After two weeks in and around Wellington, we gave Livi back to James and Erica last Thursday and commenced a marathon 10-hour drive from the very bottom of the North Island to the Coramandel Peninsular, which is a little sticky-out ear, to the East of Auckland. The last 50ks are over a mountain range, whose name I can’t remember, and even if I could, I doubt if I could pronounce it, but it’s the usual mix of sheer drops and hairpin turns, which you really need after setting out at 5.30am that morning.
We have done the journey before a couple of times, so we knew what to expect. The area we were heading for is called Mercury Bay; the weekend playground of Aucklanders and those from Hamilton. That’s where are pals Kevin and Helen have a farm and we were heading for their holiday home, or “bach” as it’s called over here in the main town, called Whitianga. Evidently you pronounce the first two letters as “F”, just to complicate things. Kevin and Helen found the description of our route from Wellington to the Coramandel highly amusing as we attempted to get our toungues around the the Maori pronounciations. It’s worse than Welsh.
|Kevin & Helen's bach in Whiitianga. Our hire car is the one in the middle|
There is no shortage of stunning beaches and coves on the Coramandel, but one of the most popular is one that also has thermal activity, namely “Hot Water Beach”, about a 45-minute drive from Whitianga (don’t forget the “F”). The place tells its own story. Two hours before low tide a quick dig down a few inches releases pools of hot water. Some are just warm, while some, just a few feet away, can be bubbling hot.
|We join the rest of the bathers in the cold and rain of Hot Water Beach. Pat and Kev get digging. Helen in the red pancho supervises operations|
For a variety of reasons we had never experienced this phenomena before, and the day we chose to experience it was windy, cloudy, rainy and downright miserable. Surely nobody else could be as stupid to go onto the beach in such conditions. Well, we got there early, and there must have been 50-60 brave souls already lounging in their own private baths.
|The bath nears completion|
A quick dig later, we had joined them. Some folks were having to go into the sea to either cool down or fill up a bucket with sea water to cool down their pools, such was its heat. It was a very surreal experience, and we were both glad we did it in those conditions.
|We luxuriate in our "hot water" pool|
|The Fillers & The Williams's relax in the "Last Spring"|
|The Lost Spring Spa|
The Coramandel has a bit of a reputation for its “alternative lifestyle”. A community exists in the hills, where they smoke dope and indulging in numerous activities, mostly illegal it seems. I must say we have never seen any evidence of “New Age” activity.
Well, that is not exactly true. We were in the supermarket queue buying mussels on Saturday afternoon. Now most, if all, supermarket checkouts have magazines and confectionery at the point of sale. Not on the Coramandel they don’t. The whole area was devoted to contraceptives and sexual aids. Helen had not noticed it before. We all found it very amusing.
The mussels were very good: so good we bought some more the following day, and I volunteered to cook them, but not before we suffered the humiliation watching England lose to New Zealand 21-0 in the Rugby Sevens tournament, which was being held in wet and windy Wellington, live on TV.
I have mentioned before on this blog about the rivalry between Australia and New Zealand, and that is often quite vindictive and cruel. Kiwis think the Aussies are generally loud, arrogant and crasse; while some Aussies see their neighbours as country bumpkins. That would be OK if it was just good-natured banter but it even stretches to political one-upmanship, with the two countries bickering at each other at the moment about stocking each others produce on supermarket shelves.
Some of it is both of these things. While at the powerboat racing I overhead a Kiwi who was obviously an Immigration Officer recalling a funny story about a New Zealander who landed at Sydney Airport and waited patiently at Immigration to have his passport stamped. On reaching the head of the queue the Immigration Officer asked the Kiwi a number of questions including: “Do you have a criminal record?”, to which the quick-witted New Zealander quipped: “Why, do you still one to get one to get in.” See what I mean. But I digress.
We broke our journey home Sunday night, with an overnight stop at Taupo, which sits at the head of the lake of the same name. It’s the biggest lake in NZ and is claimed to be as big as Singapore?
We have been there before too, and we stayed at the same place as last time, spending the evening at the cinema watching the new Tom Hanks movie “Saving Mr Banks”, in which he plays Walt Disney about the making of Mary Poppins and his stormy relationship with book creator Pamela Travers. Considering it’s the middle of summer, it was very quiet there.
|I should have put this one in last time. Livi emulates her super-star Grandpop|
This weekend we head south across the Cook Strait for the South Island to see some friends of my sister.