We continued north having (finally) picked up new Schwalbe tyres from Bike Barn in Rotorua.
The original plan had been to head to Tauranga, via Matamata, across the Kaimai range. Matamata is effectively Hobbiton. A place where you can visit 'The Shire', have your photo taken in front of 'Bag End' and enjoy a pint in 'The Green Dragon'. It would have been fun, but the thought of being shepherded around a mass-tourist attraction within a strict time frame would have ultimately been frustrating. We therefore changed our plans and decided to avoid the hoards and head down the Waihou River valley to Te Aroha, where we picked up the Haurakai rail trail to Paeroa and on towards Waihi. It was great to be cycling off-road and the scenery, if not spectacular, was thoroughly pleasant. A very relaxing experience! Despite being constantly warned about the quality (or lack thereof) of Kiwi drivers, we've been pleasantly surprised at the attitude towards us on the roads. Only once have we had to shout at a driver...and, unsurprisingly, that was a Chinese tourist!
Our destination, on the rail trail, was a campsite called Dickey Flat where we planned to base ourselves for three days before heading to Thames to meet Pat (Ash's Mum). We cycled out to Waihi where we explored the huge, open-cast gold mine and enjoyed cheap fish and chips, served to us by the most friendly person ever! The campsite (as with most of the DoC sites) was set in a picture postcard location: There were wonderful historic walks to explore through an historic gold mining region. There were often long-dark tunnels to navigate through with head-torches. After what we learnt at Waitomo, we realised that these would provide perfect habitats for gloworms and weren't disappointed when we returned each evening to enjoy the free, starry, spectacle!
We met Pat at the bus stop in Thames and walked the short distance to our thoroughly luxurious accommodation. As with anywhere in New Zealand, no matter how far you have to travel, you can almost guarantee that there will be a hill to climb and by the time we'd dragged ourselves up the hill to the Ocean View B&B, we were exhausted. The views were awesome though and the tea and home baked muffins made on arrival were most welcome!
So, for the next few days we would enjoy wonderful breakfasts, explore some of the Coromandel Peninsula by car and eat some seriously good 'fush and chups'. I suffer from car-narcolepsy (self-diagnosed) which means that I generally fall asleep the instant I get into a car (as a passenger). In a way this was a good thing as it meant I missed most of the scenery that flashed by in a blur and we sped from one location to the next. We would be travelling around the Peninsula on our bikes and, when it comes to discovering a country, the element of surprise is a joy never to be underestimated.
When the time came to return to our bikes, we set out from Thames with the slight concern that Cyclone Lusi was heading towards the North Island, set to wreak havoc. Fortunately we were able to stay two nights in Coromandel Town with the most wonderful people (Sue and Wally). We left feeling thoroughly relaxed, having enjoyed great food, wonderful chats and fun dice games. I think the Lemon Verbena tea may have helped a bit too!
So, with the worst of the weather behind us, we cycled up to Fletcher Bay, at the tip of the peninsula. The campsite was blissfully quiet and we enjoyed the rugged beauty and tranquility of this very special part of New Zealand. From Fletcher Bay, we had to negotiate a 12km coastal walk to Stony Bay. With Clara being particularly heavy and stubborn, I slipped and slid my way across the first section cursing her and our decision to attempt to take fully-laden bikes along this seriously undulating path! Once we reached the first viewpoint, however, I quickly ate my words and quit my whining. The coastline was spectacular: sheer cliffs, turquoise waters and distant islands...and in the course of the four hours to complete the walk, we only met three other people!
Stony Bay was another pretty site to spend a night. Wonderful Pohutakawa trees (think of a cross between English Oak and a gnarled Olive tree) dominated the surroundings and gave it a sense of grandeur and calm. From There, we cycled the short but hilly distance to Waikawau (before our return to Coromandel Town). Another relatively quiet campsite and one of the most handsome beaches we'd seen...ever! We swam in the warm and energetic waters of the Pacific Ocean, ate a delicious dinner and enjoyed an evening stroll along the soft sands watching the wildlife do their thing as the sky turn delicious shades of pink and orange. The following morning, I was back on the beach to watch the sun rise out of the ocean, hampered slightly by the cloud cover, but another memorable moment of solitude and tranquility.
While Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove had been awesome, fun and unique experiences, the three days that we spent doing a loop to the north of Coromandel Town are the ones that will leave a lasting impression.
Sue and Wally housed us for one more night and, as a small token of appreciation Ash and I enjoyed preparing a meal of cheese-stuffed chicken with stuffed, roasted peppers. It was great to be prepare something other than a pasta or rice dish! Sue conjured up a zesty lemon meringue pie to conclude the feast!
Our final experiences of the Peninsula were in the Kauaeranga valley. My body just wanted to rest, but when you've been recommended to do a stunning walk, it's impossible to resist. We trekked through the bush for around 6 hours (return) up to the Pinnacles. It was a reasonably challenging walk, but worth every bead of sweat! When we reached the summit at 760ish m we could see for miles: both East and West coasts and the green carpet of undulating mountains to the North. Fab-u-lous! Of course, our legs ached for the next three days, but we don't want to miss out on any of the great opportunities whilst we're here, they may not come again. Life is for living, I'll rest when I'm dead!
We now find ourselves in Piha, one of the great surfing beaches of New Zealand. A perfect place to relax before we return to Auckland to catch our flight home. The three days that it took to cycle here from Kauaeranga were very pleasant and crossing the city was a breeze (who needs sat nav or GPS when you have an Ashley?!).
The reality of our trip's end has well and truly hit home. By no means am I sad. It's been an incredible way to spend a year (and a bit), but I'm excited to be returning home to see friends and family and discover what adventures the next chapter of my life has in store.
Next time I write, I will be at home and reflecting on the craziness of the final stage of our journey back to 'The Shire'.
Love and hugs. X