All 5 entries tagged Coromandel

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January 05, 2007

Travelling Again

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12th-14th December – Fletchers Bay

Travelling again, what can I say? The scenery towards the Coromandel was as beautiful as always, it helped that the sun had come along for the journey and we were still fresh from our initial rest back in Auckland. The only real difference I can muster is that the waters were greener here, and maybe the beaches were brighter.

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After a burger stop in Thames, we paused briefly in the strange town of Coromandel, which had a fake air of tourist-ness about it, with Cowboy western style billboards above the shops and it was almost too clean for a town that was almost nowhere. It was pleasant enough, it just didn’t seem like this was how the town had always existed, and any original charm had been laminated and painted over in bright primary colours. We moved on, past the collection of homes called Colville and on to a real unsealed coastal road, towards the very tip of the peninsula. There were old Pohutakawa trees (another one for the Kiwi encyclopaedia) lining the side of the road, hungover with their wrinkly branches, almost sculpture like in some of their appearances. Goats and bulls idly appreciating the view with us as we passed by. Stony bay after stony bay passed until we eventually headed inland, up through the valleys where these gorgeous trees were in blossom, their strong red flowers really an amazing sight. It’s hard to keep describing things here without falling back on my key words of surreal and crazy or Microsoft Word’s various synonyms.

We made it down to the furthest bay accessible from the west, Fletcher’s Bay, a quiet campsite in the middle of a bay between two large hillsides. First thing’s first, as was dictated by the agreement we made before our journey, we have to get the campchairs out, line them up facing the sea, and open can of beer. Marvellous. Perfect. Life of Riley (and whatever other Lightning Seeds hits you can think of). The best agreement I could ever hope to make anyway.

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The order has to go like this, beer, tents, food. By the time we began to prepare the food, the light was fading and the wind began to pick up, but more on that later. The sky was clear, and stars began turning up as we munched on our Salami Tikka Pasta (don’t ask). Not quite as brilliant as the Pinnacles view, but getting there. In the distance you could just about see Great Barrier Island while the light still lasted, seeming to be only minutes away before remembering the bloody 5-hour barge we had to endure. I should mention that my Australian friend Jono let me borrow his tent (although how I’m going to get it back to him I don’t know), and it’s been a godsend, easy to use and hopefully will last the whole summer. Unfortunately on this maiden adventure, I completely ignored where the wind was blowing and put the tent up in a random direction. The wrong direction. All night the wind battered the side of the one-pole tent and pretty much inverted the shape of the thing, with me still inside. I did eventually get bored of having a tent as a second sleeping bag, and rotated it at something like 3 a.m., when the stars really came out.

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It wasn’t a pleasant morning after, but jumping in the sea as a primary activity definitely made it fresh. Our goal was to complete the Coromandel Peninsula walkway loop of about 6 hours, so naturally we got up as late as possible, and began just as a scout group were arriving in from the other side at Stony Bay. The walk began in English farmland, sheep and cows what sheep and cows do, all over the hillsides. The wind picked up and Jens almost lost his hat amongst the fields. Mine was firmly wedged on my head. Further along there was this rather fancy toilet that for some odd reason looked abandoned, but it sure beats that one in Trainspotting. Over the top of the peninsula, the English surroundings gave way to jungle like flora, leading down by steep rock paths that were supposedly called a mountain bike track. After passing a stream, the jungle gave way back to farmland, and more Pohutakawa sculptures lining the path. And suddenly, we were at Stony Bay, and it was a pretty accurate description. Again more sheep (or ‘sheeps’ according to Jens, just like ‘fishes’) hung around for our lunch, some accompanied by riding gulls. Jonas spent about 20 minutes throwing sticks in various directions in an attempt to herd some sheep together for a group photo, unfortunately now without bird partners, but the result is quite sweet.

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Coromandel2 1Leaving the picnic area, and heading back on the coastal route, we passed a kid travelling with his grandpa. It was quite an amusing return back to those trips when you young, completely deferent to whatever was going on around you and just concentrating on when you were going to be ‘there’, wherever there was, and generally being a pain in the ass. Haha, I can’t say I never feel like that now, but right now I was just enjoying the ever-changing surroundings between jungle and forest as we made our way around the hills we had spent the early afternoon trekking over. For that reason it took a similar time, a longer but easier path, with various sidepaths showing off the clifftop views. I have to mention not having a camera is still a pain, because I’d have to wait every five minutes whilst Jens or Jonas or both of them were fiddling around with settings and lenses trying to catch a good photo. It is definitely worth taking the time though because if you’re going to capture it somehow, it may as well be decent.

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The sun began its descent and we just made it back in time to cook dinner in light. That wasn’t before a very cold shower in the outdoor cubicles, not quite sending me numb, but bloody cold nonetheless. My tent newly orientated, the wind didn’t quite make a mess as the night before, and I managed to get a bit more sleep before we arose to peanut butter and jam sandwiches (umm, just jam for me thanks) and kiwi fruits for breakfast. We had to travel the road (or track might be a more appropriate term) we came in on, but at least we managed to dodge the owner from collaring us for our second night’s fees. We were now on our way down the east coast of the Coromandel peninsula, and heading for whatever we could find by the time it was dark…

_Damnit, whoever screwed up the centring of images needs a slap :( _


August 12, 2006

There and Back Again (Part 4)

So here we are at the final part of this way too long expedition. I hope it was worthwhile reading about it, because I'm enjoying recounting some of the happenings. The Road to Rotorua is next after this...hopefully written before the next adventure begins...

The Return of the Car (and other stories) : Part 3b

Coromandel

The morning after photo is a much less jovial affair than the 'before the five hour hike and heavy drinking' photo, but we all have made it through the night without any casualties. More pasta (although this time with pesto) is cooked up although I'm grateful I actually have a tin of beans and sausages to shovel down as well. The running water isn't the most pleasant thing going so it has to be boiled before we can fill out our hiking bottles (which now smell of rum). The water turns out yellow due to the old iron kettle we're using. I reluctantly take a sip. Mmmm metallic. Josh isn't fazed by this, happily filling up an empty coke bottle with the remainder.

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The party moves off from the hut at ten, the other guests have long disappeared (or hidden). It's probably for the best that we didn't see them. Fifteen minutes later, and I'm beginning to regret that I hadn't swapped some of the beer bottles for water bottles, as my stomach is groaning a little at the pounding it took in the night. Also add to that the fact that we have to carry all the empty bottles back down the hill (I don't think the garbage vans can fit up the path) just makes the walk a little more harsh.

Fortunately though, we reach a stream, and the water running across the rocks is very clear, very cold, and very refreshing. The yellow iron water is dispensed with, and there's great relief to fill up (and wash out) the water bottles with something fresh. Feeling better now, we find signs to an apparently shorter path down the hill, but it leads into more jungle–y territory. I'd never have thought going downhill was going to be hard, but the steps cut into the hill are large and it's tough on the aching knees. Luckily, the scenery is reminiscent of something out of Jurassic Park, with suspension bridges and waterfalls and more of these surreal landscape. We must cross the river about ten times on the way down, each time a little different.

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The dirt track is finally sighted, a mere two hours down from the aforementioned stream. I'm quite sure though that if we had taken this route up to the peak, it would've been a much harder haul than the previous day's efforts. Either way, we repack the cars (although somehow it is more full…I didn't understand that) and head back down the road towards civilisation… and McDonalds.

After two huge meals of pasta, it was a relief to get some actual meat down the gullet (well, as close as possible to meat). All driving duties had been passed to Matt, so my battered shoes could also have a little respite.

The plan was to take a drive across to the other side of the peninsula to the picturesque Cathedral Cove, then head off to 'Hot Water Beach'. The aim is to dig a hole in the beach at low tide, where bubbling hot water rises up in a jacuzzi like fashion. This sounded rather good, so we headed off without further ado (well, a toilet stop was also in order).

The drive across the peninsula was reminiscent of the hike, miles of felled forest and young jungle winding inbetween the peaks of the hills around. A short nap later, and we spot signs for our destination.

Stingray Bay

The clouds are heading in as we make our way down the path to Cathedral Cove. The first area is called Stingray Bay, and it's a beautiful little beach with a huge cavern at one side. We climb over all the rocks and seaweed to reach the cave, full of sea anaemones and little crabs. Stephan finds an injured bird hobbling around, and tries to help it to fly again. It's not going anywhere though, and unfortunately he has to let it go to stumble around again.

Stingray BayStingray Bay

The water is so clear here, it's so strange to be able to see so far into the water despite the fading light. I skim stones for a while, but we realise time is getting short with the rest of the sunlight. The trip to the glorious hot water beach is now out of the question, because Alex insists we have to see Cathedral Cove. It's a tough decision, with some voices of dissent around the camp, but a consensus is reached that we will probably return to Coromandel another day. So we can see the rest of the coastline and stop off with ample digging time to enjoy the hot water beach properly (and in daylight).

Cathedral Cove

So we stumble onwards, another thirty minutes down the path, to the spectacle that is Cathedral Cove. It's two beaches connected by a huge sea sculpted cave, and it's an impressive place to behold. The vastness of both cove and the surrounding white cliffs make the whole area a tranquil experience. So much so, that I spend about half an hour sat on the sand, gazing out to sea. The lack of tourists, open sea, and scenery adding to just a serene moment to just sit and think. Even the overcast weather doesn't spoil the atmosphere (although it spoils the photos), and it doesn't dampen the spirits of Rodrigo, Shaun, Lars, Alex, Stephan and Sandra, who decided that in the lack of a hot water beach, they would just go for a quick dip in the sea. Of course, it is freezing, and my tranquil sitting is cut short by a frantic Rodrigo belting it down the beach into the water, only to come running out moments later. I don't know how they manage it, but the rest don't seem too perturbed by the bitter cold (well, for at least five minutes anyway).

By the time everyone has dried off, the night is moving in fast, and we hurry back to the cars for the journey home. Florian is given driving duties, and we get to learn that Germans like to drive fast. There are a few scares, but the fact that a German driving licence is one of the hardest to get (after Iceland I think) meant that we were in more than capable hands. It's decidedly late (eleven pee em) when we reach the railway campus again, but we return the vehicles (albeit a little dirtier and battered than they started out, but no worry) and I grab a well earned shower as some sort of closure to the whole weekend…

Cathedral CoveCathedral Cove

It was a great first expedition out to see the country, and I'm glad that there are so many friends I can travel the country with. There are probably more interesting ways to say what I've said, but I hope it was interesting to read, or at least to see. I'm still new to the whole blogging thing, but I think I'm getting better at putting experience into words with each little (or large) post. Ahh well, here's to the next one… Rotorua!


August 08, 2006

There and Back Again (Part 3)

Back to last weekend. I've split this section into two parts. The next section will perhaps be more photo-laden of the day after. But this one details our night...

Part 3a: The Return of the Car (and other stories)

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The hut is an interesting affair, it can hold 80 people in it's two dormitories, but currently there are no more than fifteen others as we arrive for the second time. The sun is no where to be seen, and it is getting very dark and very cold. We quickly set up the mattresses, lay out our sheets, and make a beeline to the very warm kitchen.

Hut Kitchen

I don't know if there is some sort of psychic understanding within the group, but apparently everyone has brought pasta. And pasta sauce. Two huge pans of water are set upon the bunsen burner style gas stoves and a third monstrosity mixes the team's many jars of sauce and tuna. It's going to be a monster meal and no mistake. Of course, we have to wait. The bottles are uncovered, and throats are refreshed. Alex hands around his special vodka concoction to be swilled along with a cocktail of sorts. If I wasn't warm before, I definitely am now. The pasta rises to a boil and the sauce is heated and stirred. The remaining guests at the hut seem a little wary of us, so we joke mutter 'bloody students' to each other as the food is finished.

Which gives rise to a problem. Did anyone bring plates? Err… no.

It's a conclusion that some people come to more quickly than others. And it's not long before all the remaining pan lids, left behind paper plates and unused pans are snapped up for the feast. Cutlery is a much sparser affair, I manage to grab a plastic spoon, but later am goaded by Josh with his unbelieveable discovery of a fork. Git.

The food is wolfed down and enjoyed. I don't know if people want to use the same method for making a pasta dish, but it involves 5 different varieties of Dolmio sauce, 5 packs of spaghetti, several tins of tuna and tomatoes… and a little group lovin'.

It's barely six o'clock, but it's pitch dark outside. A wander up the stairs out from under the hut's outdoor area reveals the most beautiful night sky I've ever seen. Away from the city pollution, high up a mountain, we have the most perfect view of the stars we could've hoped for. The Milky Way stretches out in a cloudy arc right above our heads, and everywhere bright and faint stars twinkle. I can't recognise any constellations, and don't expect to. It seems a strange thought that it's not the sky you are used to, wandering home from the pub at 2 am. No Great Bear, no Orion (at least not today), but lots of wonder. If it wasn't for the enveloping cold I would've slept there on the veranda, it was so gorgeous. I believe Alex and Matt have attempted some pictures of the spectacle (their cameras were fancy, with long exposure times) so I will attempt to acquire them if possible, as it was fantastic.

Coromandel

I've quite happily consumed three bottles of beer so far. Our rum is untouched, but not for long. Rodrigo, now self–appointed 'drinking instructor', harries us all around to two benches in a covered area outside of the hut for his special drinking game. We're a rowdy bunch getting together, but somehow we manage it. Two sets of cards are accrued, and three cards dealt out to each person. He assures us it's simple, and it is. It also turns out to be very, very successful.

A triangle of face–down cards are dealt down in the middle of the benches, each row represents the number of shots, and even row means you can nominate, and odd row means for yourself. If you have two cards that match in a particular row… unlucky. The 'drinking instructor' cries out comedic calls of 'focus!' as he turns over the first card. Our partners in crime sat opposite me and Josh are Lars and Shaun. They are both German, but Shaun has an amazing Irish accent from living there for some number of years. I almost have to double–take each time he slips to and from it (usually when he's swearing).

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Lars has an unfortunate start in the game, matching the first two overturned cards, resulting in some apple–tinged vodka (yeh, I didn't understand it either). Shots of whiskey, vodka and wine (for the ladies, if they wish) are dealt out for the first row of cards as the game begins to make headway. I make the rather foolish choice of nominating myself in the second round, due to my lack of participation, and it's not long before the rum is really flowing (or spilling) around the table. A World War conflict starts up between the Dutch girls (who team up with a random South African we meet) and me, Josh and our German pals. Back and forth the shots arrive, Rodrigo making sure (by interrogation torchlight) that we take our punishments. Matt lands an unlucky near the top of the pyramid, taking five shots in one go, but when it comes to the final card. Josh is picked out for seven. As part of the New German Alliance, our team decides to take one each to lessen the pain. Although any sort of feeling is starting to get numb. The general consensus is that everyone both won and lost, and also that it's bloody cold outside and we should move indoors. The time is only ten p.m.

The kitchen is warm, but the drinking games continue. I pour myself a mixture of rum and coke into my empty water bottle with what's remaining after the devestating game. There's some vague recollection of that 'tap hands on the table' game, but I find myself stumbling to bed not so soon after. Later on I find out about the German contingent singing Army songs, I'm not sure if I should feel like I missed out or not.

I wake up to find the rum and coke bottle empty. I am not surprised.


August 04, 2006

There and Back Again (Part 2)

If you haven't read the first one, look below this post

Part 2: The Two Pinnacles

Coromandel

So, we are heading up the mountain, and just past the car park we reach our first river crossing with no bridge… great. Luckily, my years of hiking and training (being stupid in forests) helps me navigate the stepping rocks with relative ease. No casualties so far, but we're only a few metres in.

Coromandel

The whole mountain used to be a forest of large Kauri trees, which were consequently cut down in the early 20th century. This means the forest we enter now is young, and full of different vegetation that makes the whole experience very cinematic, almost as if this place was manufactured to be so extraordinary. Of course, when you're here, it doesn't matter, because you are in this extraordinary place. Throughout the course of this hike, we move through forest, jungle, grassland and rocky riverland. The photos don't really do the whole area justice (do they ever?) but they give a pretty good idea of this crazyness. The photo shows some of the remaining (but dead) Kauri trees sticking out of the new vegetation. When you get out from under the taller trees you can see it's a graveyard in some areas.

Coromandel

The last photo is taken an hour up the mountain. The river you see is where we actually cross at the start of the hike. It's an hour that is very steep and very hard. Looking back, it's a good job it came at the beginning, because I don't think I'd have made it if it was near the end. After such a tough beginning, we decide to lighten the load a little with some cold beverages.

Coromandel

So, we're an hour in and the going gets a little easier, not just from the alcohol, but the area is less steep and easier on the feet. However it's not long before we cross another river and I finally get a foot wet. It's not too deep, and the sun is warm, so the result is not too disturbing for too long. Apparently, the loggers used to build dams across these rivers, build up a large head of water, and flood the river down the mountain so they could just fire the logs down quickly. There's no flooding right now, but to give you an idea of how large these Kauri trees are, we found this hollowed out shell a little further up the path. They must have been very determined.

Coromandel

A few minutes later, and we can see the peak(s) we've been trying to reach. The views are getting more and more spectacular, each little hill showing a little more of the surrounding area, and even the sea surrounding the peninsula. However, we're still at least an hour away from the Pinnacle's hut, and Alex (through delusion or pure madness) starts chugging shots straight from his bottle of vodka. More beers are downed, and a sign displaying an hour left gives us the boost to tackle the final slopes. The rocky path turns into something man–made, and I can finally see the hut in sight.

The Two Pinnacles

You can see the sun is beginning to cast huge shadows as it sets behind some of the smaller peaks behind us, so we have to hurry to catch the sunset. The hut is well equipped despite being on top of a mountain but we have no time to waste as there's another 45 minute trek up to the very tip of this area. With our bags laid to rest the remaining path seems relatively simple, but then the steps begin. I pass over 400 before we even get close to the peak. The remaining climb is fun, ladders and hand holds have been engineered into the rocks, and the last ascent is done purely on adrenaline as the views around unfold themselves.

Coromandel

The timing is perfect, just as the last person arrives at the top, the sun is beginnning to make it's descent around the mountain. We catch the last rays with a beer in hand and high spirits all round. Josh brings out his $30 cigar for such a momentous occasion. I'll round out this post with a few of the jolly pictures from around the party.

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Phew.

It's a spectacular feeling, and you just have to sit still for at least a few minutes to take it all in. Somehow, I get the feeling that this is what I came here for (and it's not just the alcohol… I think). It'd be possible to just sit here for hours on end contemplating any or all of life's mysteries, but as the sun finishes setting, the cold sets in, reminding us we need to head back to the hut, and a night of a little celebration..

Part 3 : The Return of the ...uhh. Car?

I've somehow managed to break the gallery system so I don't know what's going to happen there. I think I'm also gonna have to split the next part in to two again, because there's still a lot to get through. I'm off to Rotorua tomorrow morning (at seven, yeesh!) so I'll be playing catch up for the next week. I should really spend less time playing table-tennis, it's not like I can beat anybody here...


August 02, 2006

There and Back Again

I'm sorry about the serious lack of photos in this post, it's just I was driving, and my camera was in the boot. With low battery. I've yet to collate everyone else's photos yet. They'll appear when I do, so enjoy the supreme quality writing while you wait

Part 1: The Forming of the Fellowship

Josh and I are innocently making lunch on the Friday afternoon in the halls, where we meet Roderigo, the friendly Chilean, who instantly comes up to each of us (as with almost every time we meet) for a strong handshake. We're not really planning to do anything with the weekend, because I have no money, and Josh is too lazy to organise anything, but Roderigo tells us of a weekend trip some people are making to the Coromandel peninsula and offers us to come along. All I hear are mentions of 'hot springs', 'drinking' and 'sunset on top of a mountain' as he works his innocent way around the English language. Immediately I think 'Sod it', ask Josh to lend me whatever money it takes and we agree to go instantly. I head off to catch the rental company before it closes to book a car, and also realise that we have to find three other people to join us so we don't have to pay through our noses for the whole thing.

Luckily, it turns it out it's never as hard as it seems.

Evening inevitably arrives and I decide that the best place to make friends with random strangers, is the kitchen. Armed with pasta and fish, I take my place in the middle of some people and start cooking. Immediately, the guy next to me says 'So, you're not German then?' after hearing me speak and then we spark up a conversation. After a few more minutes of idle chatter (the common trilogy of name/home/course – they'll end up giving us badges one of these days), I pop the question, 'So, are you doing anything this weekend?'. And lo, Matt, the sarcastic Yorkshireman was added to our meddling crew. Two beers later over dinner, and a few fruitless chats to more randomers later, we aquire a third travelling companion, and the first of the Germans to be introduced. Simon actually came up to us and asked, making our lives doubly easier and our car now has a healthy passenger total of four.

The subject of alcohol comes up (funny that…us being students and everything), and we all decide some high spirits are in order. Oddly, the local supermarket (the handily–titled 'Foodtown') stocks beer and wine, but not spirits, so we head out to a little liquor store further on to acquire some beer and rum. Captain Morgan's (not spiced) is apparently the weapon of choice. We agree to meet up at 8:45 the next morning to head out to the car rental place and begin our journey.

That evening, I end up playing table–tennis till two in the morning with Stefan, Alex and Florian, three more people joining the journey. Florian makes our fifth passenger, and our second German (they're everywhere by now). Waking up at eight is a considerably hard task, but we manage to assemble in the hall with our package and alcohol without too much hassle. Without any kind of sleeping bag, Josh and I lash our cheap duvets ($20!) to the back of the backpacks with audio cables and head off to the car rental place with the others.

Being the only driver over 21 that has ever driven on the left before, I'm designated to be the first driver to navigate the roads. We have a white 5–door Nissan, with an automatic gearbox. I've never driven an automatic before, but as expected, it takes about 2 minutes to learn (after a couple of lurches of course). It's not a bad runner, but frustratingly, the indicator arm is on the opposite side of the wheel, causing unexpected alarm when the wipers blast on as I'm turning out of the rental area. A stop–off for petrol later, and Sandra (or Little Miss Schumacher as her nickname came to be known) is leading us out of Auckland on the motorway, as their car houses Alex, the well–travelled American, and the only one who actually knows where we are going and what we are doing.

Coromandel

There are only 3 motorways in New Zealand, and they aren't very long. The motorway out of Auckland lasts about 50km, then turns into single winding carriageway around the barren hills towards our destination. New Zealanders, not needing any insurance, and having a penchant for inventing really stupid things (i.e. bungee jumping), are not the most safe drivers in the world. Luckily, this only occurs during our journey at a safe viewing distance, as a speeding car narrowly overtakes two cars in front approaching a blind bend. Apart from that, the drive is fine, and an hour later we reach the Coromandel range. We collect our tickets to stay at the hut at the peak and head off down a dirt track further up the slopes. When we finally reach the car park, we examine a sign: 'Pinnacles Hut – 4 hrs' leading down a trail in to the forest. Nieve me thought that we were stopping only steps away from the hut, and only brought his normal shoes along. Suddenly bringing so much booze seems like not a brilliant idea after all. We rally around a group photograph (that I still need to get off Alex), Matt straps a 15–case to his backpack, the rest of the bottles are distributed around, and we head off up the mountain. The weather seems fine and the spirits are high (and many) so this shouldn't be too bad…

Coromandel

Part 2: The Two Pinnacles coming soon!


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