The trip from Devonport across to the Coromandel Peninsula on the north east coast of the North Island was uneventful, we took the more scenic coast road skirting the Firth of Thames and dropped in to the historic gold mining town of Thames to have a look around. We drove around the centre of town trying to find the gold heritage but failed, all modern and nothing to see (apparently you can visit the old gold workings but we couldn’t find any sign of them. We stopped for coffee ans as we left it started to rain so we set of for our next stop Tairua on the east coast.
As we approached Tairua the rain got heavier and heavier; it was too early to check in at the B&B so we drove around the bay and out towards a volcanic peak called Paku which reminded us a lot of St Michael’s Mount, we parked up and watched the cloud descend over the bay as the seagull sitting on the bonnet looked at us as if to ask what on earth we thought we were doing. At the appropriate time the sat nav took us up a winding hill overlooking Tairua at the top we spotted a sign for the Sunlover Retreat, we followed it down a residential street and just as we thought we had found our lodgings another sign pointed sharp left, we peered through the pouring rain down the steepest drive we had ever seen, at the bottom there was a sharp right bend and it disappeared. Discretion being the better part of valour, and driving an unfamiliar, automatic car Mark decided not to venture down the drive until we knew where it led so he backed up (tricky enough in itself) parked on the road and we paddled through the rain down the drive and arrived on the doorstep dripping wet.
Our hosts Donna and Chris couldn’t have been more welcoming, they showed us into their beautiful modern home and after a chat took us down to the guest rooms on the lower level. The house was glued to the side of the hill with glass right across the back wall upstairs and down. Twin decks looked out over Tairua and the bay, even in the rain it was breath taking. Donna showed us our room which opened on to the balcony and tucked around the corner she showed us a completely private outdoor bath where you could sit and soak while enjoying the view. We also had a great en suite, the outdoor bath was just for good weather! While Donna was showing us around Chris had gone and collected the car and parked it outside and also carried in our bags. There were no other guests while we were there so we had the guest lounge all to ourselves with comfy sofas, a big TV, books, music and a DVD library, bliss. Although Donna served a great breakfast each morning we had to walk in to town for dinner; the summer season doesn’t start until the end of October so there was only one restaurant open, Chris pointed out a steep flight of steps which took us down the front of the hill to the main road and we set of to find an evening meal at The Pepe.
We had a great dinner, mussels cooked in coconut and sweet chilli followed by snapper cooked in a paper parcel with vegetables all washed down with local beer (mark) and cider (me). After we had eaten we set off back up the steps to the house, it was very steep, and dark but we made it unscathed!!
On Tuesday we were booked on a tour of the Coromandel Peninsula with a company called Kiwi Dundee, we knew the trip involved quite a lot of walking so we went to bed hoping for a break in the weather, sure enough we woke up to bright blue skies and sunshine, we have been so lucky with the weather on our travels (except for the open top bus in New (except for the open top bus in New York of course!) and it looked like our luck was holding. After breakfast we were picked up in a mini bus by Mike our Kiwi Dundee driver and guide, he collected another English couple Allen and Jen and proceeded to take us on a brilliant tour of the highlights of the Peninsula. First stop was Hot Water Beach, an amazing place where hot steam vents bubble up under the sand, when the tide is halfway in/out people gather on the beach and dig bath sized holes in the stand which then fill up with hot water, instant spa! In some places the sand was so hot you couldn’t walk on it and we had to skip to the edge of the surf before we burnt the soles of our feet. Mike showed us a rock at the back of the beach where for hundreds of years local Maoris had sharpened their knives and spears, apparently they use to dig pits in the sand and use the hot water to cook fish and shellfish, simples!
Other stops on our tour included Shakespeare Cliffs over-looking Mercury Bay, so called because it is where Captain Cook moored to observe the transit of Mercury over the face of the sun (how did he know that he needed to be at that spot and when he had to be there??); the site of an ancient fortified Maori village on a headland which we walked up to with Mike providing a commentary on native plants and birds as we went. It struck me that the village fortifications were exactly like those at the Iron Age site at Hengistbury Head in Dorset, strange that two completely different societies came up with the exact same solution. After lunch at a lovely little orchard-cum-café we headed south to the hills of the Coromandel Ranges to the site of goldmining activity in the 1800’s, we spent a couple of hours following paths created by miners, we passed old mine workings and the site of a mine workers village, we saw the remains of two gold batteries, industrial sites where gold baring quartz rock was smashed to release the precious ore. As we walked Mike told us more about the native plants and their uses, including one that lathers up like soap when you rub it between your hands with water; finally Mike led us into one of the old mining tunnels (it was like being in a Scooby Doo movie) where we saw glow worms and cave dwelling insects called Whetters that look like a cross between a cricket and a prawn.
It was a great day out and when we got back we had just enough energy left to walk back down (and up again) to The Pepe to try their fish and chips and were back in time to catch the second episode of Poldark.
We didn’t have long in Tairua but it was really lovely and by the time we left Donna and Chris felt like old friends. We will have to go back, I want to try that outdoor bath.