The Coromandel Peninsula is located South East of Auckland and just over 100km to the town of Thames which lies on the Western side of the peninsula on the Hauraki Gulf just north of the first bridge across the river. Cook called it the Thames because he said it reminded him of the estuary of the English Thames but he must have needed glasses because, with the Coromandel Ranges rearing up steeply from the shore line, the outlook bears little resemblance to England.
Sue had stayed in Auckland with her sister and would fly down to Palmerston later in the week for her mothers birthday while the rest of us would while away the time at the Bently Bach at Pauanui prior to picking her up again later. Situated on the East of the peninsula where the Tairua River meets the Pacific Ocean, Pauanui was developed during the 1960's and 70's as a seaside/retirement resort. It boasts three golf courses, a superb ocean beach over 2 miles long and is linked to Tairua across the river by a passenger ferry service. There are approximately 2150 houses in the town but at the 2001 census there were only 942 permanent residents. This population swells to about 1500 at weekends and over 12,000 during the holiday season which starts in December.
We arrived at the bach and quickly settled into spring cleaning, tidying the garden and re-commissioning the bikes after their winter hibernation. Our first expedition into the hinterland was to Coromandel town via the 309 road. This is a largely unpaved road crossing the peninsula which used to be the main road between Whitianga and Coromandel Town. The horse drawn mail wagon took an average of 3 hours 9 minutes for the run hence the road was called the 309. The pretty Waiau Falls were on the way (pictured above) but our destination was Castle Rock, a 521 metre high jagged peak which you can drive to up a rough forestry track then a short, quite vertical climb takes you to the summit, such that I did not expect the Hockeys to complete it but they both amazed themselves and me by making it to the very top. Here you see them on the top of one of the castellations taken from a higher point, which needed a bit of rock climbing, with the islands of the Hauraki Gulf as a backdrop.
We met a young guy with three dogs carrying a crossbow and stopped to talk. He said he was hunting wild pigs and Carol saw a sow with piglets wandering through the bush during the climb.
Coromandel town is a nice little place where Carol found some artists material in a shop as she intends to record some of this trip by painting some of the scenes. She has also been busy collecting shells for some pastiche or other no doubt but all her efforts will be recorded here!
We travelled back to Pauanui by the longer paved road and Carol saw a Billy Goat tethered to a rope on the side of the road which she wanted to photograph. I left the car to also take a photograph but the "bloody goat" saw me coming and headed at speed towards me. I retreated into the car but the rope tethering the goat was longer that we thought and the goat tried to get in with me. At this Chris demanded my camera to record the event but he was laughing so much he took several shots of my legs before he found the goat! Bloody goat!!
I resolved to get walking fit again during this trip so I was soon off around the local walking trails. Just above us is a hill they call Mount Pauanui. It is only 387 metres but as you start from sea level you must climb all 387. I traversed around the coast to Cave Bay from where a track climbs up to the ridge before doubling back on itself in a big loop. The ridge climbs to the summit in a series of steps. You keep thinking you are approaching the top then another top appears. Finally sitting on the top, soaked in sweat, admiring the view and eating my lunch, a lady emerged out of the bush looking as if she was just out for a gentle stroll! I took the shorter direct route down.
Our journey down to Palmerston North was fairly uneventful. Mount Ruapehu, The North Island's highest mountain and an active volcano, was hiding her face behind a blanket of cloud but was still photogenic.
As soon as we arrived back in Waikato north of the big mountains the sun came out and stayed out for all of our stay here. Let's face it, Turangi is a dump in a glorious setting just south of Lake Taupo, New Zealand's biggest lake and just north of Tongariro National Park. It was just a small settlement until they built a big hydro electric scheme nearby when Turangi more then doubled in size to accommodate the influx of workers. After the hydro scheme was finished they decided that Turangi would become a tourist town but whereas the city of Taupo, some 45km away on the north shore of the lake, flourished as a tourist centre, Turangi didn't and it's dilapidated 1950's style commercial centre deserves to be knocked down and rebuilt to try and encourage tourists to frequent the place. It is an ideal place to base yourself, far more so than Taupo, to discover the regions attractions, especially if you like trout fishing and the Trollope bach is situated on the edge of town in a quiet street near the Tongariro river. Some 900 tonnes of Trout are caught around Lake Taupo each year and, as they are not caught commercially, the only way to get one is to catch it yourself or to make friends with a local fisherman.
The main river that most trout fishermen make for is the Tongariro river which flows out into Lake Taupo at Turangi. We walked up it as far as a swing bridge over the river. The tree you can see in the foreground, full of pretty yellow blossom, is a Kowhai, much loved by the Tui birds who hang upside down to collect the nectar from the flowers.
The next day the forecast was not good and the clouds over the mountains decided us to head for the tourist attractions of Taupo. In fact when we arrived at Taupo city and looked back at the mountains they were as clear as a bell so we could have headed for the hills instead.
After a brief shopping expedition we drove to the Huka Falls a short distance from the city centre. There are about 18 rivers flow into Lake Taupo but only one outlet which flows out of the lake at Taupo city and is called the Waikato River, New Zealand's longest. The river is dammed at intervals along it's length to provide hydro electric power and there is also a large thermal power station in the area. Collectively these two natural resources provide some 15% of the North Islands power requirements.
The river has scoured through the rock here to a depth of 10 metres and flows at a rate of 200,000 litres per second. You need to see and hear it to experience the mighty natural energy when the river flows through a narrow rock gorge and over the spectacular Huka Falls.
We spent an interesting half hour at the Honey Hive which has a display of bees in a hive with glass sides so you can see all the bees at work. Carol discovered that if you took a photograph, in addition to the bees you get your own reflection in the glass so here I am with a load of bees! Manuka honey is made from nectar gathered from the flowers of the Manuka Tree which we know as the Tea Tree. It is horrendously expensive and is supposed to have medicinal properties. Amongst the huge range of honey's on offer here was Manuka honey mixed with peanut butter which I am now having on my breakfast toast.
The last time we were here we took a ride on the Huka Jet boat but Chris and Carol could not be persuaded to experience the thrill so we wandered into the Volcanic Experience, a museum devoted to earthquakes and volcanoes. We had a simulated earthquake experience then watched a film of the last eruption of Mount Ruapeho in 1995/96. Another film of the latest earthquake in Christchurch this year made us realise just how terrible an experience it was for anyone who lived through it and the huge destruction that has taken place. We will fly out of Christchurch to Australia at the end of February and planned to stay a fortnight in the city. We are beginning to realise that the damage is so great that we will probably have to change our plans and leave that city for another time.
Our next stop was the "Craters of the Moon", an area of thermal activity consisting of craters with boiling water and mud pools.
Another set of rapids we visited was on the slopes of Mount Ruapeho in the Tongariro National Park known as the Silica Rapids. The cloud was covering the high tops so a visit to the crater lakes between Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe was not an option. We walked from Whakapapa (pronounced "fokapapa" - no really!) which at 1127 metres is the highest permanently occupied village in New Zealand and it takes about an hour and a quarter of gentle climbing to get there with great mountain views on the way. You pass the Punaruku Falls, stream beds stained with red oxide and other minerals until finally you reach Silica Rapids above the tree line where the stream bed is coated in cream coloured silica flowstone for several hundred metres.
We discovered a glorious bush walk at the Ohinetonga Reserve which followed the Whakapapa River just upstream of it's confluence with the Whanganui River in a big loop of about 6km passing through a variety of different bush but in particular, many giant Kahikatia trees. These trees were unsuitable as timber for ships spars or any other types of construction so were spared the woodsman's axe, unlike trees like the Kauri which were largely decimated. Although there seems to be plenty of native bush around, New Zealand has more land cleared for pasture than any other country in the world.
The local fish shop in Turangi is expensive and serves small portions whereas the Chinese takeaway serves large portions of mainly vegetables and undercooked meat, if you can find any. We thought that our local Chinese takeaway at home was pretty bad until we came to Turangi! The only pub that was open was the soulless Sports Bar where we did our usual Pommie trick of requesting beer in a hot glass to try and warm the beer up a bit to much amusement from the locals. One guy said he once visited a pub in England called the Shire Horse and thought the beer he had was something to do with the horse!
It was time to leave for our next port of call, the smelly city of Rotorua. It was over thirty years since I was last in this suphurous city and it was little changed except that then you wandered around the boiling mud pools and geysers at will but they have now commercialised it. At the tourist information office I explained we were there for a day and night and we just wanted to see the natural thermal phenomena and were not interested in any "cultural" experience. You are not allowed to see the sights without experiencing the "culture" for which they wanted over NZ$50 each. What a tourist rip-off!
Having made certain that the tourist authority were aware of our displeasure we wandered across the road into the government gardens which were free. Here was smelly steam issuing from flower beds, white suited people playing bowls and croquet and the mock tudor old Bath House now turned into a museum for which they do charge, quite a colonial picture unchanged from the early 1900's when the original Spa was built. We walked over behind the newer bath house (another entrance fee) behind which was Rachel's Spring, steaming away at just under boiling point and very smelly. Just around the corner we discovered an arts exhibition. They were conducting a survey and asked us why we were there. They were told that we were looking for anywhere where there was free admission in Rotorua!
We had booked a motel called the Hideaway Lodge on the Northern outskirts of the city. For only NZ$80 we had a double room with a full kitchen where our host Karen could not have been more amusing or helpful. She sold us her own free range eggs for breakfast, told us the motel was an alcohol free zone and that a Japanese Maple was actually marijuana! She also recommended an Indian restaurant in town called the Indian Star which was one of the best meals we have had in New Zealand.
On the way down to Palmerston we had noticed a beautiful waterfall tumbling 150 metres over the escarpment of the Kaimai Range called Wairere Falls and we determined we would walk up to it on our return trip. The walk was a little harder than we expected but well worth the effort as you can see from the photograph on the left.
Back at Pauanui, Carol finally collected enough of the right type, pattern and colour of sea shells that she wanted and went to work on her masterpieces. You can see the results in the pictures above. She wouldn't say what the first one was but I think it looks like a Whales tail. Another masterpiece was produced which is definitely a whales tail and yet another of a pohutukawa tree. We have given her the artistic name of "Cagsie" in the hope she will eventually become a "Banksie"! In a few years "Cagsies" might become collectable and worth millions but for now they make nice presents for our Kiwi hosts!
As Sue failed to climb Mount Pauanui on our last visit she decided to attempt it again so for the second time in as many weeks I found myself on the summit but this time Sue made the top and here is the picture to prove it.
Sue's sister Diane celebrated her birthday on 26th November so we all travelled down to Tauranga to help her. On the way down we stopped at Athenree for a dip in the thermal pools.
In the evening we all assembled on the fish quay at Tauranga for the worlds best fish and chips. Bluenose was the main fish of choice and I ordered a dozen oysters. Unfortunately I did not specify we wanted them au naturel unaware the default was deep fried in batter, the same as the fish.
Everything arrived with huge mountains of chips on two plastic trays and the six of us sat at a wooden picnic table on the quay drinking the beer, wine and cider we had bought with us. The pretty girl who served us said her name was Harmony so we thought it appropiate to include her picture on Harmonies web site.
The last time we were here Mike and Diane had bought a section on which to build a house up in the hills above Papamoa. The site has a superb view over Tauranga and Mount Manganui and Mike designed the house so that the view is maximised from almost all the rooms, even the toilet where you can have a poo with a view!!
The next day, Diane's birthday, we all went for a walk before breakfast down to the river. There is a gravel road on the way which the locals are trying to get paved so there is a wire across the road to measure the volume of traffic. Brother-in-law Mike, had everyone jumping up and down on the wire to artificially increase the car numbers passing. We managed over a hundred cars in a few minutes!
Pohutukawa trees are known as the Christmas Trees of New Zealand for that is when they flower. Mike, who studied horticulture, tells me that they are unique in that they will only grow and bloom near the sea. Pictured above on the left are the gang with Mount Manganui in the background whilst the other picture on the right was rather spoiled by Chris trying to hold his puku (Maori for belly) in, a physical impossibility!
We celebrated Diana's birthday together with Mike's son Mark and daughter-in-law Maya at the Volare restaurant in Tauranga which needs a few lessons in Italian cooking, the size of the helpings for hungry Kiwi's and the time it takes to serve them (three hours) but it remained an enjoyable night out. The next evening Mike demonstrated how to feed people properly when he cooked a whole beef fillet to perfection on the BBQ. We really enjoyed our stay here but Chris had a dentist appointment back in Whangamata so we reluctantly waved farewell.
A little north of Tauranga is an old quarry which local volunteers have turned into an interesting garden. As you wander around you see sections by the Fuschia Society, the Orchid Society and all manner of other societies. There are lots of carvings, mosaics and funny little tableaux scattered around and above you can see us entering in to the spirit so to speak!
A few more miles along the road you enter the Mural capitol of New Zealand, Katikati. In 1990 , at a time when Katikati was facing a severe economic downturn, a group of volunteers decided to lift the spirits of the locals and visitors by painting the towns history on the walls of the buildings. The area was settled by Irish immigrants around 1875 and there are now 47 murals and sculptures dotted around the town. The pictures here are of an "Ordinary Kiwi Bloke" who Chris made friends with and the pupils, teacher and Chris in front of the Waitekohe School built in 1880. The latest mural is of the Gallagher family. Maria was the first Katikati school teacher and her son David became the captain of the first ever New Zealand Rugby team.
Back at Pauanui Chris celebrated his 62nd birthday and we BBQ'd a leg of lamb in his honour. The car started to run rough and the local garage diagnosed one of the six coils as duff which they replaced together with all the sparking plugs. Then we discoved the front tyres were wearing rapidly on the inside tread so we drove over to Thames to a tyre place where they realigned the wheels and replaced the front two tyres. We are still not finished spending as there is an electical fault with the drivers seat belt switch which renders the air bag system inoperable. There is no spare switch available new or used in Auckland so we are advised to try all the wreckers as we travel further south. We must get it working sometime soon as the car will not pass it's WOF (Warrant of Fitness, like our MOT) which is due at the end of January 2012.
On our last weekend at Pauanui we entertained Fred and Maryanne when Chris was soundly thrashed on the golf course by Fred, then with the addition of Bach owners Byron and Terri we had a monster BBQ with Freds steaks, sausages and several different salads. What with Carol's cheesecake, Gin & Tonic tart, and Terri's carrot cake to follow we were well and truly stuffed. The next day we set off south for the East Cape.