Okay, before it slips to far into the past, I want to talk about my trip to New Zealand and post some pictures.
I went to New Zealand for about nine days last month and I spent my Thanksgiving holiday there. I visited with David and a few of his friends, notably Tesua, Gus and Ludlow. Spent a few days in Auckland carousing and drinking, then we headed out for the Coromandel Peninsula and spent five days camping in various locales. Here’s a pile of pictures from that trip, along with some commentary.
First off, let’s fix the location. I was in Auckland, on the North Island.
This is the North Island.
I took this photo on the approach into Auckland… not! It’s a close up of the satellite image above, from NASA that shows the area of the North Island where I spent my vacation, Auckland, Waiheke Island and the Coromandel Peninsula. Auckland is the gray urban area on the left, the Coromandel is the forested peninsula on the right. The body of water between them is the Hauraki Gulf and the Firth of Thames is the shallow extension below the gulf. The large island in the Hauraki Gulf is Waiheke Island, a popular summer destination for Aucklanders.
I flew in on Friday night, and we spent the night on a pub crawl. Saturday however, David drove me out to the west of Auckland to a couple beaches. First stop was Kerikeri Beach, where part of the Piano was filmed. There was a nice waterfall at Kerikeri Beach.
Then it was on to Piha Beach, a nice long stretch of sand. Popular with the surfers, Piha was rather deserted that afternoon. We ate a picnic lunch and took a quick swim in the chilly waters.
Left Piha, drove back across the Waitakere Range and into Auckland for another night of fun. This was taken at Murphy’s Irish Pub.
David and Gus with some random drunks at Murphy’s. The short guy was positively insane. David was really pushing his buttons and getting that little man all riled up.
The next day David, Tesua, Gus and his wife Lisa and I went out to Waiheke Island. This is the same place I visited last year, but the weather was much better this time around. They were actually having a box car derby that Sunday.
Waiheke, long a popular summer destination for Aucklanders, is rife with wineries that produce fine red wines. We stopped at the Onetangi Road Winery, the same we visited in 2003. We did the wine tasting and also tried the beers. They make Waiheke Island Beer, Baroona Ale there. And it’s quite tasty.
It was nice and sunny out amongst the vines. The grapes were just starting to grow.
Monday, Tesua, David and I headed out of Auckland for a few days of camping and exploring the Coromandel Peninsula. Apparently the Coromandel is one of the top summer destinations in New Zealand. During the month of December the peninsula is afire with the blooming pohutukawa trees, and all the campgrounds are bursting with vacationers. We beat the crowds by a couple weeks though.
First stop was this great little organic market in the country. I mean, look at those tomatoes! Nothing like that back on Guam.
Next stop was a bit further down the road, Clevedon Coast Oysters. David and Tesua actually stopped off at this place a couple weeks before I arrived, so this was a return visit for them. We bought two dozen oysters and went on our merry way.
We made it less than a mile before we hit Kawakawa Bay and pulled over to gorge on oysters and organic tomatoes. Oh and a couple beers as well. From Kawakawa Bay we could look out an see the backside of Waiheke Island. It was less than two miles offshore.
A couple hours later and we crossed a one lane bridge at the bottom of the Firth of Thames. Across the bridge lies the Coromandel Peninsula.
After stocking up on provisions in Thames, we headed across the spine of the Coromandel Range for the eastern shores of the peninsula and the town of Whitianga and Mercury Bay. Of course we needed a few breaks along the way.
We rolled into Whitianga that evening and set up camp in an RV campground. Not exactly wilderness camping, but there was a pub nearby. Got some good info on what to do the next day from some girls in the pub. Otherwise it was dead in Whitianga. Anyway, I got to try out my tent and sleeping bag.
One of the things the girls in Whitianga suggested visiting was Hot Water Beach. Basically geothermal water bubbles up on the beach. At low tide people can dig holes in the sand and enjoy a hot bath on the beach. That’s what all these folks are doing.
A bit further on from Hot Water Beach is the little town of Hahei and Cathedral Cove. At the bottom of a 45 minute walk the trail opens out onto this magnificent archway and a secluded beach. Well worth the effort.
Yes, it’s this big.
It was a long way back up to the van. No shame in stopping and posing for a picture.
We left Cathedral Cove and the Mercury Bay environs around Whitianga. Took a gravel road back over the spine of the Coromandel to Coromandel Town. The 309 Road was an excellent drive, despite the gravel road bed. It wound up the Mahakirau Stream valley to the summit (at 309 meters) then down to Coromandel Town along the Waiau Stream. The highlight of the drive was a quick side tour to Waiau Falls, just off the road. Just a beautiful waterfall.
It rained hard that night in Coromandel, but that didn’t dampen our spirits. We just sat in the van and drank Export Gold all night. Things got a little silly inside that campervan.
I was worried about my tent in the downpour, but it held up like a champ, dry as a bone inside all night long.
Here’s were we stopped for the night in Coromandel Town. Tui Lodge is a backpacker place, and an excellent domicile and base in Coromandel. Free bikes too. A swell place.
Enough of this pseudo-camping at RV parks and backpacker lodges. It’s time to head north and into the remotest part of the Coromandel. Time to literally reach the end of the road. It was a beautiful day as we headed north from Coromandel Town towards Fletcher Bay.
We stopped to take some pictures on an outcropping over a long sandy beach. A guy was pulling up a battered rowboat on shore below us. We were about to take off we David cried out “God bless it! Look at that fish!” The fisherman hauled a gigantic tuna out of that rowboat, slung it on his back and toted it up to his car. We were down there in a flash, just in time to see him flop that monster in the front seat of his car. His name was Nickie, and he was happy share a beer, relate how he caught the fish, and pose with his catch.
The road north from there was nothing but gravel, with nothing but farms. No more towns up there. Nothing but sheep and cows.
The sun was brilliant, the waters clear and calm. Just a great day, especially after the downpour the night before.
It was so clear we could see across the Hauraki Gulf and make out the cone of Rangitoto Island. Rangitoto lies just offshore from the Auckland Harbour, about 60 kilometers from where we were standing. The volcano is an iconic image, visible from most anywhere in Auckland. I was amazed that we could actually make it out from this distance. Nickie, our friendly fisherman, said that on a good day he could catch the sun glinting off the Sky Tower in downtown Auckland.
The road got steadily worse, including this stream crossing.
We finally made it to Fletcher Bay a little after noon and set up camp.
Fletcher Bay. In the distance beyond the rock islet is Great Barrier Island. We had talked about going there too, but it never happened. Something for my next trip.
It rained briefly just before sunset, creating this incredible rainbow.
The shower was brief though, and quickly rolled away. Here’s the view inland from Fletcher Bay. Lots of sheep on those hills. We ate our dinner, made a small fire and hit the sack early.
Me, the following morning. I was killing time, waiting for David and Tesua to wake up in the van.
The three of us headed out on a long hike on Thanksgiving morning. Fletcher Bay is one end of the Coromandel Walkway, the longest hike in the Coromandel Peninsula.
It was plenty scenic on the short portion of the hike we completed. The first part was grassy sheep pasture and beach heads.
The trail then wound down through a dense hillside forest to Stoney Bay.
We stopped for a bit at Stoney Bay, and collected some driftwood. There wasn’t any available at Fletcher Bay, so our fire the previous night was small and brief. We wanted something more substantial for our second night under the stars.
It’s a long way back up from Stoney Bay.
One last look at Stoney Bay.
Nothing wrong with taking a break on the way back. It was breezy and sunny on that slope, and all that wood was heavy.
Fletcher Bay campground looks nice from up above. Our campsite is barely visible at the edge of the trees and beach.
It rained at sunset again, just as we were cooking up a Thanksgiving repast. Thankfully it only lasted a couple minutes, and it brought forth another glorious rainbow.
It was a full moon that night, and it rose during the twilight after we ate our dinner. That moon really made the night special.
David by the firelight.
This was our last night in Fletcher Bay, primarily because we ran out of beer for our beer convention that night.
Tesua, David and I by the campfire.
Talking story with the German couple that was also camped out at Fletcher Bay.
Wow, that moon was really something special.
The weather changed drastically overnight. Almost as soon as I crawled into my tent, the wind picked up and brought fat, heavy raindrops. By the next morning it was blustery and cold, with lots of intermittent rain showers. We decided to cut our camping trip short and head back to Auckland. Besides we were out of beer.
We headed back to Auckland the next day. Late in the afternoon we reached the city and crossed over to the north shore. I took this photo at the Devonport Ferry Terminal.
David showed me one of his favorite spots to unwind in Auckland, the Birkenhead Ferry Terminal across from central Auckland and the Harbour Bridge. We got takeaway, ate our food and stayed there over an hour so I could take this photo of the skyline by night.
My last day in Auckland we did another pub crawl, one that started with a visit to Aotea Square. On Saturdays, Aotea Square is abuzz with activity. A lively market and craft fair takes over the square every Saturday.
We met up with some friends and went to shoot some pool. Specifically Gus and Lisa, and Ludlow. Tesua had to work, poor fellow. He missed out on all the fun. Like shooting pool and drinking beer at a variety of places around Auckland.
David and Ludlow at this place called Empire.
David, Gus and Ludlow at the a bar in downtown Auckland.
My last meal in New Zealand was at the Kiwi Music Bar & Cafe, a pizza joint on Queen Street. It looked out on Aotea Centre and the heart of the city. There was quite a crowd lined up on the street. We asked one dude what was going on and he said Maroon 5 was playing that night. It was quite the scene down on the street. Personally I could’ve cared less. I’d never even heard of them before. Frankly until I looked up that link a minute ago, I thought it was a girl band like Spice Girls or something.
Damn that was hot sauce! And it probably didn’t help that we had a spicy Thai chicken pizza to go with that fire sauce.
Sweet mercy that Kaitaia Fire Sauce was good stuff!
All that pizza made us weary, so we trod back up Queen Street to take a rest. We cut through Myers Park on the way back.
And here’s one last photo of the Sky Tower. I think New Zealand has a case of ‘small man syndrome’ writ large. Just look at that big phallus and tell me they’re not compensating for being such a small country.
I flew out the next morning and spent the day in Cairns. After catching a matinee early in the afternoon, I mostly lounged by the ‘beach’ in Cairns, an artificial beach and swimming pool on the Esplanade.
Sunset in Cairns, and the end of an all too brief vacation.
One last thing. I should pitch where I stayed in Cairns. The Bellview is a great backpackers hostel, located right on the Esplanade in central Cairns. Rod and Sheryl Meiklejohn are great hosts and they have an excellent facility.
It was a good trip. My only regret is that once again, it was far too short a time to spend in New Zealand. It is an amazing country, and I saw only a little bit of what it has to offer. David is pushing hard for me to move to New Zealand and really experience the antipodean lifestyle. Looking at four more years of life under George W. Bush and his crackerjack team of neo-conservatives, I have to admit I am seriously considering it.