Cape Palliser to Mount Maunganui

Trip Start Jan 03, 2012
Trip End May 02, 2013

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Where I stayed
Waikawa Campsite
Lake Rerewhakaaitu Campsite

Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Monday, May 7, 2012

Making better time than expected we changed our sleeping venue from a free campsite close to Featherston to another one north of Otaki. Our maps indicated a more direct shortcut via Akatarawa Road versus the longer main highway route.  There were hundreds of tight twists and turns along the narrow 33 km rally driver's dream.  The speed limit signs teased us with numbers impossible to achieve on such a snaking path.  On several occasions it felt like the side of the car would scrape a rock face as we slid past.  And we did all this well after sunset so the road was cloaked in darkness and a thickening mist.  It was right out of a Stephen King novel.  Sylvia tolerated the cold nights better than Jason, the opposite of camping back home, perhaps because we were on the other side of the world.

In the morning we backtracked a bit to check out the Icebreaker outlet we'd passed in Otaki the night before.  Masters of homegrown merino wool they export to Canada as well.  Between there and the Kathmandu outlet across the street we spent a little too much time shopping but also picked up some valuable pieces, including a little tent for use in Australia.  Passing by the rest of the Otaki outlets we were way behind schedule.

With views of the volcanoes along the way we arrived at the Whakapapa Ski Area on Mount Ruapehu in the mid afternoon sun.  With Mount Ngauruhoe (aka Mount Doom) in our sights again we hiked over areas of volcanic rock where Mordor came to life in the films.  The days continued to shorten so we cooked another very early dinner at one campground then drove to the best one we'd been to for a long sleep on four wheels.  Situated on tranquil Lake Rerewhakaaitu it was an ideal place to wake and breakfast.

From there we drove through Rotorua and Tauranga en route to reconnecting with Dave and Sally in Whangamata (pronounced Fangamata because wh = f in New Zealand).  After Jason had driven over 1,000 kilometres in the previous three days Sylvia took the wheel again.  The carnage on the highways continued as we passed more road-kill, some of which were being devoured by opportunistic Keas.  Unfortunately these same birds often place their appetites ahead of their safety and end up becoming road-kill themselves.  They are also well known for being nuisances in New Zealand, eating their way through everything from tents to the rubber around car windows. 

The shimmering South Pacific Ocean re-emerged before us as we descended another winding road through lush forest on steep hills.  Our time in Whangamata felt more like a real vacation.  Jason and Dave swam in the ocean and the four of us threw down a blanket and drank on the beautiful beach.  As the sun fell away we headed back to Sally's aunt and uncle's place to prepare a feast.  Roast beef, roasted potatoes and vegetables, broccoli, blue cheese and more wine made for a great night.

The next morning we got up and gorged again on yogurt, apples, bagels, cream cheese, smoked salmon, eggs, bacon, leftover roast beef and veggies with tea. Feeling well nourished we headed off to explore more of the Coromandel.  Whitianga was our northern limit.  Cloudy skies dampened the view from the beach.  We decided to join the locals digging for clams, or pippies as they call them.  With a full container to add to dinner later we got back on the highway.

Hot Water Beach was our next stop.  In a stunning oceanside setting we dug under the sand to find steaming pools to sit in while the waves crashed and lapped the shoreline a few metres away.  In places like this it pays to know the tide times.  We arrived about an hour after low tide so the water crept slowly closer to our warm tub on the sand.  Eventually the walls gave way and the sea rushed in, cooling the pools rapidly.  Jason ventured out into the cool ocean for a rinse in the pounding surf.

A short drive up the coast followed by a short hike took us to Cathedral Cove, site of an enormous arch cut into the cliffs with a beach of fine sand running underneath it and extending out from both ends.  The waves crashed close to the west end so we had to time our run well in order to get out of the arch and onto the next stretch of sand without getting wet.  A smattering of isolated islands dotting the deep blue sea made for some spectacular scenery.  On the long and winding road back to Mount Maunganui the super moon rose in all its glory, reminding us of Jason's sister Cheryl's wedding on the same occasion in 2011.  We dined at Sally and Dave's place with their friend Lynn who had sailed all the way from Vancouver Island to New Zealand with her husband and two sons ten years earlier.  No matter what we do someone is always doing something far more difficult, scary or dangerous, but most people are living far more civilized lives.

Our last day with the Toyota Opa was spent creatively repacking everything into our bags and shipping another package of gifts to Canada.  The agent at the car rental company was impressed that we'd driven 5,500 kilometres in 24 days and asked if we'd stopped to see anything on the way.  We made a tasty soup, salad and salmon lunch for the four of us and said thank you followed by goodbye and see you in Canada to Dave and Sally.

We walked a short distance into town and waited for the Naked Bus to pick us up.  It had been a long time since we'd taken a bus trip of any substantial length but we were prepared to endure a travel time twice as long as it would have been by car.  The first bus was fairly comfortable so we filtered through our hundreds of photos.  When we transferred in Hamilton and boarded the second bus bound for Auckland we were disappointed to note that it was less roomy than some we'd suffered on in Asia.  The New Zealand mandatory seatbelts on buses law didn't help either.  We ate the sandwiches we'd prepared earlier with apples for dinner en route.  Sylvia napped while Jason seized the opportunity to plug into his tunes for the first time in weeks.  Dylan's 'Like A Rolling Stone' set the tone with "How does it feel, to be on your own, with no direction home" and Groove Armada's 'Little By Little' chimed in with "Perhaps we're on our way, perhaps we've gone too far, perhaps we should slow down, and be where we really are".
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Shelley on

These scenery photos throughout NZ are spectacular. Looks like you've got a lot of wall art options!

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