Sunday, February 20, 2011

Maybe the best hike (updated)

On our second-last day, we were booked for a hike along the Coromandel Coast Path. We started early, leaving on the dot of 7:30 to arrive at Coromandel Town at 9:00. It was a little tense getting there because of the notoriously twisty roads in this part (and many others) of New Zealand. They tease you with signs indicating twisty roads for the next 5 km - what you gradually realize is that they post these signs every 5 km for 25 km.
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We were just a bit late, but the friendly driver and fellow hikers were quite forgiving.

We left Coromandel Town, a funky little place that would be worth a second visit, and headed north along the coast. Soon enough the sealed road ran out, and we were on dirt and gravel. On the left, where I was sitting, were spectacular views down (straight down)


and across the Pacific to the outlying islands, Great Barrier Island, Little Barrier Island, and numerous others.

The coast is lined with iconic pohukutawa trees, ancient and gnarled, which sport red flowers at Christmas time. To kiwis, they’re a symbol of winter holidays on the beach.

The drive itself was, again, spectacular, with crystal clear skies, bright sun, and sparkling blue water. If I sound like a travel brochure, I just can’t help it - it’s that beautiful. Paul, our driver, entertained us with bits of lore. We drove over and along many slips, as they’re called here, where parts of the hillside have slipped down onto the road and on down into the water. A cyclone a few weeks ago did a lot of damage; one of Paul’s neighbors can no longer get to her house via her driveway, since it’s piled feet high with mud and tree roots. She had to have her car winched up and over the hill to get out, and currently she uses a neighbor’s driveway and then walks across to her house.

After about an hour and a half of this, the road just ended. There’s a DoC (Department of Conservation)camp at Fletcher Bay with minimal facilities, a long-drop loo and showers operated by pulling a string and enjoying the water splashing down on to you. From here to Stony Bay there’s just no road. To get to that town, you have to retrace the dirt road down, across and up the eastern side of the peninsula.

There is, however, a track, and that’s what we were heading for. The Coast track, around 4.5 miles long, passes first through farmland,


where we saw some of the cows had headed to the beach for a bit of sun and surf.
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Then the path wound its way up hill, then down to Poole Bay for lunch, back up again and through the bush to Stony Bay.



Our lunch spot reminded us of the Pancake Rocks.
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The views continued to be amazing.


At the end of the trail came a kiwi tradition. There’s always a body of water not too far away from wherever you might be, and you're likely to find New Zealanders swimming in it. At the end of this trail was a stony Pacific beach on our left and a swimming hole with clear, cold water on our right. Everyone shucked down to bathing suits and enjoyed.

Here's the swimming hole
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and here's the beach.

The farmer of the group told us this was a real kiwi tradition, so we felt that we had really had the total experience.

Here are the two of us enjoying the hot drink and biscuit provided at the end of the hike.


The company was good, too. Three kiwi couples, all in their sixties I would guess, all friends though we never did figure out how. The group hiked along more or less together, and we enjoyed the company.

Home along the eastern coast of the Coromandel, with one quick stop at a lookout that turned into a blackberry picking expedition - another kiwi tradition.
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Dinner in a café in town and then the long, long, long trip back along the twisty roads in the dark, the moon covered by clouds and occasional mist and rain to keep the driver on her toes. A great day.

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