We then started the third distinct part of this trip (part 1, part 2), getting back to New Plymouth, via the scenic route. We had a great couple days in Hawaii, and since Katy has fourteen days off we still had a couple more days before Katy had to get back to work. We decided to take a very different path, the long way, than the path we took to get to Auckland. Our prime objective was to experience the Coramandel region. We opened up our go to trip planning book, Touring the Natural Wonders of New Zealand, and headed east in Yoshi.
We made it to the Coromandel peninsula and turned north, along the west coast of the peninsula. We filled up with gas in a small town that was having a steam punk festival (Katy: what is that, even?), and boy was everyone dressed up in assorted steam punk wear, except for some locals who were looking at the festival goers in a decidedly quizzical way. We decided to bypass the festival and go and see some kauri trees. I originally wrote “There are just a handful of these trees left in New Zealand, and they really are huge. It was well worth the detour”, but honestly what matters is that these were massive trees. They might put sequoias to shame. When Katy put her arms around the tree, there was almost no bend in them. I didn’t think that going and looking at a grove of 12 trees would be “cool”, but it was. It also makes you think about what the world once was and what it is today.
We had a couple more stops (none was memorable enough to write about it a month after the fact) on the way to Jackson Bay on the far north of the peninsula. The last 15 miles of the road were a pretty narrow gravel road along a cliff side, the type that can be quite frightful for the passenger. The passenger in this case was me, since we have discovered that car sickness doesn’t happen when Katy drives, and this is the type of road that instigates getting car sick.
We pulled into the DOC campsite that had a lovey older couple as the camp host, the 70 year old kind that has that innate ability to turn every conversation into a 15 minute saga where some knowledge about someone’s grandchildren is learned. They gave us a bucket for our food scraps to feed the worms (they have a worm farm, naturally) and told us to pick any tent site we wanted, since they were not very full that night. As we headed down the road, we heard a very loud screeching sound from the right front of the car, not good. We decided on a spot after awakening any camper who was taking a 5pm nap with the mechanical noise, and then it was time to figure out what is wrong with Yoshi (which is what we’ve named the car). I looked and couldn’t see anything wrong (with my vast car knowledge), but we had 3G one bar signal, so I turned to google, albeit slowly. After watching a YouTube video about strange car noises, I decided that the one thing I could do something about was if a rock was stuck in the brake rotor. I jacked up the car on the nice soft and sandy soil that tried to swallow the jack and took the wheel off. I then looked and couldn’t see a stone. Dejected, thinking that I was going to have to drive 30 miles to the closest town with a cacophony of noise at every tire revolution, I decided I would give it a second look. I retrieved the headlamp and took one last look and discovered a very tiny pebble, smaller than a #2 pencil’s eraser and poked it out with a stout twig. Having successfully solved our car problem, my mood dramatically improved and my grumpy mumbles ceased. We enjoyed dinner and the first beer of my New Zealand home brewing adventure (it was not good but subsequent iterations have improved substantially).
The next morning after some yogurt and granola, we headed out of the campground, Yoshi not making a racket this time. A few minutes after we left it started drizzle. It then started to rain, an on-and-off occurrence that would go on for the next day. We passed a brewery and decided to have a stop in the afternoon and got talking to the owner. The brewery trends in New Zealand tend to follow those in the US, and right now they are on a big American pale ale kick. This means that they import a ton of US hops when they grow hops in New Zealand that are really expensive in the states but are pretty cheap here. I don’t understand why most breweries focus on making beers with US hops. We then decided to go to another hot water beach. This one is the most famous one in the country, and the crowds reflect it. I had come prepared and had packed a shovel, and when Katy and I left the car she looks at me and laughs because I am holding our backpacking small poo hole trowel. She immediately asks why I thought to bring the smallest shovel that we own instead of our avalanche shovels. I had never even thought of bringing those…. I then fortified our sand moving instruments with our wash bucket and off we marched past hordes of people that have paid $10 to rent a real shovel. We get to the area of sand that has scalding hot water bubbling out, and I am very unenthused. I can think of only a couple things that enthuse me less than being in a bathing suit in a slight cold drizzle, thinking of digging a hole in the sand that will fill with a little water while getting covered in a crust of sand/salt/water.
We decided to go for it, and since we were fashionably late, the tide was still going out (this is an activity done within two hours of low tide) when we started our hole in front of all the other ones (as the tide goes out more beach becomes available to dig), and we ended up on the line closest to the ocean. I put aside the fact that I was a salty sandy mess, and my inner seven year old came out thinking that we have to build walls to protect our hot water from the cold water of the waves. It turned out to be a blast and way more exciting than we anticipated.
Our desire to spend a night in a tent while it was raining was very low. There is something about car camping in the rain that doesn’t do it for me (it is less than satisfying). We then pulled up the Googles, and Katy says that we should stay at the Bird Park. She had discovered a place with terrible advertising that had rooms for $35 USD, the cheapest around. You needed to bring your own sheets, but I had put a couple sheets in the car before we left to cover our stuff while it was parked at the airport, and it ended up working out great. We pulled up to the park after giving Yoshi’s suspension a workout on a wonderful dirt road and settled into our room. Like many accomidations of this type, there was a common kitchen to use, and I headed off there and was greeted by a large peacock, not what I was expecting. Katy came over to see what had stopped me from my dinner tasks, and was trailed by a couple of ducks that had learned that if you follow humans around you might get food, and she quickly corrected me, telling me it was in fact a peahen and that I should carry on making dinner (Katy: truth be told, there were actually both a peacock and a peahen).
Our last day in the area we decided to hike to one of the most famous coves on the North Island, Cathedral Cove. It was impressive, but it was also full of people. I think that in Taranaki (pronounced more like todd-a-knucky), where we live, there are a couple that are just as cool as this one, with far fewer people. We were there still during the shoulder season, but I imagine that if you wanted to swim in the cove in high season, it would be like swimming at Bethany Beach in the summer. We did a couple more brief excursions and called it a night.
The next day we did the four hour drive back to New Plymouth, and the following day we moved into house #2 (not counting motel #1 as a house) in New Plymouth.