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Our Travels in New Zealand Part 3

Author: Mal Part (More Trip Reviews by Mal Part)
Date of Trip: March 2007

It’s a bit of a disappointment. It’s a nice enough town, but it’s separated from the sea, and lacks the charm of Whitianga. Nevertheless we have a good walk about, and a drive to the close-by bay where commercial fishing boats still operate. In the i-Site we notice that there’s a local narrow-gauge railway that offers rides up into the hills above the town – it’s only $10, so we book ahead and head off for the station.

Well now, this railway is the 20-year hobby of a full-time potter and artist (Barry Bricknell). He surveyed the route, cleared the forest, laid the track, and built the engines and the carriages himself. The route is steep; it winds back and forth over several bridges, under three small tunnels, and ends at a look-out platform about 2000-feet above sea level. I say look-out platform, it’s actually quite a large wooden structure, big enough for the 40-odd people on our train trip, and big enough to act as a wedding venue (we’re told)! Apparently, the railway started life as a way of bringing wood from the hillside and forest back to Bricknell’s house and pottery kiln near the station. But, it got out a bit of hand.

The train’s route is ‘decorated’ with many pieces of large pottery, mostly in terracotta. To my mind, he’s a better railway engineer than he is a potter, but hey, what do I know. To his credit, he’s also planted 3000 native trees on the hillside and had cleared room for them to mature in competition with the introduced species that are there at present. This is major achievement and the whole party is really impressed.

Back at the station, we take the time to look around the pottery, workshops and yard. It’s everything you’d expect – pieces of pottery, wagon wheels, lengths of track, sleepers and strange pieces of ‘art’ everywhere. There’s also one of those multi-directional signposts saying things like “Trains this Way”, Eifel Tower 20,000 miles, and the like. I’m surprised to see that Auckland is there and stated to be 44 km (26 miles) away – by road, I know it’s 110 miles away, so I guess the sign means ‘as the crow flies’.

Back into Coromandel Town and we’re peckish so it’s Fish and Chips again; this time out of newspaper and eaten on a park bench. No fat on the paper again – how do they do that?

Coromandel is a long peninsula running north – south; it’s about 25 miles wide and 60 miles long. The SH-25 runs all around it from Whangamata in the south, east up through Pauanui to Whitianga, across to Coromandel Town and down the west coast to Thames in the south west corner. On most maps, there are only two roads across: the SH25A from Thames to Pauanui, and the SH-25 from Whitianga to Cormandel Town. But, in the LPG they mention “The 309 Road” – it crosses from just south of both Whitianga and Coromandel Town. It’s a much shorter route than the SH-25 and, as luck would have it, there was a free information sheet in the i-Site so I’d picked one up.

The info sheet on The 309 Road talks about a waterfall, a picnic spot and a Kauri Tree “glen”, and Chris is keen to take that route back – “Why go back the way we came?” I didn’t mention that there’s a 10-mile section of The 309 Road that’s not made up – it’s just a gravel track. We set off …..

In reality, even the gravel track is …. okay. No matter how good the road, progress would have been very slow because it’s so hilly and bendy. We were a bit spoilt by the waterfalls at Milford Sound, so the one on The 309 Road is a bit disappointing. But, the Kauri Trees are rather spectacular. Some in the glen are over 600 years old – still youngsters by Kauri Tree standards since a fully mature specimen can be over 2000 years old.

We’re back in Whitianga before 6 o’clock and spend a little time down at the harbour watching the ferry and checking out restaurants. It turns out that neither of us has a big appetite so we resolve to use up the provisions we already have in the apartment – we dine on an apple, cheese, crackers and tea, and I have a microwave steam pudding for dessert.

Day 42 – The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

Again it’s blue skies and a sunny day so we decide to go for a walk.

Whitianga sits on Mercury Bay (so named because James Cook observed a transit of Mercury across the Sun here in 1790), and our motel is on Buffalo Beach (so named because one of Cook’s support ships – HMS Buffalo - sank just off shore). The Whitianga River enters the Bay at one end, and cuts off access to the promontory at that end. A small but very agile ferry crosses the river every 10 minutes or so; drifting the short distance across using either the sea’s current or the river’s as propulsion. We pay the $4 return fare, and we’re at the other side in no time.

A road meanders up and climbs over the promontory and into the next bay (Flaxmill Bay) – it’s deserted except for two Aussies who emerge from the bushes ahead of us. We get talking and they tell us of a pretty bay (Lonely Bay) just across the stream and over the hill – we head off in that direction. However, Chris is worried about the steam we’ve just crossed, “How high does it get when the tide’s in?” she asks. I have no reassuring answer, so we decide to go via the road route then, just as we start off again the skies darken and a drizzle starts. Concluding that this walk is doomed, we head back to a café we’d passed back on the road, order egg and chips and two flat whites, and sit out the rain.

By the time we get back across the estuary on the ferry, the sun’s out again! We decide to sit and watch the boats, half a dozen beach fishermen and the ferry going back and forth. After a spin around the shops for provisions (just wine really), we go back for a quiet afternoon’s reading in the sun (and wind, and rain) deck. DT, our guide at Milford Sound gave us some good advice about NZ’s coastal weather, “Never make a plan” – we’re coming to know exactly what he meant!!!

For the first night in three, we dine out, both of us picking the Moroccan Lamb Cutlets, mash and vegetables. I can’t resist the Bailey’s Bread and Butter Pudding; Chris has Espresso Crème Bruleé - yummy.

Day 43 – Sun and Sea

It’s a wonderfully sunny day, so I ring the fishing guy about getting out on the harbour. But, no luck, he reckons it’s still rough and thinks it will be Friday before he gets out again. Dam – I’d been holding back on fishing until we got to Coromandel, now I can’t get out because of the weather. Nothing for it, we’ll just have to sun ourselves all morning…

We’re in rush to ‘get going’, so we amble down to the harbour and get a cup of coffee. Later, Chris reads while I go and have a chat with the beach fishermen – it’s the nearest I’m going to get to holding a rod. The two I stand next to are up from Wellington for a break. I spend over an hour with them; they catch nothing, but don’t seem to mind and neither do I. Fishing’s like shopping, you don’t have to take anything home to say that you’ve been. By now it’s 5 o’clock so we make our way back to the motel to get ready for our last dinner in New Zealand!!!

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