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April 25th 2011 - The Coromandel

Well I know I said I wasn’t going to do another blog until we got back home but I do actually have something worth blogging!  Some weeks back, whilst Clive and I were still travelling, he suggested that Lindsey and I have a weekend away in the campervan together and leave him at home to look after the dog!  We suggested this to Lindsey and she was definitely up for it.  She doesn’t get away very often so it was a very good opportunity.  Well we finally got around to doing it this weekend!


We packed the campervan on Thursday night and got everything ready for an early start on Friday morning. Well that was never going to happen, not when Lindsey and I are involved, neither of us are particularly good at doing things on time!!  However we did finally get organised and said goodbye to Clive and Radar at about 10.30am! Our destination – The Coromandel! The Coromandel is a peninsula on the East coast of North Island and is a very popular holiday destination for Aucklanders as it only takes an hour or so to get there.  It is also very beautiful. 


We stopped off in Thames on the way to fill up with petrol and also to have a coffee and a bite of lunch. We both had scrambled eggs on the most yummy toasted five grain bread – the whole thing was absolutely delicious! We continued our journey and it wasn’t long before we arrived at Hahei (pron.haa-hay) Beach campsite where I had booked us in for two nights.  We got settled in and sat outside in the sunshine having coffee and biscuits.


Coffee break!


We decided to go for a stroll along the beach and have a look around.  Our pitch was only a stones throw from the beach but we couldn’t actually see it as there was a large dune in the way!  However it didn’t take us long to get there.  It is a lovely beach and a very popular one with the boaters. There was a long row of tractors and trailers parked along the beach to prove it!


Tractors and boat trailers


However that was only at one end of the beach, which is accessible by road.  The rest of the beach was peaceful and beautiful.  We had a lovely walk right up to the other end of the beach, as far as we could go without getting our feet wet!  There were some amazing cliffs at the far end and evidence of ancient rock falls in the shape of intricately wind-carved boulders. 


Wind-carved boulder


The whole of the Coromandel is left over from ancient volcanic eruptions and it has all been eroded by wind and sea into somes pectacular scenery, more of which I will show you later!


By this time we were quite hungry.  Unusually our pitch was a really long way from the main facility block and we just couldn’t be bothered to traipse over there to make dinner so we decided to make it on the van.  There is one item of equipment on the van which Clive and I had never used at all, a mini oven located in the cupboard under the sink!  We hauled it out and plugged it in, set it to 180 degrees and shoved in a couple of steak pies!  We opened a can of baked beans and I made some instant gravy and Bob’s your uncle we were sitting down to dine in style in no time, with a glass of wine each of course!!


We had a hilarious evening playing Scrabble!  Squealing with laughter at each other’s efforts but disaster struck part way through – we lost a letter!  It’s a travel Scrabble set so the letters actually click into place so that they don’t move around.  When you have finished a game all the letters have to be tweaked loose from their slots and have a tendency to shoot off in all directions if you're not careful.  Well one letter shot off, hit the door and fell down into the footwell, I went to retrieve it and it had disappeared, completely disappeared!  I got the torch out and shone it into all the little nooks and crannies but couldn’t see it anywhere, I opened the door and got out of the van and had another search but all to no avail, it had gone!  We went through all the other letters and counted them all and finally ascertained that it was a letter A that had gone missing!  We managed to play a couple more games using an imaginary A then it was time for bed.


Putting the bed up was yet another cause of great hilarity!  Clive and I had got so used to doing it that it took no time at all but Lindsey and I working together was a different matter and we ended up in a fit of hysterics, which left us completely exhausted and ready for sleep!


April 23rd 2011 – Lindsey was up before me as usual, had already had a cup of tea and was eating dry cereal for breakfast!  We had milk, she just prefers to eat cereal without it!  The weather was looking a bit miserable and we weren’t really sure what to do.  Rain had been forecast for both Saturday and Sunday, which is typical, it’s Easter, a Bank Holiday weekend!  Sure enough it started to rain, quite heavily!  We decided to have a Scrabble rematch! First of all though I was determined to find the missing A!  I sat and pondered the situation, staring down into the footwell!  Suddenly it came to me, there were only two very tiny spaces at each end of the footwell that the letter could have got through, I got out of the van and opened the door and pondered some more then I had it, the letter must have somehow got into the runner groove for the door!  I got the torch and shone it into the groove and Lindsey peered in - I can see it, she said!  Finally with a lot of poking and prodding she managed to retrieve it with her finger - yipee!  We were both very relieved as neither of us were looking forward to telling Philly we had lost one of her letters - she can be a bit scary when she's cross!!

Not long afterwards it stopped raining and the clouds started to blow away so we decided to go on an expedition to Cathedral Cove!  We got our hiking boots on, I dug out my trusty hiking poles from the cupboard, we packed a knapsack with waterproofs (just in case), a bottle of water, some sandwiches, the binoculars and of course the camera and then we set off.


The trek began on the beach, retracing our steps of yesterday along to the quiet end of the beach where there are wooden steps leading up to the cliff top.  The path then winds its way along through the bush with occasional tantalizing glimpses of turquoise blue bays below.  Lindsey is very knowledgeable when it comes to New Zealand flora and she was pointing out the various trees and shrubs to me as we walked along and telling me their Maori names too - clever lady! 


We came to a signpost pointing down a track to Gemstone Bay so we took it and finally arrived at said Bay but the tide was right in so we just sat on some huge boulders and ate our sandwiches, which we shared with a couple of gulls!  The bay doesn’t actually have a beach as such but it is a very popular spot for snorkelling and we watched some people doing just that.  We hauled ourselves back up the path from the bay and rejoined the main track again.  A little while later we came to another branch, this one pointed to Stingray Bay, so named because it is actually frequented by Stingrays and sometimes you can see them from the beach evidently.   We set off down the path and soon began to regret the decision – it was very, very muddy!  The path was very badly eroded and we were clambering over tree roots and slipping and sliding in the mud!  There were some steps but they were quite difficult to negotiate – well for me anyway! We finally came to one step and it was a really deep riser – because of my knees I have difficulty with big steps and this was a really big one!  I struggled to get down, Lindsey came to my aid and I finally made it but slipped and fell against the bankside and got absolutely filthy!  I had mud all over my arm and tee shirt!  Anyway, we finally arrived at Stingray Bay and once again sat on some huge boulders to admire the scenery.  Lindsey went off to see if she could spot any stingrays but there weren’t any in sight.  She has been here before but not on foot, by kayak!  She, Philly and Ann did a trip along this coastline by kayak a couple of years ago.


I see no stingrays!


The cliffs around this bay were absolutely fantastic, once again sculpted by wind and sea into spectacular designs. 


Cliff Sculpture


We spent a while in Stingray Bay just enjoying the tranquillity and the scenery and listening to the waves pounding up the beach until one pounded itself all over me! Time to go!!  Oh dear, we had the muddy path to negotiate once more!  We reached the high step and I honestly didn’t know how on Earth to get back up, I attempted it using my hiking poles and Lindsey trying to push me up but I fellback again and Lindsey, trying to catch me ended up covered in mud as well – what a pair!  Finally she went up first and managed to haul me up afterwards – thank you Lindsey!!  Needless to say we were both in fits of hysterics yet again!


So we continued our trek to Cathedral Cove now in a dishevelled and muddy state!  Finally we arrived and it was worth all the effort, it is an awesome place, absolutely spectacular!  The first thing you notice is the beautiful beach but then you see why it got its name, a fantastic natural archway through to another beach at the other side!


Cathedral Cove archway


There are fences across both sides of the arch warning people that this area is prone to rock falls and recommending that you avoid it, nobody does of course but the authorities are covered, if you do get crushed by a falling rock its nobody's fault but your own – you have been warned!  So, thus warned, we ignored it and went through the arch to the other side. It was absolutely beautiful! There is this huge chunk of rock, which was obviously part of the cliffs eons ago but has been eroded away and it is just gorgeous!  I took lots of photos of it needless to say!


Awesome chunk of rock!


We walked back through to the other beach again as the tide looked as if it was coming in and we didn't want to get stranded! Lindsey and I couldn’t wait to get our boots off to give our feet a rest and I decided to go and paddle! It was lovely, a wee bit chilly when you first dipped your big toe in but you soon acclimatize and I really enjoyed it.  I took photographs of the waves at close quarters!



Lindsey also decided to go and have a paddle but she wasn’t impressed by the temperature at all and didn’t get much further than dipping her big toe in!  I’ve noticed that ex-pats living in New Zealand have all become soft after being here for awhile, what I consider as a pleasant day is considered cold by them and Lindsey is no exception.  There have been a few occasions when I have been dressed in shorts and tee shirt and Lindsey has wrapped herself up in a huge, thick fleece because she’s cold!


Is it cold Lindsey!


We also decided to make use of the facilities that have been thoughtfully provided at Cathedral Cove. Hidden in the bushes at the back of the beach is a dunny, quite a big, wooden structure, not your average dunny at all.  What is even more amazing is that it has been fitted with a window so as you are sitting on the dunny you can admire the view!!

The Dunny!


All too soon we had to don our boots again and drag ourselves away from Cathedral Cove as we had a long walk back.  On the way here we had passed underneath a viewing platform so we decided to investigate it on the return journey.  We climbed up the steps to the first level and soaked up the view for a little while and read the notice boards telling us all about the marine reserve which takes in the three coves we had visited.  Its amazing what a difference these reserves make in quite a short time. There is no fishing allowed in the reserves, you are not allowed to remove anything from the sea or beaches here at all and therefore the sea-life thrives and grows a lot bigger than those in the unprotected regions.  Lindsey told me that people often go and fish just beyond the boundaries but very rarely catch anything – its as if the fish know that they are safe if they stay within the reserve!


Above the viewpoint is a car park and in the car park is a refreshments trailer selling the most wonderful coffee so we indulged ourselves.  We also fished a poly bag out of the backpack and ate the crumbs which had started out as biscuits when we set off this morning!!  After that we continued our trek back to the campsite. We had set off this morning around 11.00am and when we got back it was nearly 5.00pm!  We  returned to the van via the village as we needed to pick up a bottle of wine and another tin of baked beans!  Good camp fodder!


As we were walking along the road I spotted something on the verge under a tree, it looked like a tennis ball.  I wandered over to retrieve it thinking Radar might appreciate it but when I got there I found that it wasn’t a ball at all, it was some kind of fruit!  We looked around at the trees but couldn’t see any more growing so have no idea where it came from!


Strange fruit!


Neither of us had any idea what it was at all, it had a sort of citrusy smell but didn’t look like any fruit we had ever seen before.  We took it back to the van with us and cut it in half, it still looked very unfamiliar. 


Very strange indeed!


We both had a taste, just a lick, it wasn’t unpleasant but somehow it didn’t taste edible!  We decided to err on the side of caution and throw it away!


We were both footsore and weary and decided to make tea straight away so that we could relax later. Lindsey cooked potatoes and baked beans in the van and I trailed over to the kitchen to cook bacon and managed to get it back to the van still warm!  We washed it all down with wine!  After tea we had a Scrabble rematch and then gratefully fell into bed and had a very restful night.


April 24th 2011 – after breakfast we packed everything away and left the campsite and drove just around the corner to the car-park above the beach.  Time for a swim!  Lindsey was very dubious about this indeed, the sun wasn’t even shining!  It was actually quite mild though, well as far as I was concerned, so we donned our togs in the van, grabbed our towels and headed down to the beach.  Getting into the sea was a wee bit hard, it did feel quite chilly but once we were in it was lovely and we had a good swim.  The beach dropped away quite sharply and only a short distance from the shore our feet couldn’t touch the bottom!  I have no idea how long we actually stayed in the water but finally we returned to the beach and retrieved our towels. There were loos here but no showers, which is quite unusual in New Zealand as an awful lot of beaches have a cold shower available just to wash off the salt.  So still salty we dried off and got dressed.  We decided to have a coffee and play some more Scrabble! 


After lunch we headed off to Hot Water Beach, one of the best known beaches on The Coromandel. Some volcanoes develop huge underground reservoirs of superheated water.Over time, this water will escape to the surface, cooling on the way. There are two fissures at Hot Water Beach issuing water as hot as 64ºC (147ºF) at a rate as high as 15 litres/minute. This water contains large amounts of salt, calcium, magnesium, potassium, fluorine, bromine and silica. There are other hot water springs nearby but the location of these two springs on the beach make them unique.  The only time you can access the springs is two hours before and for two hours after low tide.  Today low tide was around 5.00pm.  We got there about 3.30ish and the beach was already packed!


Crowded Hot Water Beach!


The springs are located in one small place on the beach so everybody congregates there and starts digging! You can hire spades from the local shops if you wish for $5 and dig you rown private spa pool which fills up with hot water.  As you can see from this photo it was a hive of activity!


All colours and creeds digging for hot water together!


We had decided not to bother with spades, Lindsey informed me that you can just stand in one place and wriggle your toes into the sand to find a hotspot but she warned me to be careful! We found a place where the sand felt warm and started wriggling and sure enough we hit hot water and boy was it hot! You couldn’t stay in it for long or your feet would get quite burned, even with the waves coming in as that only cooled the tops!  Hence me hopping about!!


Scorched toes!


It was really funny watching everybody on the beach.  Obviously as there were so many people there it was hard to find a space so as the tide was receding people were digging lower down the beach.   They would just get a reasonable sized hole dug when a big wave would wash over it all and they would have to start again so they were making sea-walls around the holes to try and keep the waves out!  This gentleman had made a really good job of his.


Private Spa Pool

We left them all behind beavering away and headed back to the van.  I was really glad to have finally got to Hot Water Beach and enjoyed the experience very much but when it comes to hot spa pools I prefer something a little more civilised!  Before we set off again I phoned Lindsey’s house to let Clive know what we were up to – he wasn’t in!  On the way back to Ness Valley we have to pass through a place called Miranda where there just happens to be a hot springs open to the public, that’s where we were headed!  We arrived there around 5.00pm and were soon relaxing in the lovely hot water.  There were quite a lot of people there but it is a really huge pool and there was plenty of room.  We stayed in the pool for an hour or so then showered and returned to the van.  About ten minutes after leaving Miranda we arrived in Kaiaua where there just happens to be an award winning fish and chip shop!  Needless to say we couldn’t pass it by without sampling their wares now could we!  They were absolutely delicious – we both had Tarakihi, I had potato wedges with mine and Lindsey had Kumara (sweet potato) chips with hers, each accompanied with sour cream (they don't do mushy peas and curry sauce in New Zealand!).  We even had a little glass of wine each to wash them down!


Once again I tried to phone Clive to let him know we were on our way back, he still wasn’t in!  I wondered if he might have gone to play golf with Philly and Ann so I rang Philly’s house – she wasn’t in either! So I left a message in the hope that Clive would get it eventually.


We arrived back at Lindsey’s about 9.00pm – Clive still wasn’t in but we found a note from him -  I was proved correct, he had been to play golf with Philly and Ann in the afternoon and had then gone back to have dinner with them. I’m glad he did, I would have felt rather guilty having enjoyed those wonderful fish and chips if he hadn’t had dinner!!


So that was that, our girly weekend was over but we had both really enjoyed ourselves and we had been so lucky with the weather.  Thankfully the weather forecasters had got it wrong again!


Lastly, remember the strange fruit that I had picked up by the roadside – well I looked it up on the internet when we got back.  At first I typed “knobbly green fruit” into Google, which came up with a few interesting things but not our fruit so then I typed in “fruit like a tennis ball” and Eureka, I found it straight away!  Its called an Osage-Orange or Moraceae Maclura and is actually related to the Mulberry family! It is most certainly not native to New Zealand and comes from the United States! One other thing, it confirmed that we had done the right thing, it is inedible!  Not actually poisonous though.


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