Coromandel in the Sun

Up
to Thursday last week, we still had hopes that Claire and Raf would be able to
come out and visit us, if only for a short time. But on Thursday we got the
message – still no passport, so the trip’s off. We had already booked flights
to Auckland for Friday night, so we decided to go ahead and use the weekend as
a way of exploring the Coromandel Peninsula. We flew up on Friday evening,
stayed overnight in a hotel near the airport, and picked up a hire car from
there on Saturday morning. The sun was shining brightly and it began to get
hot. Unfortunately, we hadn’t reckoned on hot weather in New Zealand, so hadn’t
brought any summer clothes.

We
drove to the town of Thames, at the foot of the Coromandel, and wandered along
what is reputed to be the longest shopping street in New Zealand (not that
long, really). We drove on up the winding coast road, stopping to photograph
the scenery and a colony of shags on an offshore rock. We reached Coromandel
town, and just north of it came to the Driving Creek Railway, in time for their
2pm trip. This quirky little narrow-gauge train takes you up the hill through
the forest, around loops, spirals and zigzags, and back over the top of a
bridge that you’ve just crossed the bottom of. Eventually you reach the view
tower at the end of the line (called the Eyefull [sic] Tower), with spectacular
panoramas over the coast. The whole trip only takes an hour, but it was
certainly well worth it.

We
had drinks in the town, and drove on across the peninsula. We detoured in order
to do a walk to New Chums Beach, which was supposed to be lined with pohutukawa
trees which were due to be coming into bloom with their bright red flowers. The
walkway included wading through a stream and scrambling over rocks, and when we
got to the beach most of the trees were not yet in flower, but there were some
good views to be had there. We drove on to Whitianga (pronounced “Fitty-anger”)
and checked into a nice motel with an outside hot tub. We relaxed in this for a
bit before going into the town for a pleasant meal.

On
Sunday we wandered along the Whitianga waterfront, admiring the flowers and the
pohutukawa trees which were in bloom, before driving on down the east coast to
reach the car park for Cathedral Cove. There are some fantastic views along there,
and we followed the track down to the adjacent beach, and then through the rock
arch to the cove itself. This has a spectacular rock outcrop and is very
scenic, although it is also popular and a lot of people were there. We put on
our swimsuits and sat in the sun for a bit. As we were leaving clouds came
over, and by the time we got back the sun had gone and it was mostly cloudy for
the rest of the day.

With
a stop for lunch at a nearby beach village, and a short walk to a sailor’s
grave, we drove on to Tairua in the south-east corner of the Coromandel. We
drove round to Mount Paku, which overlooks the town, and up to the car park
near the top. From there it was a 10-minute climb to the summit, where there
are magnificent 360-degree views over hills, estuary, rivers, and sea. Then it
was a case of driving back to Auckland. There were a couple of traffic holdups
on the way, but we made it in time to catch our plane back to Wellington.

Before
the weekend, we had a two-day excursion to Palmerston North, a town about 100
miles north of Wellington. This was business, as we were both attending the New
Zealand Association for Research in Education annual conference. The conference
itself was much the same as the UK version (BERA to aficionados), except that
it was smaller and the food was better. 
There were periods of mild interest interspersed with mind- and
bum-numbing boredom, but we stayed in a pleasant motel near the town centre,
the Square. We explored the park there and tried out a couple of the local
watering holes, so we can now add Palmerston North to the list of New Zealand
towns that we have experienced.

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