Bay of Plenty and Coromandel Peninsula

From National Park village, there’s a pretty long stretch to reach Coromandel Peninsula: it seemed impossible to make the journey in a single day without having my own car. Luckily, a friendly guy from Finistère was driving north and got me as far as Rotorua (yes, that’s where I came from, kind of frustrating). Knowing it would be difficult to hitch out and get to Tauranga before dark, I decided to just get a bus, unfortunately only leaving a few hours later. I eventually arrived in New Zealand’s fifth largest city around seven. Tauranga is Bay of Plenty’s main harbour, and the area gets a lot of sunshine and is famous for its orchards, with kiwifruit, avocado, and other fruit grown in masses but mainly meant for exportation. The kiwifruit here are delicious though, the flavour is a lot richer than after being shipped halfway round the planet.

As a result the hostel I stayed at was a worker’s hostel and it was a bit hard to blend in, since everyone basically knew each other already. I only planned to stay there the one night and carry on to Coromandel Peninsula the next day. I found this in the hostel and thought it was hilarious:

I knew a German guy who was renting a car and driving from Auckland to Whitianga, a small town on the Peninsula and close to the main sights of Coromandel, that day. The plan was to meet him at the backpacker’s and join him the next day for some tourism on remote coast roads where hitchhiking would take forever. To get there, the best solution I found was to first take a bus out of Tauranga for about 60 km towards Auckland, and then hitch for the remaining 100 km. That bus only left around 12:30 so I had time for a short walk up Mount Maunganui, one of the Bay’s icons. It was nice to stretch my legs and get some fresh air before getting on a bus, again, and the views from the top (230 something meters above sea level) were worth the trip.

Then it was back on a bus and soon after back to sticking my thumb out on the side of the road. It ended up being quite easy to reach Whitianga: three lifts, three nationalities (Swiss, South African and local), and around four I got to the hostel, nice and early to settle down and get to know the other guests. Whitianga is a quiet little town on Mercury Bay, probably much more lively in the summer, and the weather there was mild (a pleasant 16-18 degrees, not bad!) and sunny. The hostel wasn’t very busy but had a nice vibe and we all watched the first Lord of the Rings film, on tape please! Took forever to rewind… My German pal and his friend only arrived much later.

With two other Germans (I think Germany has a secret plan to take over New Zealand and sends all its high school graduates there as spies) we decided to get up to see the sunrise on the beach, which happened to be facing north-east, how practical (we’re in the southern hemisphere so the sun is north at noon, I know, it’s confusing). Still half asleep I took a couple of nice pictures and went back to bed, the film was loooong and we didn’t go to sleep that early.

After getting up for the second time that day, we headed off with my travel partners and our tiny rental car. We had two places in mind: Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach.

The first place is named after a wonderful natural arch in a cliff on a beach. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the coastline looked like a postcard picture. We spent a couple of hours walking around altogether, dipping our feet into the ocean and taking photos. The water is about 18 degrees at the moment, so as warm as the warmest it gets in the north of France. Not bad for the end of autumn.

The second place is named after, well, hot water. At this particular beach if you dig into the sand, you’ll stumble upon geothermally heated sources. The trick is to grab a spade and dig yourself a hole, letting some sea water in to achieve an ideal temperature. Amazing. In some places the sand is so hot it burns your feet!

The guys wanted to drive back to Auckland before dark and I had absolutely no intention of spending the night in that city I’d heard so many bad things about. I decided to spend the night in Thames, described in the Lonely Planet guide as a pleasant seaside town with nice backpackers. Well that’s a lie! The place was boring, even depressing. The first backpacker mentioned in the guide had closed, the second wasn’t at all a backpacker but still the cheapest place in town with a room for 95 NZD. Ouch. I should’ve gone to Auckland with the others. The guesthouse didn’t even have wifi included for that price so I spent a while standing outside Mc Donald’s planning my escape the next day: a gruelling nine hour bus journey to the Bay of Islands in the very north of the country.

In the evening, as I was watching another film on tape (I feel like I’ve made a twenty year leap back in time), I met the only other guest of the place, a german lady travelling on her own. The next morning, we drove together to a nice forest for a short walk, and she got me back to Thames on time for my bus, around 1 pm. There was a lot of silver fern on the way: on top it looks like a normal leaf, but if you turn it over you’ll notice its nice shiny colour.

And I left Coromandel Peninsula, without having seen it all.

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