Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Last Night and Last Day

Last night was our final dinner in New Zealand (not counting the airplane food). On the recommendation of Jill and Graeme, we went to the nice restaurant in town, the Church. It is, surprisingly, a converted old church, with very good food and a funky atmosphere:

This morning we woke up early for a walk since we will soon be crammed in a plane for 12 hours. We got to Hahei Beach for sunrise:

and back to Cathedral Court in time for a breakfast of whitebait fritters!

The drive to Auckland was easy, and we arrived with a couple of hours before we had to be at the airport. Dana expertly guided us to Parnell, a nice little neighborhood just outside the city center, where we enjoyed our last fish and chips:

We're in the airport now, all checked in and waiting to get on the plane. Our plan is to try to fall asleep as quickly as possible, waking up with a few hours left on the flight. Then we'll be back in the States with only a 2-3 hour drive to San Diego ahead of us! :-S

Cathedral Cove (again) and Broken Hills

After a hearty breakfast prepared by Jill and Graeme, we set out for our second hike to Cathedral Cove. We decided to make another trip there because it was so beautiful the first time, and also we awoke to sunny day today, and thought it would contrast nicely with yesterday's gray and cloudy trip. On the way up to the track, we saw one of several rainbows that we've been treated to on the Coromandel Peninsula:

The hiking track and Cathedral Cove did look different with sun, blue sky and puffy, white clouds overhead:

For our afternoon, we decided to head south this time to the Tairua area, since we'd already covered Whitianga the previous day. At our B&B we read about a hike through a former gold-mining area with a long mining tunnel included on the track and decided that it would be the perfect final tramp for our New Zealand adventure. Here is me at the start of the track:

We don't have any good pictures of the climb up the mountain because it was very steep, and we were concentrating on our footing amongst the slippery roots, and conserving energy. The highlight of the hike was a 500 meter long tunnel that was formerly used by the miners, and connected two parts of the track. Here is Dylan by the sign at the entry:

The tunnel was long, narrow, damp, and very dark inside. We were equipped with our torch (flashlight), but was still a bit scary when we turned around and could not see the light behind us or ahead of us anymore. We walked single-file through the tunnel for about 15 minutes, and took some time to clown around a bit for the camera. The flash on the camera makes the tunnel look lit, but the only actual light on the trip was our torch and the occasional glow worm. I think we were both relieved to see the light on the other side - 500 meters is a long way to go in the dark!

After the tunnel, it was all downhill to the car park. We zipped through that part of the hike, because the sky had turned gray. As soon as we made it back to the car, the rain started - our timing was perfect! We drove back to Tairua, and stopped in town for a bite to eat at a very cute and funky cafe:

From Tairua, we stopped briefly to view a few Kauri trees by the side of the road before returning home for a relaxing afternoon at the B&B.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Cathedral Cove and Whitianga

The countdown has begun: yesterday was our second-to-last full day in New Zealand, and we filled it with some fun adventures. The weather forecast called for rain, however the morning was cloudy but dry. We decided to take advantage of this by walking down to Cathedral Cove, one of the natural attractions of this area. It's about a 45 minute walk from the car park to the cove, which has a massive arch leading from one beach to another (the cathedral). Here is Dana at the beginning of the track:

The walk was nice, with a some side trips to Gemstone and Stingray Bays, and through farmland and native bush:

The last part of the walk was down narrow, dark, slippery steps which opened up into the cove:

Here are some pics of the cove, including one of me behind a waterfall made possible by last night's heavy rain:

We had the cove to ourselves, which was lucky. On the walk back, we passed about 10 people, so I guess we went at the right time!

We decided to drive to Whitianga for the afternoon to look at some shops and get lunch. On the way I stopped at the Coroglen tavern to ask directions and Dana made some friends:

In Whitianga we also saw a little burger joint that I think could have been the basis for the Bare Back Grill in San Diego. I had heard from a waiter at Bare Back that the owners were inspired by the burgers at a little burger place in a small surf town in New Zealand. The place we saw in Whitianga fit that description and also had a similar menu. We had hoped to eat there but it was closed (like most of the restaurants on Monday):

We also picked up a souvenir for Dana at a little shop that teaches bone carving and sells greenstone (jade) jewelry. The design is called a 'Koru', and it is an iconic New Zealand symbol:

After getting back to our B&B (Cathedral Court), we decided to go on a run (I am doing a 10k in a week and a half after all!). It had just started raining, but we braved the elements and ran up and down Hahei Beach for almost an hour:

After working up an appetite, we were treated to a delicious home-cooked meal by our host Jill, followed by a Scrabble game, which Dana won (Jill was second; I was third; Jill's husband Graeme finished last):

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Hahei and Whitianga

Yesterday we were somewhat sad to leave Coromandel Town. It's a great little town - complete with some nice art galleries, cafes, and most importantly, a bakery and a butcher. Even in New Zealand it seems rare to have both of these speciality shops in a small town, and we made sure to use them both while we were in town.

In our first visit to the bakery, Dana noticed they had 'Chelsea Buns'. We've seen them in a couple of places but finally took the time to take a photo for Chelsea's sake:

With that complete, and a pair of excellent take-away latte's from Cafe Umu next door, we were ready to head to Hahei, a tiny beach community on the east coast of the Coromandel. The current (winter) population of Hahei is around 400 residents, but in their summer it swells to 7,000.

The drive should have taken a little less than one and a half hours, but we stretched it out since we couldn't check in to our next accommodation until 2 pm. The first pit-stop was a lookout of Coromandel Town:

Next was a nice beach:

Right before getting to Hahel we passed through the relatively larger town of Whitianga, which has a beach popular with the locals in the summer, Buffalo Beach:

One of the main attractions of the Hahei area is 'Hot Water Beach', a strip of coast that has two hot springs under the sand. You can bring shovels to the beach and dig a hole two hours on either side of low tide which will fill up with hot water from the springs (60 degrees C). We stopped there on our way to Hahei to have a look around:

Note the sheep grazing in the hills behind the beach:

After arriving in Hahei and getting settled in our B&B, we borrowed some spades and headed back to Hot Water Beach. Low tide was scheduled for 4:45 pm, and we arrived at the beach around 3:15. After digging about 20 holes in the beach, we couldn't find the hot water springs. We were not alone; there were about 15 other people from all over the world trying to dig for the springs, and communicating the best they could with each other. Every 10 minutes or so someone would cry out that they thought their toes were a little warm, and people would rush over and start to dig, but then the source would turn cold. We left around 5pm, unsuccessful and hoping to learn more on the internet before trying again.

Back in Hahel, we learned that all the (three) restaurants in the town were closed for dinner, so we drove to the shortest ferry I've ever taken - one which connects Cooks Beach to Whitianga in a travel time of about three minutes:

There were a few options to choose from in Whitianga, and we eventually settled on a Thai place which turned out to be excellent. We both had Tom Yum and then split a veggie and pork dish. The waiter had given us four different 'hot' options: mild, medium, hot, and 'thai hot'. Dana and I deliberated between hot and thai hot for a moment then picked hot. When they brought out the dish they also brought a small dish of peppers in case it wasn't hot enough for us - I went a little overboard with them and had the staff running over to refill my water constantly:

Looking around the town, it seems that Monday is even more dead than Sunday, but our hosts at our B&B have invited us to eat dinner with them, to be followed by a game of Scrabble.