“Did you see it? Was it still there? So awesome! I mean so awesome!” A young American guy shouts at his friend as she gets up from the water. She takes off her mask and fins and smiles widely, “Yeah, it was amazing! I have never seen a ray before”.
On the east side of the Coromandel peninsula is a town called Hahei. It is a small one, but somehow it feels bigger than Coromandel town which on the map is about three times larger. Maybe it is the amount of tourists that come and go. The tourist magnet is the Cathedral Cove. The cove, familiar to some from the Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, is only a short walk away from the town.
The view from the path
the sea is blue and turquoise
Signs in the beginning of the path give an estimate of 1.5 hours to the Cove. Maybe it takes that long with high heels and a walking stick, but an average person gets there faster. Sturdy, partly paved path climbs over the hill and follows the shoreline. The path passes by two smaller beaches which are recommended snorkelling spots. We stop by the Gemstone bay. It is a boulder beach, not very comfortable for sun bathing, but interesting below the surface. It is within the Whanganui-A-Hei marine reserve which protects the marine ecosystems on the area. The signs on the shore as well as on the buoys on the water have information on the habitats and the species found underwater.
Water is surprisingly cold, the winds have been bringing colder water in recently, but after the first shock the body gets used to it. We hired snorkelling gear form the local diving shop for the day ~25AUD/set. Green and blue, big fish, small fish, striped fish, funny fin fish… Plants and sea urchins. And then I see it. A dark blue stingray glides underneath me. It swims slowly making a big circle. I follow it. Stingrays don’t sting unless they are annoyed. But still, creepy. And so beautiful.
You can walk through the cove
Nice and quiet beach
The other beach before Cathedral Cove is called Stingray Bay. Now I get the name. The idea of being surrounded by a whole bunch of rays is a bit nerving so we continue straight to the Cathedral Cove. High smooth walls arch towards each other creating a triangle shaped walk-through cove. The sea on the other side sparkles and the silky sand slides underneath toes. Long beaches on both sides of the cove are dotted with people sunbathing, swimming and taking photos. Despite the people, the area is calm. No loud noises, no bright signs. No shops, no cafes. Just nature. Stingrays have chosen a good place to chill.
The drop to the ocean on the left is over 20 meters. A few straws of hay play the part of a fence in between the drop and the skinny road. A hasty Audi driver takes over a truck between the curves. This is the Coromandel. The roads are very scenic yet very chilling. And they get even better. Only one lane left and no pavement. Curly ribbon road follows the steep mountain slopes up and down. Speed limit 100km/h. Remember to keep left and try to stay on the road.
Coromandel peninsula is a beautiful holiday destination the New Zealanders, followed by tourists, like to go for a weekend. It is about 1.5 hour drive away from Auckland. There are no busses (although there are few ferries to Auckland) so hiring a car is the best option. Roads might feel a bit hazardous but nothing forbids driving slowly. If you hire a car, keep in mind that you have to have a driving license that is accepted in NZ. That is, the license should be in english or accompanied by an international driving license or a translation.
Coromandel town is a small town. At first it seems poor and run down; some other towns we drive through while in the Coromandel are lot more attractive. Thames for example is a western style old gold mining town with lots of cafes and interesting looking inns. However, Coromandel town does get busier on the weekend. There are a few restaurants and a grocery store and the Top 10 Holiday Park where we stayed was fine and not too expensive. Most of all, it is located nicely in the middle of the Coromandel so it is easy to plan day trips to all over the peninsula.
The serpentine gravel road we are driving leads to the northern tip of the peninsula. It ends at the Stony Bay campsite. The other end of the road is 11km away at the Fletcher Bay campsite. Coromandel Coastal Walkway is a nice moderate hike along the coast. The path starts to follow the coast within a half shaded forest of green firths and thin, long trees. The later part of the trail wanders on the grassy hills among the cows. The ocean is always near and if you are lucky you might see a whale or a dolphin there. At least that’s what the procedures say.
There are drop off – pick up tours available, where you walk only one way, available from Coromandel town. But if you are on your own you have to return to the beginning by foot. 22 km in a mostly flat terrain is doable and requires only good shoes and enough water and food (no drinking water available at the campsites). Of course you can always decide to walk the track halfway and turn back then, or camp at the other campsite. But do not use all your energy and the daylight on the walk if you have to drive home! The roads do not get any better while you are walking. Even though the park ranger at the Stony Bay said that driving in the dark is all right because it is easy to see the other cars, I would not try that. I’m more keen on seeing where the road goes.
Fastfood restaurants and traffic lights are the current reality of Auckland. Queen street is lined with fashion clothing stores and the harbour hosts huge, shiny boats. However, modern Auckland is lot more. A great way to explore the city is by bike. You can get away from the very centre of the city without being restricted by Hop on Hop off bus timetables and routes. Bikes can be hired from local shops for approx 40AUD/day (Adventure Capital).
A pleasant bike route from the centre to Mission Bay follows the curvy shoreline. Tamaki Drive promenade is an easy and safe route as it has a separate bike lane from the beginning to the end. Bike travels effortlessly on the flat ground and there is time to admire the sea views. Approximately 8 km route leads to a sandy beach. Perhaps there happens to be a craft faire when you get there. Rows of small tents filled with useful and useless things, people marvelling the strange products and kids playing in the water fountain. Even without the faire it is a nice place for a swim and a picnic.
Busy day at the beach
Craft and food stands fill the field
Bike is an easy way to get around the city and to the places like Domain and Mount Eden as well. Auckland Domain is a green park where old trees, calm pathways, and grassy fields surround the Auckland Museum. Families with kids, old couples and a locals feeding the swans and ducks. This park could be anywhere in Europe. It is a destination for a sunny day as well as a rainy day.
The Eden, despite its name, is far from a green and lush paradise. It is one of the many volcanos in Auckland. It’s bare slopes and crater are covered mostly by grass, but the view to the city is great. You can see the whole of Auckland and both oceans surrounding it. The path is quite steep so it might be wise to lock the bikes underneath the hill and walk to the top.
Mt Eden overlooks the city
Hot day with a breeze is goof for kites
Both destinations are located uphill above the city centre. That means that you will get familiar with the hills. Taking the straightest and the steepest road up might not be the best idea (although you’ll get a great ride down on a street like that!). Wondering a bit is good and might take you to unexpected places and enables you to see real neighbourhoods where local people live. Might even spot a house which has a baby doll sized superhero character standing on every window! I’m sure no tourist info will tell you a way to that house.
His eyes are about to pop, the tongue is hanging out and a roar shakes the whole body. People stare at him. Him and the ten other men on the stage making similar faces to the audience that sits on bright coloured beanbags taking photos. Meanwhile two carvers continue decorating wooden statues and a man is getting his shoulder covered with traditional tattoos. What could be a better way to start a trip in New Zealand than arriving in the middle of a Maori Heritage Festival?
Visitors can try waka rowing
Festival has a good variety of performances
Tāmaki Herenga Waka is a three day culture festival held in Auckland’s waterfront. It offers a peak into the history of the New Zealand. Maori music, kapa haka performances, story telling, weaving, crafts and more… Young maori explains the story behind the facial tattoo, moko, and the general meaning of tattoos in different parts of the face and the body. His squirly tattoos on the back and shoulders represent his family history. The visitors can get their own temporary moko. Men with full face paint and women with chin decoration and blackened lips wander around Auckland. Furious looking children hold their parents hands and lip-shape bruises appear on the cheeks of the babies.
The festival covers the ancient culture of the island but the modern New Zealand is quite different. Few weeks will not be enough to explore the whole NZ but I’ll try to make the most of it.
(Thanks to the poor internet connection this post is about a week late already)