EnZed is hot
We really love NZ’s road side stands. It’s easy to find free-range eggs, avocados, all sorts of other fruits and berries, and in some places, the aforementioned oysters. It seems that one of our favorites, blueberries, is out of season, so they are hard to find and/or expensive. Strangely enough, kiwi fruit must be out of season. The ones we’ve bought in the store are from the USA!
On Thursday evening we finally pulled onto the Coromandel Peninsual. Thames is the first town as you arrive from Auckland, and probably the biggest in the area. This little car gave us a laugh, and we just made a short stop to take this photo and buy some provisions.
We were more interested in the natural beauty of the area, but we spent the first half of Friday checking out the shops and galleries in Coromandel, looking for good souvenirs and gifts. Then we continued around the N tip to the Pacific Ocean side – lots of wild crazy roads and incredible views. Hahei Beach sounded nice so we headed there, but were shocked to find a very crowded campground. After the nearly empty sites of Northland, we were amazed by the amount of people. In hindsight, it was a weekend, and within a short drive of NZ’s most populous city. However, we set up camp and then took a great swim in the ocean, which washed away nearly all of our “city” anxiety.
On Saturday we managed our earliest start since the African game drives and made it our mission to hike to Cathedral Cove. It was a spectacular morning hike, and our get-up-and-go was worth it to beat the crowds that were shortly behind us. Needless to say, the location is aptly named, and this photo barely does it justice.
A nearby attraction is Hot Water Beach. At low tide one can dig a hole in the sand, and it will fill up with hot spring water! The brochures picture a solitary couple in such a pool, but since it was the weekend, and a noon high tide, we suspected the crowds might interfere with this solitary experience. Boy, were we right!! However, it was fun to check out, and it ended up being more of a people watching experience for us. However, we vowed to find a more personal hot water experience in the upcoming days.
We continued down the east side of the Peninsula, and the next stop was Waihi beach. This was said to be the “safest” beach in NZ, but regardless, we were in need of a swim. Again we were misinformed, but managed to brave the surf for a short cool-off swim. On a short walk down the beach we saw a guy with a spec ski, and had a nice chat with him about paddling. His son has done the Molokai race twice. Then, we saw four guys head out through the surf in a “Catapult,” a wild double-hulled surf canoe. Fun stuff. Back in the van, Stina identified the mellow, healing waters that we needed. A small town down the road, Athenree, was said to have some excellent mineral pools, so we headed there. The small campground had the goods – two fantastic pools filled daily from the local spring. We had a nice evening soak, followed by a great morning soak. What a way to start the day!
After a most relaxing Sunday morning, we continued through the Bay of Plenty region. The Katikati bird garden sounded nice, so we took a walk through, and fed the variety of local birds. The ducks were cute, and the black swans captivated. A hilarious bedraggled goose cracked us up, and there were a few more exotic species on display. Here’s Don braving the busy beaks of the ducks and crazy goose.
We heard good things about Mt Maunganui, so that was our next stop. It’s a busy seaside town, and we arrived right in the middle of a big surf lifesaving competition. It was actually the NZ under 14 championships, and we were amazed at the number of competitors. We proceeded past the beach and took the famous hike around Mauao, the town’s namesake volcanic crater. The hour long hike ended with gelato at a renowned shop, which was perfect timing. Finally it was time to turn inland in search of more hot water and mud! Rotorua was our destination.
We arrived in the early evening, and were amazed by the sulphury “rotten egg” smell. It’s something you read about, but doesn’t quite compute until you experience it! It was early evening, so we found a campground by the lake that advertised thermal pools. It was a pretty generic site, but the pools did wonders for our achey bodies. It wouldn’t be our last soak.
On Monday we wandered a few blocks up to Kairua Park which had many thermal features like boiling mud, vents, and steaming lakes. It’s trippy, and amazing with so many unique features in such a small area. We got our fill of sulphur, steam, heat (and MUD), and went across town to the Rotorua museum. On our trip thus far we hadn’t visited many museums, so this was a nice break from routine. It’s a great museum in a fantastic restored bathhouse, with tons of Maori history and legend, fun art, and lots of goofy history about the bathhouse itself. In addition, it’s climate controlled, so we got a reprieve from the funky air.
It was time to move on, and in the early evening we arrived too late to check out a big paid thermal attraction. Nearby was the free Waiotapu mud pool, so we swung by there. You’d think that after all of the boiling mud in Rotorua we would have been bored with this, but the video may entertain you as much as it did us!
Just a few kilometers away was a campsite advertising quite a few hot pools, so we headed there. A short scenic drive led us down into the Waikite Valley, and at first we were baffled by the low clouds. Shortly we realized they are actually steam from the local boiling spring, Te Manaroa, and the river it creates. In fact, it’s the biggest and longest feature of its sort in the world. Right around the corner was our destination, the Waikite Valley Thermal Pools. With 10 hot pools, this site was by far the best for healing our bodies, and yet another nice campsite! But despite the excellent relaxation, we were amazed by the spring and river, and took several walks up the gorgeous valley to wonder at the “boiling river.” Our photos don’t do it justice, because they mostly show the steam!
After Tuesday morning’s soak and hike, we had to get moving. It’s always hard to leave hot water behind, but we knew there was more cool stuff in store. Not to far away was was the mysterious-sounding Orakei Korako silica formations. You buy a ticket at the visitor center, and then a boat takes you across a lake to this massive formation. Hot water is seeping down a hillside, creating all sorts of mineral and algae formations. The colors and shapes are stunning. This is looking down on one of the main steps of the terraces.
We wandered around this wild landscape for about 90 minutes, checking out the many pools, seeps, geysers, caves, and formations.
Our next stop was Huka Falls, just outside the city of Taupo. The Waikato River drains the massive lake, and just outside of town it enters a narrow chasm. The dark blue/green water becomes a beautiful light blue and white as it churns through the little canyon, finally plunging over a big drop at the end. We could feel the massive energy of the water as we watched from several vantage points above.
We popped into Taupo to top off our food, and then proceeded around the north and west sides of the lake. Some waterfalls were marked on one map, but we never found them. However, we did find our best campsite to date, a free site near the little village of Omori. A cool creek burbled into the lake, and hiking trails went off into both directions around the lake shore. The full moon rising over the lake in the early evening was one of the brightest we’ve ever seen! (Check Don’s Facebook page for a pic.) The next morning we took one of the hikes, and discovered a very cool nature preserve above a neighboring town. Much of the old growth was preserved, and the bird life was incredible! Tuis and Fantails and many other species sang a constant song. The Fantails were especially cute, coming down to inspect us, and nearly hovering like a hummingbird as they wagged their showy tails. Shortly after returning to camp, a family of black swans swam serenely by our camp!!
Just down the road we saw a horse on the road! On this trip we’ve gotten used to narrow roads, and constant hazards like people and creatures and objects, but a horse was no good. As we approached he jumped into a small unfenced field on the left side. We pulled over, and Stina went to find the owner while Don tried to approach the horse. It was wary, but with some “horse whisperer” skills, the horse’s rope was finally grabbed. Stina couldn’t find owners, but did find a gate to a fenced area that she was able to open. As Don led the horse in that direction, a car pulled up, and the man said he knew the owner and would take care of the horse. Whew! Disaster averted.
The alpine town of Okahune sounded nice, so we headed there. It’s both a ski town, and the carrot capital of NZ – a funny combination. On Thursday morning we drove up the road to one of the ski areas on Mt Ruapehu (another active volcano!). The views were stunning. We did a great hike to a waterfall, which afforded even more views of the rapidly changing landscape.
We left the Tongariro area and headed towards nearby Wanganui National Park. The drive along the Wanganui River was described as beautiful and looked straightforward on the map, so we found the appropriate road. It was beautiful, but it was anything but straightforward. It was one of the most treacherous drives on our trip. A couple of hours of rough, dusty, twisty turny driving, and a few close calls with passing vehicles, and we made it. The river below was incredibly serene, often reflecting the surrounding mountains.
We camped outside the city of Wanganui at Kai Iwi beach. The beach has gorgeous dark sand from the iron content, and cool cliffs. The adjacent playground had some adult-sized attractions, including a zip line called the Flying Fox. It was a great way to blow off the stress of the wild ride along the river.
On Friday we stopped by Bason Botanical Garden to check out cool plantings, both native and foreign. Then we went into Wanganui, and discovered that it’s both an artsy and athletic town, with lots of good coffee (our kind of place!). After browsing and caffeinating our way around, we hiked the nearly 200 steps up a hill to the War Memorial tower, and then another 176 steps to the top of the tower. The views of the town and surrounding region were great! Wanganui had more to offer, but it was time to start moving down the coast towards Wellington.