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The Great Adventure

Hiking and Hitchhiking in the Coromandel

NEW ZEALAND | Monday, 24 November 2008 | Views [1207] | Comments [1]

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At last, our time in Auckland has come to an end, and we can get on with touring the rest of New Zealand.  We caught our Stray bus out of Auckland at the backpackers we had made our home for our first few weeks.  The vibrant orange bus listed a little to the left, and had a bad transmission.  Only after I had snubbed it for being a noisy POS did I spot the moniker it had been given written in cursive on the passenger door- Lauren.  

Our first stop was Thames, an old gold mining town at the base of the Coromandel Peninsula.  The town itself was not much of a gem, the surrounding waters were distinctly brown, the buildings were a bit rustic, and perched atop a hill was a rather phallic monument to WWII.  However, the town of Thames is now better served as the gateway to the Coromandel, and it was for that purpose that we hopped off the bus to explore.  We were headed into the Coromandel Forest Park for some hiking, but had absolutely no idea how we were going to get there.  Nevertheless, the next morning we began walking out of town and into the valley, hoping against all hope to hitch a ride to the trailhead.  The first car we flagged pulled over.  We had heard that hitching in New Zealand was common and easy, but neither of us was expecting such good fortune.  We were picked up by an older couple who offered to take us about halfway up the road, and found ourselves on a detour to a feijoa farm, mostly on the grounds that we’d never seen nor heard of a feijoa, where we were handed over to an old farmer with few remaining teeth who drove out of his way to take us to the trailhead. 

The hike took us up to the pinnacles and a view over most of the peninsula.  The final climb was a steep staircase and metal footholds drilled into the rock.  No sooner had we reached the summit, panting and sitting down to rest, that a group of schoolchildren who had given us a generous lead bounded to the top.  I stared at them, speechless.  “What, did you run?” we asked “Yeah,” one of the girls answered nonchalantly.  Their leader said their group had divided into three based on fitness levels.  “Are you the most in shape group, then?” we asked.  “No,” she said, “we’re the middle group.”  After we had all been thoroughly put to shame, we trudged down the mountain, the girls well out of sight. 

Our next stop was Hahei, on the other side of the peninsula.  We arrived in the afternoon amid ominous looking weather and began the obligatory walk to Hahei’s claim to fame, Cathedral Cove.  We took our time on the walk, stopping to explore the nearby Stingray Bay and take in the beautiful, albeit cloudy, beaches, before arriving at the cove itself.  Maybe it was rather late in the afternoon, but the cove was not nearly as crowded as I had expected, and we spent a good deal of time there, marveling at the splendor of it.  After noticing a large pile of rocks heaped on the sand, apparently having recently fallen from the roof of the archway, we took our leave and headed back along the trail. 

The next day was sunny and warm and I was grateful for having decided to stay an extra day in Hahei, despite the disagreeable weather when we first arrived.  We spent the day at Hot Water Beach, a thermal phenomenon only accessible at low tide.  While we were walking along the road to the beach, a truck pulled over and offered us a lift.  (Apparently hitchhiking in New Zealand is so easy that you don’t even need to stick your thumb out.)  Feeling that we had made it to the beach in good time, we were surprised when the shop had already rented out their supply of spades.  The main feature of Hot Water Beach, for which the beach gets its name, is a stretch of beach about forty yards long where you can dig a pool in the sand and tap into a supply of hot water underneath.  Lined up along the beach were eight-man sand-carved hot tubs, and, clearly, the shop’s supply of shovels.  Empty handed, we headed down to the beach prepared to hand dig a hole, but realized that this was both far more difficult than it seemed and that we had evidently arrived too late and all the good hot water had been claimed.  After digging several holes that yielded no hot water, I found my own sweet spot, unfortunately situated just at the shoreline.  No sooner had I started digging than my hole was washed away, so instead, I merely sat on the sand.  This had the effect of my buttocks being very toasty while the rest of my body was occasionally doused with cold sea water.   Unfortunately, as the day ended and we headed back into town (getting a lift again without raising a finger), I noticed that I had incurred the wrath of the sun with a wicked sunburn the likes of which I haven’t seen in years.  In my joy at seeing the sun I had forgotten that while New Zealand’s weather may be temperate, the country is situated just beneath the hole in the ozone.   

Tags: beaches, hiking, hitchiking, north island, sun, thermal

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