack and lingered until our shadows fell long across the sand.

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Sunny day at Whangapoua Beach

 

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This calls for a happy handstand

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and a happy dance!

 

That night was the last in the treehouse and the end of our stay on the Coromandel peninsula. When we departed we got to drive along the coast into Thames in the daylight. It was a perfect day to take in the spectacular scenery looking across the bay toward Auckland, where we were headed.

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