I was reluctnat to leave Ahipara but all things must come to and end even at a place called Endless Summer so I hitched a ride with August and Emily back to Paihia in perfect time to pick up the bus down to Auckland. Mercifully I was in and out of Auckland in less than 12 hours and en route to the Coromandel Peninsula which is to the south east of the city and a world away.
I took out an Inter-City Flexi-Pass which is an economical and unsurprisingly flexible way to travel the bus system. From the Coromandel hub of Thames a small shuttle takes passengers around the peninsula and I opted for a first stop at Coromandel Town. The shuttle bus dropped me right off at the Lion’s Den hostel (BBH 83%) where I received a very warm welcome and settled in. The weather was very rainy but as luck (or was it fate…?) would have it there was a copy of the Da Vini Code sitting on the book exchange shelf. It seemed as good a time as any to get stuck in to this much lauded novel.
With no beach and little if any from-town walking to do I decided to pass through Coromandel Town and the next day I hopped on the shuttle bus across the peninsula to Whitianga (pronounced ‘fit e anga’ ‘wh’ gets a ‘f’ sound from its Maori origins). In Whitianga I checked in to the On The Beach Backpackers Lodge (BBH 85%) see how I’m caught by the BBH recomendation?
The first day I was in Whitianga was still showery but I knew I’d stay a few days so I busied myself getting groceries, checking out the town and scoping out the dive outfitter, Dive HQ. Next day I took the passenger ferry across the Whitianga River to ‘Ferry Landing’ and followed the trails out to Flaxmill Bay, Shakespeare Cliff, Lonely Beach and on to the impressive Cook’s Beach. On the way back through Whitianga I checked in on the dive schedule and as luck would have it there was an O.W. course with just one participant and 2 planned shore dives the next day for a mere $95 with all gear supplied!
At the prescribed hour next day I met up with Craig the instructor and by more luck another diver Robert was onboard, so we buddied up and along with Graham the student diver we drove out to Matapaua Bay. What a gorgeous secluded place! Although the more exposed beaches were getting hammered by the surf this cove was flat calm and we strolled into the water for our dive.
The bay is very shallow (I think we bottomed out at 8 metres at the most) which allowed some nice long dives. The visibility was decent and it was a gas cruising over and through the kelp forest chasing fish. I really enjoyed the two dives here. They could have been a bit longer but Robert (who was a smoker) ripped through his air a bit too fast, still both were 45 minutes and I felt like I got more than my money’s worth. Compensation indeed for the dives at Paihai.
The next day I took the ferry again across to Ferry Landing and quickly hitched a ride to Hahei the next town along the Coromandel east coast from Whitianga. I took a bed at Tatahi Lodge (BBH 85%) and headed out on the very nearby trail to Cathedral Cove. A beautiful clifftop trail led through lush forest to several little coves and after about an hour to the famed Cathedral Cove. With warm sunshine lighting the cove up it was pretty idyllic, white sand, plunging waterfalls off the cliffs, sea stacks and the star attraction a large sea arch you could walk right through. Pretty busy as it was spring break for the school kids but that didn’t detract from such a great place and hike som close to town.
That night it just poured down and after a bit of sun a breakfast it was overcast and showery by the time I was packed and ready for the day’s activity, a visit to Hot Water Beach. The Go Kiwi Shuttle was a bust so I figured I’d walk the 18 km round trip along the country road. It drizzled a bit on the way out of Hahei but no big deal. Once at the beach I rented a shovel and cruised out to dig my very own spa!
The tourist pamphlets should have snapped a picture of that day’s scene! 50 people with umbrellas gathered around half a dozen steamy pools hewn from the sand with a mix of unshaven backpackers, school kids and parents lounging while the surf rolled in and the rain just poured. Looking for anything just even a few metres away from the mele I sank a minor moonscape’s worth of test holes but to no avail. With the rain now coming down in buckets I returned my shovel and wandered out of town a bit dejected. Soon the sun was back and my walk back to Hahei was delightful.
Rotorua & Bay of Plenty
Checking my remaining time in New Zealand and the maps at hand I now could see the writing on the wall in terms of ending my trip. With just 6 days to go as I left Hahei and the Coromandel I decided to start picking up the pace a bit and use up the hours on my Flexi-Pass and see some of the North Island. I settled on a route through Tauranga to Rotorua and then out to Whakatane (this is where the ‘f’ for ‘wh’ gets amusing!!) and perhaps on to Gisborne and Napier before returning to Auckland via Taupo.
The owners of Tatahi Lodge gave me a ride to Thames on their weekly shopping trip and I picked up the Inter-City bus to Tauranga later that afternoon. A busy harbour town Tauranga is nice enough but no beach and little to invite a longer stay for me. So it was off to Rotorua the next day and despite the hype I have to say other than the thermal pools in the city park Rotorua was a major bust. I guess it didn’t help that yet again it was pouring with rain. Next stop Whakatane (yes it is pronounced ‘fuk a tawny’) at the eastern end of the Bay of Plenty and Lloyd’s Lodge (90% by BBH).
Ahh back to paradise! On arriving at Whakatane and with my recent experience of the bigger towns of Rotorua and Tauranga I quickly decided to spend the rest of my time here and make my way back to Auckland for my flight at the last minute.
The first full day in Whakatane I took the track (trail) right out of town around Kohi Point and over to Otarawairere Bay and the next village Ohope Beach. What a great walk especially right from the hostel doorstep. There are great views of the town and Whakatane Heads from the ridge crest and Otarawairere Bay is spectacular oh and the sun shone (almost) all day.
The hike does a circuitous route so from Ohope Beach I picked up the Nga Tapuwae o Toi Track through the Ohope and Mokoroa Bush scenic reserves. I put a bit of pace on for the way back as it naturally began raining again. This time I was prepared though having finally bought an umbrella.
The next few days I took things a bit more leisurely, there was the River Walk along the town foreshore but other than that I did a little shopping for gifts to bring back home and caught up with a bit of work including finishing up this travel-log.
My impressions of New Zealand are that I will hopefully come back here. It is a very beautiful country and having only seen one part of one of the islands I know there is plenty more waiting on the South Island. Next time I’ll choose a warmer part of the year but all things considered the weather was pretty fine. As you’d expect from a small island country in a big sea the weather is very changeable and if it rains it is sunny within the half hour.
So tomorrow (October 10th) it’s back to Auckland for one last night and my flight back to Vancouver via L.A. I’ll have the rich tones of my hosts at Lloyd’s Lodge Hare and Pam ringing in my ears from the wonderful evening of singing, story telling and sharing of Maori culture I was lucky to share on my last evening in Whakatane.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my travels down-under and if you are planning a trip here maybe it was some help.