It was getting late in the afternoon and the next spot on our itinerary was The Coromandel, well known as a stunning nature haven with beaches, native forest, and a challenging hike across a rocky ridge called The Pinnacles.
Before we entered the thick of the forest, we stopped by Paeroa, just to find a drink famous to this town. In Ohau we all thought that Lemon & Paeroa was two ingredients, Paeroa being a complementary floral flavouring or something. However Paeroa is a town in the North Island. So this drink is named Fruit & Town. Haha.
What was more bizarre was how hard it was to find items here that were flavoured Lemon & Paeroa, in the town where it came from. Despite the number of signs advertising it here.
We did find a giant bottle of L&P in the middle of the town though, and of course it’s rude not to take a selfie with it 😉
The sun was setting and we still hadn’t reached our free accommodation for the night. we planned to stay in a self-contained spot popular with fishermen. The roads were windy and lined with grassy fields and trees. Mumford & Sons was playing and a warm breeze was blowing in from the open windows.
For a split second, the orange sunlight hit the windshield and we were blind, the next moment I was curling up in my seat so much as we watched a tree come hurtling towards the front of the van, really fast. I shut my eyes. The van came to a halt, inches before the tree trunk.
Looking at each other in disbelief, Sam and I got out to inspect the damage. We had missed a sharp turn and the back wheels had skidded out on the gravel at the side of the road. We were extremely lucky to have not hit the tree in front of us, Sam had braked just in time. We got the van unstuck and drove to the next stopping place to take a breath.
I drove the rest of the way to Opoutere, wrestling with Sonny around every bend as the steering alignment was now in very bad shape.
A little shaken, cup noodles eaten in silence and bed was how the evening ended that day.
Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove
The weather the next day was gorgeous, the perfect beach day. We jumped in Sonny and trundled to Hot Water Beach. It also happened to be everyone else’s idea of a perfect weekend trip too, so when we arrived it was teeming with tourists.
Hot Water Beach is a beautiful sandy strip with a hot spring that runs down the beach into the water. You can bring a spade, or rent one for $10 from the souvenir shop.
The beach is huge, so it is really bizarre to find every one on the beach clustered in one spot – riddled with holes dug to find a hot spot of water to have a bathe in.
We gave it a go nearer the edge of the sea so that the hot would mix with the cool and create the perfect temperature. If you didn’t it was scorching hot.
Showering off and jumping in the van, we drove to the start of an hour long walk to Cathedral Cove. It was really pretty, up a big hill to start and then along the cliffs.
The beach has these gorgeous rock pillars standing in the shore. Cathedral Cove is a really photogenic cave with a window to teal seas and a mountainous backdrop.
I have never seen a queue so long for the sea taxi. We decided to walk back along the beach.
We made Thames our base for the next few days. It was a nice change to be living close to a bigger town, a chance to do laundry, take a hot shower and browse around the high street.
There were a good few quirky souvenir and ops shops around here, this one being my favourite in New Zealand, blaring classic rock music and displaying a dog tea-party.
Grabbing the best fish and chips in The Coromandel from Central Seafoods, from a nice chinese couple. The takeaway shops in New Zealand are not exclusive to one cuisine, it’s really common to have fish and chips right next to chinese food on the menu. Battered Snapper with Chicken Chow Mein anyone?
We were prepping for The Pinnacles hike, waiting for a weather window where it wouldn’t be so wet and misty that we couldn’t see.
We booked the night in The Pinnacles hut. An 80 bunk hut with fantastic cooking facilities, a shower and toilets. It even had an indoor and outdoor area to hang out and socialise with fellow hikers, and raised camping spots in a secluded area nearby.
The Pinnacles Hike
We parked in the Trestle View Camping Car park after a long long drive down an unsealed gravel road. The Kauaeranga Kauri Trail was another one of the Great Walks in New Zealand, and we had to book the Pinnacles Hut about a week in advance.
The hike is an intermediate 1-2 day 14km hike, 3 hours one way to the Pinnacles Hut, and 40 minutes again from there to reach The Pinnacles. A full circuit can be 8-9 hours along the Webb Creek and Billy Goat tracks.
Upon washing our feet through a special disinfectant gate, we entered the trail through protected native forest. We past a few hikers heading down, huffing, puffing and cursing, who then proceeded to wish us good luck… maybe not the most encouraging start!
We quickly realised why – it was a steep accent up slippery steps. It was humid today too, our only satisfaction being the parts of the hike sheltered by thick old trees.
After 3 hours we reached the gorgeous hut. The house keeper greeted us and checked us in with his adorable little yorkie puppy. I melted, what a sweet and tiny dog to have made it up all those steps!
Unpacking and making friends, we visited the dam before the last part of our hike to the main viewpoint of this hike.
The Dancing Camp Kauri Dam is close to the Pinnacles Hut, and was restored from the days of the logging of the valuable Kauri trees. The demand for this quality timber increased in the Gold Rush of the 1880’s, and as a result the deforestation of the peninsula rapidly creeped up deeper into the remote areas. The timber was carried out by pack-horses, logging tramways and most interestingly; these Kauri Dams. The river flowing down the ever-steepening river gorges was dammed at convenient choke points. The loggers would then fill the reservoirs created with the Kauri logs, tripping the dam, transporting the logs downstream into the valley.
The 40 minute trail from the hut was easy to follow, very well maintained, and opened out on to some amazingly photogenic landscapes. Thick, old forested ridges were everywhere we looked.
After a gentle uphill stroll, the track turns into a Grade 2 scramble. A metal ladder hugs the granite cliffs and steel rugs are drilled into the rock to aid with the ascent.
The views from the top are breath-taking. No wonder this is such a popular hike.
But we weren’t finished yet. Sam disappeared as I was meditating, taking in all of the nature, the sounds, smells and feels of the forest. He called from above, on top of a pile of rocks forming the ridge of the Pinnacles.
Sucking in a few deep breaths, I followed, my previous bouldering skills definitely helped, as there are no metal rungs here.
I felt like I was perched on top of the world, with a 1000m drop into the forest below. Wow.
The sun started to sink, and we headed to the hut to prepare dinner. Cup Ramen was on the menu tonight, again… The friends we had made on the trip were two South Koreans and a Kiwi lad, super friendly folk! After the Tongariro Northern Circuit Sam and I had perfected the art of packing only the things we needed for a hike, if not a little too minimalist, as my sleeping bag barely kept me warm at night.
So we were astounded when we saw the four bags, full of jars of food, tins of beans, fruit, multi-boxes of cereals, bars of chocolate, pain au chocolat, normal croissants, a big bag of pasta, meat, fluffy pyjamas, pillows, clothes, cameras, and a metal detector. We all had a little giggle about it and enjoyed a few games of Rummikub over some tea that they had brought with them.
The next day we travelled down together on the long way around and back down the Billy Goat Track, and saw some really cool remnants of the tramway, on a very steep incline (almost 30 degrees).
We split halfway down, the boys heading down the “shortcut” down through the bush, and we enjoyed the winding track down and across the creek at the bottom. We raced, and the girl team would have been first, if we hadn’t gotten lost on the car park road and hiked an extra kilometre or two in the wrong direction trying to find the van… oops.
Starving, we parted ways at the car park and headed back to Thames for an epic barbecue 😉
To be continued…