Well here we are. The last chapters of the chronicles, making it higher in number than Game of Thrones, though not quite as long :). It was only fitting for our final foray in New Zealand that we head to the beach. But not just any beach – Mount Maunganui is a fantastic spot where smooth sand splays out in the shadow of an extinct volcano. Perfect place to reunite with our travel buddies Grant & Jess for a day of relaxin’ and exploring the beach's rock outcropping. We had so much fun with the couple that we all started traveling together for the next few days as we headed inland to Karangahake Gorge via a campground at Dickey’s flats. But first we passed by one of the ancient Kauri Trees that grows in the north – this one is more than 600 years old!
Once at Dickey’s Flats Campground, the hike to the Gorge via the Crown Track was a pleasant bush-walk along the river, but things got more interesting as we approached the ruins of the gold mining operations that had taken place there between 1880-1950s. Diana Clement from the New Zealand Herald gives an informative snapshot of our time there:
“The Crown Track Tunnel is 180m long and not much more than 2m high. Just high enough for the horse-drawn mining trucks that carried quartz back to the Crown battery on the Ohinemuri River.
Grant & Jess in the Crown Track Tunnel
We learned from the numerous signs how water- and steam-powered stampers crushed the quartz, and cocktails of potassium, cyanide and other nasty chemicals helped with the extraction process. One of the batteries even cooked the quartz to remove the valuable metals within.”
The Gorge with the walk along the old mining route below
Grant goes out the "window"
It was a brutal process on the environment to extract all the gold, but luckily these days the whole area is a protected park. One fascinating features of the old mines was the “Windows Walk” alongside the canyon wall of the gorge. The tunnels burrowing through the rock here have “windows” where miners would dump the debris while digging their tunnels through canyon. It makes for a lot of fun to walk through these old tunnels as sun beams stream in from the intermittently spaced windows. To cap it off, on the way back Scott
directed us to some hidden pools near the tunnel entrance. We splashed through a dark tunnel
with water flowing through it and popped out to some beautiful pools with waterfalls at the far end. Time for a swim!
Swimming in the hidden pools through the tunnel (click link above to see tunnel entrance)
With our rivers and waterfalls quota met it was back to the beach with Grant and Jess! Waihi Beach was a perfect freedom camping spot right on the sand and we all cooked up together and played Rummy to the sound of the waves. The next morning saw a beautiful walk to Orokawa Beach, an isolated “pristine stretch of sand and surf backed by sprawling Pohutukawas”.
Getting ready to chill at Orokawa Beach
Perfect place to inhale the fresh herbally infused air and have a day chillin’ on the beach with G&J (Grant & Jess aka Gin & Juice). The fun took a brief hiatus when a local council member wearing a sweet-as cowboy hat told us to move on. That is always the risk of freedom camping, even when it seems like a legitimate place! Luckily, some German campervanners told us about a back-up freedom camping spot also with a public bathroom on Tuna Road so we took our chocolate porters to the beach. I woke up to the sounds of a local Kiwi woman in her 80’s running an automated sled out to her “torpedo" - essentially a little mini-submarine with a fishing line attached. As she pulled the torpedo in she had caught 8 snappers on it! Then she rolled away – all under battery power. Now there is a Kiwi who refuses to bow to age! As the Kiwis say, “Good on ya mate!”.
Next stop was heading up north to the Coromandel for some classic tourist attractions. The score was split with the Hot Water Beaches getting a thumbs down due to being way overcrowded and only offering the tiniest bit of hot mineral water spurting up through the sand into the beach – not nearly enough to compete with all the people busily digging holes with rented spades.
Hot water beach was a hot mess
Yoga in sea cave
Cathedral Cove was nearly a bust with an overcrowded car park and heavy crowds but the lush scenery won the day. A 45 minute walk past several beautiful bays brings you out to the gorgeous beach. This place truly has everything with a high cathedral-like rock arch, multiple offshore rock formations, and good rocks for jumping down into the sea. It also features hidden sea caves only accessible with a short swim. Inside the ambient light darkens whenever an incoming wave occludes the entrance. Could it get any better? Yep, just throw in a freshwater waterfall
at the end of the beach where you can wash the salt off after all those adventures. Truly one of the best beaches we’ve ever been to!
A drive over some coast hills took us out of Whitianga and to some of the only affordable camping on the Coromandel at Simpson Beach. Our last night with Gin & Juice was a memorable one as we stayed out late drinking on the beach and singing 90s song we all remembered with no one listening but the wind. The unruly mosquitoes forced us to say our goodbyes to G&J as we headed around the top of the peninsula and down into Coromandel town. There we indulged in a bit of paid tourism as we took the Driving Creek Railway (DCR) toy train up to the “Eye-full” tower. The DCR is interesting not just for the ingenuity of the track, which features multiple switchbacks, direction changes, and bridges as it snakes up the clay filled hills. It is also interesting because the potter turned conservationist who founded it has used the money for a massive native forest restoration project.
The view from the "eye-full" tower
Neda's oreo truffles won over 3 generations of Kiwis!
The couple is fantastically generous. We walked to the store to get some groceries and when we got back they had already cleaned up the outside of Faith to get her ready for sale. A post on Gumtree yielded quick interest. As Neda and I were driving downtown to put up flyers a couple contacted us who was nearby. Their mechanic thought our car was in great shape and well cared for so we agreed on a price and it was over! With the sale we covered all of our transportation costs in New Zealand (minus petrol) making it a heckuva lot cheaper than a rental which would have cost $5-7k!
The rest of the week with Wayne and Eve was full of fun socializing, cooking Bulgarian and Kiwi dishes, playing a bit of poker and also some "work" as Neda and I sort through heaps of pictures, write blog after blog and do research so we are prepped and ready for our trip off to Sydney and then later to Japan! New Zealand has proven to be one of our absolute favorite places with a great mixture of kind people and unbelievable landscapes. The Campervan Chronicles were a unique adventure for us, but between you and me (and the rest of the internet), we don't mind sleeping in a bed one bit now that its over!