Heading to the Coromandel Peninsula…..
Although the Coromandel is only a couple of hours drive from Auckland, we had never been there. Having heard how beautiful it is, we were relishing the opportunity to visit. Looking at the weather forecast, things were not looking ideal for a visit to promised sandy white beaches. That said, we really couldn’t complain – the weather to date had been awesome and everywhere was in desperate need of rain (by NZ standards).
First stop, Katikati….
Katikati on New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty is known as ‘New Zealand’s Mural Town’ and is home to the country’s largest outdoor art gallery with at least 60 pieces of art depicting the history of this bustling rural town. Dozens of colourful murals are painted on walls and commercial buildings, while impressive sculptures, carvings, mosaics and tapestries are also on display right across town.
We were grateful that the weather cleared enough to allow us to wander the streets, with just a slight drizzle.
Waihi, New Zealand’s ‘Heart of Gold’
Somewhat embarrassingly, we had no idea of the magnitude of the country’s gold mining industry. Waihi, at the bottom of the Coromandel Peninsula, has a gold mining history spanning three centuries and a local open-pit mine that is still fully operational. Once again there was enough of a break in the misty, foul weather to enable us to embark on a walk of the pit rim of the Martha mine, starting at the Cornish Pumphouse. Sadly, we were unable to complete the full 4km loop as parts of it were closed off as a result of a couple of enormous landslides on one side of the pit. Nevertheless, it was an impressive sight and good to stretch our legs. We also had some time to waste before we were able to check into our nearby accommodation.
More gold mining…..
Having spent the rest of the day and night in our little glass cottage, listening to the rain falling outside, we were happy to wake up to a break in the cloud and no rain. We were hanging out to visit the Karangahake Gorge on the Ohinemuri River which flow through Waihi.
In the gorge there are a number of walks through old mining tunnels and relics. The weather held long enough for us to complete two of the walks. The ‘Windows Walk” required a phone torch to light up the dark passages before they opened out to the viewpoints over the river. The ‘Rail Tunnel Loop’ included a 1100m old railway tunnel that has been lit up, largely because it is part of the Hauraki Rail Trail, one of New Zealand’s popular cycle trails.
Joining in the Whangamata Beach Hop…..
The drive from the gorge took us back to the east coast of NZ’s North Island. It was a little misty and we had rain on and off so we missed some of the scenic stops, but it was still very pretty as we passed through the green hills.
We had been warned that we had chosen the busiest weekend of the year to hit the Coromandel as from Wednesday to Sunday, the annual Beach Hop Festival was taking place. What we hadn’t realised was just how big it would be!! Fortunately we had hit Whangamata on the Friday rather than the weekend as it was crazy and likely to get worse. We didn’t think there were that many old cars in the world, let alone in this little country. We drove down the main street of the little beach side town, moving amongst old vehicles and passing cafes and restaurants overflowing with people. The camp ground was bursting at the seams!! We did take a few minutes to visit the local beach, well-renowned in surfing circles.
Feeling a little peckish but knowing we would struggle finding a place for lunch, we decided to get away from it all, leaving Whangamatta and travelling further north to Onemana Beach. It is described by New Zealand’s official travel website as “a little gem of coastal paradise” and “a secret gem”. It apparently has “an expansive view of the sea and a glimpse of off-shore islands”. We can neither confirm nor negate this view as we didn’t get to see very much. As we left Whangamata, the queues of cars going the other way were insane, only to continue all the way off the main road and out to the targeted small community. Whilst an amazing experience, we didn’t get the quiet diversion planned. For that we had to venture a little further to Opoutere Beach.
Promenading in Pauanui…..
We were due to overnight with relatives in Pauanui, a purpose-built holiday town and popular beach settlement on a narrow stretch of land between the Pacific Ocean and a tranquil inner harbour. We were feeling very excited as we hadn’t seen them for well over 20 years, but knew we had to wait for them to get back from work. As we turned off the main coastal road out to the settlement, the rain started bucketing down, so we wondered how we’d kill a few hours. Fortunately we found a coffee shop in the centre of town and spent some time there. By the time we were done, the weather seemed clear enough for us to embark on a hike.
The hike up to the summit of Mount Pauanui was described as “Not for the faint hearted, …. a fairly strenuous climb but well worth the effort”. It sounded as though it would keep us busy for a while and give us a sense of achievement. Although the published timing was longer than we had, we figured we should make it ok. We were certainly glad we did it – the views of the 3-km white sand beach were amazing. And there were only a few drops of rain in the last 5 minutes of the walk.
Followed by pizza in Pauanui…..
We arrived at Jakki and Colin’s gorgeous house at 5pm and before long were jumping in a shower – thanks Jakki! We had a wonderful evening talking, eating pizza, talking, drinking coffee and talking some more. The following morning, Colin had left for work by the time we rolled downstairs, but we spent some more time talking, eating and talking before saying goodbye to Jakki, promising not to leave it so long between visits next time.