Beached as Bro

Trip Start Jun 04, 2009
Trip End Sep 06, 2010

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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Friday, April 30, 2010

I know you thought it would never happen but here it is, my last entry from New Zealand. We've finished off our road trip with a great tour around some of the best bits of the Northern North Island starting with the Coromandal.  We found ourselves a great little tent site complete with powder fine white sand and a craggy limestone coastline with cut off islands and archways to explore.  Our main reason for choosing here though was the big attraction in the area known as Hot Water Beach.  To the naked eye it looks just like a regular beach but once the tide goes out if you dig down in the sand the water that rises up is boiling hot thanks to the thermal wonders happening underground.  The usual plan is to head down around low tide and dig yourself a self-filling hot tub to lounge in and enjoy the views.  What we hadn’t factored in was that low tide was at 8pm that night and the sunset at 6.30pm so we would be digging in the dark.  But that was just a trifling inconvenience for hardened travelers such as us so we went to rent some spades and had ourselves a beer on the beach watching the sun go down until the timing was right to spring to action.  I should also point out that when we went to hire spades I was expecting the classic plastic sandcastle crafting type but instead was handed two huge gardening shovels which we lugged all the way up the beach.  I’m not really sure why we got two anyway, apart from posing for some photos mine remained pretty much unused as some might have expected! 

We had a really good giggle trying to find out the best place to dig, it was pitch black and the tide just did not seem to be going out any further making it pretty tough to dig any kind of hole that wasn’t just going to be filled with sea water moments later.  We did manage to find spots where if we just dug our feet down into the sand it was so hot it felt like they were burning, but sadly the hot tub was just not going to happen.  A few days later we were told there had been a big storm recently that had moved around the sand meaning the wrong areas were exposed for it to work; I assume this had just skipped the mind of our shovel supplier!  We had a lot of fun just playing on the beach though so can’t complain, it was especially funny to see the group of Americans who dug a huge hole in totally the wrong place and decided to sit in it regardless for a good hour or so to get the most out of the experience, but then maybe they just do that on every beach they go to? 

The next day we walked along the coast to Cathedral Cove and enjoyed having one of the must-see sights in New Zealand all to ourselves stunning beaches again and crazy rock formations and caves to explore.  We challenged each other to a mini gymnastics tournament  on the beach which we both lost since we realised we are both too old and inflexible these days.  After that we had a drive up the coastline and across into Coromandal town where we camped again at a hostel with a trampoline in the garden which we just about managed to get our aching bodies to have a play on before doing a bit more damage and retiring to a game of scrabble and a pot of tea

We scooted past Auckland on the highway, as we’d be coming back for a visit here later, and made our way to Piha, a very pretty surfer town where the beautiful beaches have black sand made from volcanic stone.  We arrived in time for a stunning sunset/light display and spent some time the next morning having a beach side stroll and admiring the enormous waves and the fools crazy enough to attempt surfing them.  On the move again we headed up towards the very tip of the North Island and camped again at, what we thought was, another standard campsite until we saw the sign that said 'Clothing Optional’ and as they say ‘when in Rome…’ but you wouldn’t be interested in that story I’m sure.

The main reason for heading north was to visit the Bay of Islands, a beautiful part of the Pacific filled with 144 islands and we had booked a boat called The Rock that would take us out on an action packed tour and our first ever night at sea.  This trip really could have been a huge highlight, the boat was great, the activities exciting, the crew fantastic but the weather was a complete wash out.  We started out alright with a target shooting game off the back of the boat where we had to hit a plastic duck with a paintball gun.  Steve won hands down with a perfect score of three out of three hits and won himself a drink at the bar and plenty of bragging rights.  The only problem was we hadn’t had a chance to introduce ourselves to people on the boat yet so most started to avoid us thinking Steve must be some kind of sniper by trade!

That night we tried our hand at fishing for snapper from the deck while the sun went down and were quite shockingly unsuccessful so we missed out on barbequing our catch which was a shame but then we got to go night kayaking anther first experience for us.  There was something calming about floating out over black waters by moonlight that I really liked and the purpose of the trip was to get away from the lights of the boat so we could see the phosphorescence in the water (aka glowworm like algae that twinkle when you wiggled your fingers or paddle in the water) it helps if it’s a really dark night with no moon so they are easier to see but we did get to have a play with them still and I’m told if it’s calm enough to swim at night they cling to your body creating an avatar like glowing effect.  Pretty cool little dudes!  Despite no fish we did have a big buffet dinner including some freshly collected enormous mussels that the crew went snorkeling for before we arrived.  Then we spent the evening relaxing on board the boat which was more like a floating hostel with a pool table and fireplace.  Steve and I had a rickety game of pool that I almost managed to win when a wave pocketed 4 of my balls for me but somehow failed again and then we sat around the fire with candles lit and joined in a bit of guitar playing and story swapping with some fellow travelers. 

Despite the boat rocking at night we slept surprisingly well and I got up bright and early to try to catch a sunrise at sea but sadly all we got was cloud that later that morning turned to rain for our island sailing.  Our adrenaline levels did rise though when the captain spotted a shark about 60 meters from the boat and by the time we had all rushed to the back to try and spot it, it was swimming around in the wake of the lifeboat right by us looking good and menacing (or so I’m told, I managed to be making a cup of tea during the excitement).  By the time we arrived at an island for a short hike followed by snorkeling trip the weather was nothing short of a total downpour, and this from the area known as the ‘winterless north’ where it hardly ever rains.  I figured it was worth having a go at snorkeling anyway as we couldn’t get much more wet than we were so we braved the ocean in search of sea urchins which we would later be sampling as sushi onboard.  I managed to harvest a few before it became clear that the waves were against us and I was just getting washed up into the rocks and the sand was all stirred up so it was too hard to see the coral too.  We high-tailed it back to the boat to a welcome reception of teas and biscuits to recuperate and get ready for the return journey.  Sadly most people lost their lunches overboard on the rather choppy journey back to shore but I remained surprisingly stable given my previous seasickness incidents.  I feel like I owe this to the packet of ginger nuts I ate enroute as I have since learnt that ginger is a key ingredient in sea-sickness pills, sometimes it pays to be greedy!  It was well worth the snorkeling trip to witness Steve eating the Sea Urchins egg sack on the way back, a delicacy in Japan we were told – he didn’t think so, and I think it’s put him off going to Japan.

As we had spent all our money for New Zealand on The Rock we had to save whatever pennies we could and were planning on camping at a free campsite that night however while driving there the rain was coming down so fiercely we couldn’t even see to drive and had to pull over, hardy good conditions to be pitching a tent that you didn’t want washed away.  Left with no money and no options we decided we had to just sleep in the car that night which took a fair bit of rearranging as all our possessions were taking up most of the space.  In the end we did manage to get to sleep but little did we know that in the night we were being savagely attacked by a couple of mosquito’s who successfully gave us each at last count 30 bites each leaving us looking like lepers.  We woke up and squished them which just made a mess of the car with our blood splattered all over the windows as part of the carnage but then we had a chance to look out the window and see for the first time where we were, since we had just pulled over in the pitch black the previous night.  We were at a stunning bay with the sun shining brightly again, we took full advantage and had a lovely breakfast on the beach watching early bird surfers be far too energetic for that time in the morning.

We made a move down to another beach along the coast and had a great adventure doing some rock and cave scrambling to reach a place we had heard of called Mermaid Pool which is essentially a gigantic rock pool of crystal clear water, it certainly had something mystical about it, the effort taken to find it just made it more enchanting and it wouldn’t have been a surprise at all to spot a mermaid there on a beautiful day like we had.  From there we drove to Goat Island, a marine reserve where you could spot big fish from the rocks around the beach and we spotted 5 or 6 giant crabs loitering in a rock pool that we precariously dangled the waterproof camera in front of to try to bring you more live footage of our wildlife encounters.  That evening was a sad one as it was our last in our tent, we had a proper feast in celebration – I even made a table cloth and laid the table! 

Finally we entered Auckland, with a bit of trepidation given our past experience of cities.  We had two nights in a hostel here to organize our packing and get ready for the rest of the trip and we really liked it.  The city seemed to have everything just where we wanted it and although we had no money to actually do any of the advised activities/trips around town we had a nice stay and a good wander to take in the atmosphere.  Given so many of the things we have done in this entry are within a couple of hours drive of the city center it really seemed like a good place to live, so it makes sense that over a quarter of the New Zealand population decided to do just that. 

Our final night in New Zealand, we drove to the top of Mt Eden, a dormant volcano in Auckland where you can see into the crater and out over the city in all directions.  We contemplated walking up but it was our last night with Lenny and we didn’t want him to miss out on the view either.  We watched the sunset and lights come out and said our goodbyes to a really great leg of the trip.

Next stop Australia’s East Coast and hopefully some sunshine!

See you there, Lots of Love,

Amy and Shoveling Steve
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