Round the World – New Zealand Days 12 to 14

Round the World – New Zealand Days 12 to 14

In the morning I decided we should go back to the Aratiatia rapids, and watch from a different vantage point, given that it had been so impressive the first time around. We arrived just before the release, and Elsa told me to go on ahead to get a good spot at the vantage point. My legs are longer, after all. Unfortunately, she missed the turning to the viewing point I was at, so we watched the release separately and met up again afterwards! This time, I was watching from a point halfway down the rapids, and the power of the water was even more apparent and impressive.

Having seen all the water we wanted, we returned to Taupo airport, with a brief drive back out to a petrol station after it turned out the one that Elsa was directing us to was actually the Avgas pump on the field. Google maps must be read with care! We’d planned to visit Barry at his home on the airport, but he’d had to fly out to Rotorua on short notice so we just loaded up the aircraft and pre-flighted, before heading out to the north. Once again, the weather was cooperating with us and it was a great day for flying.

We cruised across the central North Island, on our way to our first stop. I had chosen the town of Thames to land at for lunch, for no better reason than the fact it was on the way, and it seemed like a relatively short walk to town from the airfield. The airport had a well kept grass runway that seemed particularly popular with local wildfowl; ducks, geese and the occasional pukeko left it until the last moment to scatter out of the way as we touched down. We parked up, and I wandered over to say hello to a couple who were working on a small tail-dragger outside one of the hangars. Elsa had fallen over and hurt her foot when we were leaving Taupo, so stayed where she was!

I spent a while chatting with the couple, who were trying to figure out why one of their wheel brakes was not operational; quite a problem in a tail-dragger. They suggested visiting the garden center for lunch, perfect as it was directly across the road and within easy limping distance for Elsa. The selection turned out to be rather limited, but they at least had good fruit juices.

The route to Whitianga

The final flight was just 20 minutes or so, across the Coromandel to Whitianga airport. We snuck out ahead of an arriving Diamond DA40 on a training flight, and climbed hard to clear the hilly terrain and turn on course. We bumped up through turbulence caused by the wind out of the east, and enjoyed the views of the rugged, bush covered terrain below.Flying over it was a lot quicker and easier than driving through it would turn out to be. We joined downwind for landing on the long grass runway at Whitianga, and parked up in visitor parking; Tony from Peninsula Car Rental was ready and waiting for us, having watched our progress on Flightaware using the ADS-B output from the airplane.

Our drive south from here to the hotel took a little over an hour, and by mid-afternoon we were arriving at the Puka Park resort. I had chosen this hotel as we’d stayed here briefly on a family holiday 20 years before, and thoroughly enjoyed it! The resort is perched on the side of a steep hill, and after checking in, we and our bags were loaded on to a golf cart and driven along to our hut. All of the rooms at the resort are small, semi-detached chalets. After settling in, Elsa found a nice looking restaurant just 2km from us; when we set out, we discovered that it was 2km as the crow flies, but more than 30 minutes drive all the way down the river estuary and back up the other side!

That night we were woken in the early hours by the sound of an animal running around. After long investigations, we realised it was a possum having a party on the roof.

We had a fairly late start, and drove north toward Hahei Beach and Cathedral Cove. Cathedral Cove in particular has become extremely popular in recent years, and the closest parking area to the cove is now closed in the summers, with a park and ride set up from the other side of town. I hadn’t fully done my research on this and it was only while having breakfast in town before heading to the cove that I realised the timings were not going to work. Instead, we wandered down to the beach nearby for a while, before getting back in the car and driving north.

We stopped first at the airport, to collect a couple of items that I’d forgotten, and also took the opportunity to photograph the DC3 that was parked up there awaiting an engine repair. From here, we set off down a winding dirt road across the center of the peninsula, emerging onto the western side just south of the town of Coromandel and our destination, the Driving Creek Railway.

The Driving Creek railway was originally constructed by Barry Brickell, started in 1975, primarily to haul clay down to his pottery and also to assist with replanting the hills on his property with Kauri and other native trees. The railway is 15 inch gauge, and was expanded over the next few decades as far as the present-day terminus at the top of the hill. Here they have constructed an observation tower with deck, the “Eye-full Tower”. The railway is quite an engineering feat, with three tunnels, ten bridges including a double-decker viaduct, and several branch lines. After Barry’s death, the property passed into the hands of a non-profit that is dedicated to preserving the railway and protecting the land, continuing the work of replanting native species and eliminating imported pests. They have also constructed a zip line course, this being the first season that it was open.

Through a slightly circuitous route of contacts, I had come to know the director of the railway, and he had kindly agreed to organise a combined train ride and zip line afternoon for us. We rode up to the half way point of the line on board “Possum”, together with a group who were headed up for zip-lining. After they disembarked, we continued with our guide Jesse up to the top of the railway. The line winds through the bush, over bridges and through tunnels, finally reaching the observation platform about 165m above the base. Here, Jesse subtly disappeared and with the observation platform to ourselves, I asked Elsa a very important question. Happily, she said yes!

We returned to “Possum”, and Jesse drove us half way back down the mountain to the start of the zip lining course. Our other guide was waiting there for us, with the harnesses and helmets needed for taking part; once Jesse returned from delivering the train back to the base of the mountain, the four of us set off through the trees, down the first line. There were about 8 zip lines in total, interspersed with forest walk sections including interesting historical and nature information about this part of the Coromandel.

After a wonderful time at driving creek, we took the long drive back across the peninsula to the Puka Park resort, and a celebratory dinner in the hotel restaurant.

Dinner at Puka Park

We had one more day left on the Coromandel before heading south. Our first destination for the day was the Karangahake Gorge, an hour’s drive to the south (it seems like everything on the Coromandel is an hour’s drive away). This gorge used to be a major mining and industrial area, and even today there are some companies still prospecting in the area using much less intrusive methods than in the past. The peak years were from the 1880s until the 1950s, and at times this single area produced more than 60% of New Zealand’s gold.

We started our visit with a brunch at the nearby railway cafe; a section of the old rail line now runs twice daily return trips for tourists, and the cafe takes advantage of the captive tourist traffic as they wait for the return trip. We then headed along to the main historical area. The old stamping battery and other industrial buildings, at least the ruins of them, can now be visited and the old rail route has been turned into a cycle and walking trail.

We spent an hour or so following one of the most popular trails, a loop running through the long old railway tunnel that cuts through one of the river bends. There is enough to see that we could have spent much more time there, but we had a long drive ahead of us to go and see Cathedral Cove and the Hot Water Beach, an hour to the other side of the hotel.

We parked near the beach in Hahei, and set out on the walk to Cathedral Cove. It turned out to be rather further than expected, with over an hour of following the trail through the hot afternoon sun, along the hillsides and down to the beach. We’d looked at taking the water taxi instead, but it wasn’t operating due to large waves! Nonetheless, the walk was very much worth it to have the chance to wander through the huge sea arch that gives the cove its name, and we spent time relaxing and re-hydrating before starting the walk back to the car. I gallantly volunteered to walk ahead and drive it up to the trail head to meet Elsa; what a gentleman! I even brought back a nice cold bottle of water and an ice lolly.

Our final stop for the day would be Hot Water Beach. Unimaginatively named, this beach features a section where you can dig at low tide, and the incoming water from springs above it comes out hot. If you find the right mix of hot and cold water, you can sit in a pleasant hot tub like pool of your own construction. Low tides on this day were at about 7am, and a little after 7pm, so we first found somewhere to get dinner before continuing. The only place that was both open, and had an appealing menu, turned out to be a gourmet burger van in the nearby holiday park; places close early in Hahei. The friendly barman in the trailer next door poured me a sensible glass of wine, then asked if I was driving, and topped it all the way up to the rim on hearing that I’d be on foot for the next few hours. Good man.

We headed to the beach after Elsa polished off her enormous burger, and made our way down to the hot water section. It was very obvious where to dig, as the area was already pretty crowded. We borrowed a shovel, found a suitable site, and began construction; after a great deal of digging, and one blister, we had a workable pool and were able to relax and enjoy the twilight and the waves lapping on the sand below. A couple of locals turned up and educated me on the proper way to get a bathing pool; just come along later in the tide window, and wait for somebody else to leave!

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