For some reason, we’d decided that we wanted to visit both Northland and the Coromandel on this trip and then proceeded to plan an itinerary which meant we were at the tip of the Northland just when we wanted/needed to head across to the Coromandel. This is a pretty long drive and made even more pleasant when you’ve not been able to shower post sand surfing and so still have sand in your shorts!
Another Auckland Pit Stop
We decided we’d break the journey in Auckland and as we’d had such a good stay there previously, we’d check into the Naomi Hotel again. The drive down was spectacular following Highway 1 all the way from up near Cape Reinga to Auckland, along various windy roads (which Sue loved!). The plan was just to chill for the evening in Auckland and then carry on the next day.
As with all good (and in this case, probably bad) plans – things change. Firstly, I remember that the Villa Maria Estate was just up the road and, as we were due to be catching up with our friend Courtney’s parents, it seemed like a good excuse to visit and pick up some wine. Unfortunately the only flaw in our plan was that both of us were going to have to drive at some point that day! The estate itself is stunning though and it was nice to be reminded of the beautiful wine estates we cycled around in Marlborough a few years previously. It was quite surreal to discover that Craig David is headlining a festival there alongside All Saints (in seemingly some weird flash back to the noughties) in a few weeks’ time!
We picked up a couple of bottles of wine and given we were now not going to get off early, we decided to run a few errands in Ponsonby (unfortunately we also discovered a Lululemon sale which hit our spending money a bit!). Then much later than planned, we set off towards Coromandel.
Cor’ Blimey Coromandel
We’d flown over the Coromandel on our flight back from Rarotonga and I’d said at the time it looked like a giant golf course – it was so green and then had spots of beautiful yellow sand (bunkers) and gorgeous bays (water hazards). Driving through it, we saw even more of the beauty as we headed to our first stop Hot Water Beach. The roads just seem to be surrounded by green everywhere you look.
Hot Water Beach is one of the places we’d hoped to visit when we were last in New Zealand but just had run out of time for. It’s a beach with two hot springs under it which means that at certain times, in certain places (although we didn’t realise these two facts until we got there), you can dig a hole and it will fill with hot water from the spring below. On this first day we arrived too late for the hot springs so went for a swim in the (massive) waves and decided to return the next day to try again.
After a long days’ shopping and driving, we headed to our motel in Whitiangi to enjoy dinner with a view of sunset over the stunning bay.
Take Me to Church
As is often the case when we’re in New Zealand, we developed a ludicrously ambitious plan for our second day in the Coromandel to take in everything! So after a quick breakfast (in pyjamas ?, a real luxury for Sue), we headed off towards Cathedral Cove, expecting a relatively short and simple walk up to Cove to take it all in before heading off to catch the right tide at Hot Water Beach.
When we got to Hahei, we discovered this was the nearest car park that was open at this time of year and in fact the walk to Cathedral Cove wasn’t going to be as simple or short as we expected. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the walk is made up of stunning views out across the Coromandel coastline with its many islands, coves and beaches surrounded by bright blue Pacific Ocean water.
I imagine the whole of this area has some incredible wildlife and you could definitely hear and see birds everywhere including this really interesting bird. We’re not sure what it is but it had a very interesting feather sticking out from its head!
Cathedral Cove is worth the walk, albeit that it is full of tourists. The only regret I had was forgetting my swimming shorts, leaving them in the car! The archway that opens out like a cathedral is beautiful with a view out across the other side of the beach. You feel tiny against the huge rocks and the power of the ocean.
Hot Water Beach Take Two
When we finally returned to the car, to discover some nice melted chocolates amongst other things, we set off to Hot Water Beach to try and catch the end of the window for the hot springs. We arrived to a scene which is reminiscent of a film depiction of a gold rush with loads of people digging holes everywhere.
We made our way around a few of the abandoned holes testing the water temperature but everywhere we tried, even after a bit of digging, was just still cold sea water! Abandoning our search for hot water, I had one last dip in the sea and we set off back to Auckland.
Back to Auckland
For our final few days in Auckland, we’d arranged to meet up with Courtney but before we did that we decided to slip another visit to the Auckland Domain and the Winter Gardens in. Last time we’d been in New Zealand it was the first place we’d visited and has always been special to us as it had set the tone for an absolutely amazing holiday. It was weird but nice to be back in the same place again a few years on.
Courtney had a real itinerary to get us through over the two days we had left and we were excited to hop back on ‘Courtney Tours’. First stop was Piha and the Kitekite waterfall – apparently Courtney used to have to run up the hill to this waterfall in her lifeguard training which would have been some effort. The trail takes you up through the Kauri forest to the waterfall and being the water baby that I am, I couldn’t resist the allure of the waterfall pool. I say I couldn’t resist it but that probably is fair to say up until the point the water got up to my knees and I realised how cold it was. It probably took me another half an hour from this point to finally bite the bullet and dive in! It was pretty bracing but definitely refreshing.
We stopped for a quick bite and to warm up at the Piha Cafe just down the road before heading along to the beach. The beach here is black sand and absorbs the heat of the sun all day long until it is literally burning hot to walk on. Once you’ve negotiated the hot coals though it’s an amazing beach with rocky cliffs and outcrops all around. As Courtney used to be a lifeguard there, she knew all the little details about the beach and took us around to an amazing hole through the rock which the surfers use to get out to the waves. It doesn’t look that safe a route but apparently its the best way out!
After much umming and ahhing, we couldn’t resist a quick naughty swim outside of the swimming flags (although we did have our own personal lifeguard in Courtney). We then dried off and headed back to Kerry and Wayne’s (Courtney’s Mum and her husband) place for a little bit of home cooking (and of course another swim!).
It’s strange how after a month or so on the road we really just craved that homely feeling of home cooked food, hanging out with a family and chilling watching TV. It was so nice and we were so grateful to Kerry and Wayne for hosting us – the food was excellent and the swimming pool even better (Mum and Dad – take note, if you had a swimming pool at home we’d be round more often ?). We left with recharged batteries ready to take on the next leg of our trip.
Wahieke FareWell PArty
Last time we were in New Zealand we spent our last day out in Waiheke and so it seemed appropriate to be doing it again. This time was a little different though as rather than flying back to the real world, we were flying off to Hong Kong to start the Asian leg of our adventure. The one thing that hadn’t really struck us is that we’d be saying goodbye to Courtney and this time she wouldn’t be back in London when we got there to have a drink and regale stories of our trip. In fact, its weird to leave a friend on the other side of the world and not to really know when you’ll see them again. These things have a habit of working themselves out though so I’m sure it won’t be too long until we see Courtney again (particularly after we made a bet that which ever of us visits each others country next gets a free dinner! ?).
Waiheke is an island in the Hauraki Gulf which is reached by ferry from Auckland harbour (the same ferry that Manu Tuilagi infamously jumped off and then arrested during the ill-fated World Cup in New Zealand back in 2011). The island has a load of cool restaurants, beaches and bars as well as an amazing zip line which we had every intention of doing until we enjoyed a rather too good lunch at the Oyster Inn. We decided swimming on the beach and doing laps around some of the rather nice boats would be better for us than flying down a zip line!
Before too long we realised it was time to head back towards the iconic Auckland skyline before one last meal in New Zealand and another kind airport transfer from Courtney!
It’s was weird to be leaving New Zealand again as we love it so much there. We had so many things that we still want to do (the glaciers on South Island and Abel Tasman to name just two) and things that we’d wished we’d been able to fit in this time (it would have been lovely to pop down to see Audrey, Laureen and everyone down in Blenheim). It was reassuring that it felt less like a ‘goodbye’ to New Zealand and more of a ‘see you later’!