Pronounce it “Cor-o-MEN-dull”, which we still can’t instinctively do on cue.
After leaving Auckland, our first stop on the way towards the Coromandel Penninsula was a day hike in the Karangahake Gorge. Once a bustling mining area, now the surrounding area mostly just draws hikers and curious travelers. We hiked the Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway, beginning through a 1km+ old railroad tunnel, and then continuing along a lazy, dusty path. We turned around after a few kilometers when we realized the hike would not get too much more interesting, and explored some additional trails closer to the start. We saw the remains of old mining facilities, old rail tracks used for transporting the ore, and climbed through some old tunnels. When there wasn’t much left to explore, I turned around to enjoy some time resting back at the park near the start point while Nate continued on. He came across a few more tunnels, and a startling surprise: when he turned off his
flashlight torch, he found three little green lights above him: glowworms! Though we’d take a guided tour to see thousands of these guys in a few days time, seeing them in such a secluded spot on his own was an awesome surprise.
We did the Karangahake hike on the way to stay in Thames for a few days, since the weather looked clearer on our travel day than in the days ahead, which meant we had a few rainy days to relax in Thames with our awesome Airbnb host, Estelle. Her house was situated right near a rocky beach facing west and we enjoyed several sunsets looking out over the vast bay in awe, chats with her and her friend about politics and the rules of cricket, and even a home-cooked meal by Estelle herself. It was just the respite we needed!
When the weather cleared in Thames, we did the Pinnacles Track, which I had been especially looking forward to. It was a worthy challenge, and I did not emerge without some considerable bumps and bruises, but it afforded us an incredible view and some new friends.
On our way to our next destination, we decided to check out Cathedral Cove. The small parking lot at the start of the 45 minute hike to the cove was full, so we parked a few miles away and took a shuttle for $10. Seeing as how we haven’t had to pay admission to any national park or trail yet after a month of traveling, we weren’t too perturbed to fork it over unexpectedly. Most all of New Zealand’s parks are completely free.
Why did we pick Cathedral Cove as a side trip? The photos can probably answer that pretty well.
After our stay in Thames, we drove northeast to Whitianga (Pronounced: Fitty-AN-ga), where we had booked a room in a hostel. In travel, you never quite know what you’re getting, so we have learned to lower our expectations for everything. Whitianga was more awesome than we could have imagined! Our hostel was adorable, old but well-maintained, and you could walk right across the street onto a gorgeous beach. And upon check-in, we learned that they just had a private suite open up! So for the same price as a double room, we also got a private kitchen, bath, and living room, too! Total jackpot moment. We cooked dinner (without having to work around anyone else!), and ate on our picnic table, enjoying the salty breeze and sunset.
During our first evening there, we decided to take advantage of the daylight and have a stroll on the beach. We ended up walking its length, talking through some recent relational challenges with friendships and acquaintances and how to handle them lovingly and intentionally. It dawned on me just how special that moment, and this year, truly is. If this was some weeknight in Boston, we would never have the time for a stroll or likely even a chat. If it was the weekend, we’re often too busy running to meetings or parties or errands to have intentional time together. My mind goes back to this concept, that I think Rob Bell is somehow responsible for, that you can never get to the “end” of a person. I love that Nate and I can have debates and discussions just as passionately as we did when we were first dating nine years ago. I love that I’ll never get to the “end” of him. Over and over we’ve seen different cultures so obviously make intentional time for their family, friends, and communities. Most stores in New Zealand even close at 5:00pm during the week for this reason. And this moment reminds me of just one of the million little shifts we want to make when we return to the states: more intentional time for each other.
The next day, we had planned to do the Coromandel Coastal Walkway, but we learned that roads leading to it were windy mountain roads in rough shape – we’d had enough of these at this point. It would have taken us over 2 hours just to reach the start of the trail. So we changed plans and just explored the surrounding area. It turned out to be an incredible day!
We started out at nearby Cook’s Beach in Mercury Bay. Only a week into our road trip, Captain Cook references in New Zealand are ubiquitous. At this spot on November 9, 1769, Cook observed the transit of Mercury to determine the longitude of the bay – a pretty big deal back then. Suddenly, they went from not having a clue as to where they were in the world, to having a little bit of a better one. As local families played in the sand and waves, we took a moment to imagine this place as Cook found it, with no other signs of human life other than some Maori footprints and maybe a Pā at the top of some nearby cliffs.
And the locals certainly do enjoy their beach. We parked our car on the grass and not long after, it was surrounded by several tractors with not another car in sight. Bringing your boat to the water by driving your tractor straight onto the beach is commonplace here. We saw about six people launch their boats while we enjoyed the sun and sand. Then, with the sun becoming too strong for me, I went in search of a place to hang our hammock and found a perfect grove of tall trees, nestled right up to the edge of the beach. Hammock time is so good for the soul.
As we began our drive north, we noticed a winery up on a hill: Mercury Bay Estate. Curious, but knowing we couldn’t afford lunch there, we stuffed some PB&J sandwiches in our mouths and checked it out. We shared a four wine flight, and with recommendations from the waitress, ended up trying some that we never would have otherwise: Two Chardonnays (one deep and oaky, one light and floral), a sparkling Rosé, and a Merlot/Cabernet. All local and all delicious.
We then headed about an hour north and passed by Kuaotunu Beach, which looked interesting, so we stopped. Our goal was to get to New Chums Beach an hour before low tide (more on this soon), so we knew we could only stay about 15 minutes. A few minutes after we began walking on the beach, however, people started gathering near a guy fishing in the water.
“What’s going on? Does he have a shark?” one woman came up to us and asked.
“Uh, we don’t know,” we replied.
Then Nate looked at me and said, “That was weird. Why would your first guess be something as crazy as a shark?”
Joining everyone in their curiosity, we came to see that indeed, he had a shark on his line, a very aggressive, strong, and stubborn shark. A group of about 30-40 people had gathered and would slowly follow the shark along the beach on its languid journey in towards the shore. Our guess was that it was around eight feet long. At one point, the shark came up to a point that was about as deep as our knees and we could see most of its body. Soon after though, the line snapped, and the shark calmly swam away in a surprisingly desultory manner. All this happened over about 45 minutes, so we arrived at New Chums a little later than we’d hoped, but in awe of where the day had taken us.
NEW CHUMS BEACH
When you stand on New Chums Beach, there is not one visible speck of modern life around you. The beach can only be reached on foot and only at low tide after a 45 minute hike across some slippery rocks and humid bush. We loved enjoying the cool breeze here, watching seagulls dive into the waves from dizzying heights, making a dramatic display of catching their dinner.
The next morning we woke up early to stumble sleepily across the road, hot cocoa in hand, and watch the sunrise at Whitianga Beach. Then we got back into bed and enjoyed a few extra hours of sleep! Life doesn’t get much better than that.
Though Coromandel held all these treasures for us, we knew there was much more greatness ahead. From here we drove south to our next destination, Waitomo, to enjoy another unique New Zealand gift: glowworms!