Up the Coromandel

Friday 20 March
We decided on a light-weight expedition to explore the upper part of the Coromandel. So we dug out our camping gear from the different corners of Suzi. It took ages to get ourselves sorted, trying to work out what we’d need for surviving away from Suzi. We finally got away after mid-day, and headed north in the car for a camping weekend. We made a brief sidetrip towards Pauanui to look for Wyn’s mothers childhood farmhouse. It’s there somewhere, we’re just not sure where. We had lunch at Tairua, before more winding roads north. Afternoon tea was snapper in the park at Coromandel, before we carried on past Colville to the Otautu Bay Farm Camp. The charge was $25 which seemed reasonable for the nature of the camp, until we discovered there were no kitchen facilities – even though the book thing had said there was. There wasn’t even a covered sheltered area for cooking. There were hot showers – 3 minutes. It was a windy evening, although still warm. We pitched our little tent and blew up our air bed, and worked out how we were going to cook tea. We did have our tramping cooker, which comes with a wind shelter which was fortunate. The place was almost full of mostly unoccupied caravans set up fairly permanently. The one next to us had a picnic table which we could see they weren’t using at that stage, so we borrowed it to have our tea on. We did a lot of damage to our bottle of wine that was meant to last the weekend – but it did help to settle me down. Soon Wyn had convinced me that our blustery campsite was a fitting start to our Coromandel adventure. There was no romantic sunset on the nearby beach or anything like that. It just got dark and continued to blow. Once we had finished our tea and cleaned up (by torchlight) we fitted ourselves into our tent and that was it for the day.
Port Jackson Saturday 21 March
We’d forgotten to bring cereal so breakfast was hot cross buns and a cup of tea. It was still overcast but warm, and the wind had dropped. We had a walk on the beach, packed up, and headed on north. The road was unsealed from Colville the previous afternoon. It got progressivly windier and narrow, but was never a problem – we always managed to meet other traffic at places there was room to pass. We reached Port Jackson where there is a DOC camp – long-drop toilets and cold showers. We decided to camp here – the camp is beside the beach, which is absolutely stunning. We pitched the tent right beside the beach. There were a lot of people there, including a number of motorhomes. The camp had recently instally a couple of electric BBQs, which we used to cook our lunch on – steak sandwiches. Which we enjoyed in the shade of their new cooking shelter. Then it was time for a swim, and it actually was a swim. The water was warm enough for a bit of a swim up and down the beach – yippee… Later on we drove up the rest of the road to Fletcher Bay. The lookout at the top is one of the most spectacular I have ever seen. There is nothing north but sea and islands, and lots of both of them. It is high up, and the view seems to go forever. The road on to Fletcher Bay is virtually one-way – you just hope that you meet anyone where there is room to pass. And you turn blind corners slowly, hoping that anyone coming the other way is also ready to stop. The road ends at Fletcher Bay which is a narrow stony bay facing north. There is backpackers accommodation, and the start of a walkway over to Stony Bay at the top of the road up the east side. It reminded both of us of bays on the Banks Peninsular Track. We brewed up a coffee and hung around watching the walkers finishing the walk. Eventually we headed back to Port Jackson – happy we’d chosen the best place to camp – we rated it at least 9/10. Tea was an easy one, and the evening was a beautiful one. Another perfect setting, another perfect day.
Back to Katikati Sunday 22 March
We woke to another lovely day. The only trouble through the night had been the noise from the waves breaking on the beach a few metres from our tent. It’s hard to find the perfect place to camp. We were packed up and away early, heading back down the peninsula. The road was still narrow and winding, and we took our time. Back on sealed road, we stopped at the Colville Cafe, for coffee. While there we rang up to book for the Driving Creek Railway, and realised we’d need to get a move on to make the 11.30am train time. We zoomed on down the road, only to get stuck behind someone towing a big boat slowly – who gave no thought to pulling over. We thought we’d just about missed our train time until we got past the boat finally, and made it with a couple of minutes to spare, with some relief. The train is the creation of the potter Barry Brickell, a wonderful bush railway. And a wonderful story of the man who went to the Coromandel to teach at the school, and ended up creating a railway. He is now setting up a predator-free wildlife sanctuary, on top of revegetating his property with natives.
After that we drove down to Coromandel and tried out the snapper at the lower fish and chip shop. Then we made a detour up Road 309 to walk to the kauri grove – well worth the side-trip. There is something aweinspiring about 600-year old trees, and they are just so massive. The day was warm and sunny, and the traffic heavy back on the coast road. We stopped at Te Puru for a swim, the water was a bit discoloured and the wind was getting up, but the swim was refreshing. And it was a bit of a nostalgic swim, being just a couple of bays north of Ngarimu Bay where I lived for my first six years. So this was another swim in Daddy’s Big Bath, aka the Firth of Thames. We drove on through Ngarimu Bay, and past the former Thames North School, and Thames – we sort of did all that a summer ago. We stopped for an icecream at a dairy just south of Thames, then it was on into untravelled road through Paeroa, and through the Karangahake Gorge. We were all ready for some big climb over the Kaimais, and some torturous winding road. Instead there was a sweeping road through a very picturesque river gorge. There is obviously a lot of history and walks there – we’ll have to go back. We zoomed on through Waihi and were soon back at Katikati and home behind the packhouse. We’d covered about 450 kms, and seen lots of new places, and found places we’d like to go back to.

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