I was reluctnat to leave Ahipara but all things must come to and end even at a place called Endless Summer so I hitched a ride with August and Emily back to Paihia in perfect time to pick up the bus down to Auckland. Mercifully I was in and out of Auckland in less than 12 hours and en route to the Coromandel Peninsula which is to the south east of the city and a world away.
I took out an Inter-City Flexi-Pass which is an economical and unsurprisingly flexible way to travel the bus system. From the Coromandel hub of Thames a small shuttle takes passengers around the peninsula and I opted for a first stop at Coromandel Town. The shuttle bus dropped me right off at the Lion's Den hostel (BBH 83%) where I received a very warm welcome and settled in. The weather was very rainy but as luck (or was it fate...?) would have it there was a copy of the Da Vini Code sitting on the book exchange shelf. It seemed as good a time as any to get stuck in to this much lauded novel.
With no beach and little if any from-town walking to do I decided to pass through Coromandel Town and the next day
I hopped on the shuttle bus across the peninsula to Whitianga (pronounced 'fit e anga' 'wh' gets a 'f' sound from its Maori origins). In Whitianga I checked in to the On The Beach Backpackers Lodge (BBH 85%) see how I'm caught by the BBH recomendation?
The first day I was in Whitianga was still showery but I knew I'd stay a few days so I busied myself getting groceries, checking out the town and scoping out the dive outfitter, Dive HQ. Next day I took the passenger ferry across the Whitianga River to 'Ferry Landing' and followed the trails out to Flaxmill Bay, Shakespeare Cliff, Lonely Beach and on to the impressive Cook's Beach. On the way back through Whitianga I checked in on the dive schedule and as luck would have it there was an O.W. course with just one participant and 2 planned shore dives the next day for a mere $95 with all gear supplied!
At the prescribed hour next day I met up with Craig the instructor and by more luck another diver Robert was onboard, so we buddied up and along with Graham the student diver we drove out to Matapaua Bay. What a gorgeous secluded place! Although the more exposed beaches were getting hammered by the surf this cove was flat calm and we strolled into the water for our dive.
The bay is very shallow (I think we bottomed out at 8 metres at the most) which allowed some nice long dives. The visibility was decent and it was a gas cruising over and through the kelp forest chasing fish. I really enjoyed the two dives here. They could have been a bit longer but Robert (who was a smoker) ripped through his air a bit too fast, still both were 45 minutes and I felt like I got more than my money's worth. Compensation indeed for the dives at Paihai.
The next day I took the ferry again across to Ferry Landing and quickly hitched a ride to Hahei the next town along the Coromandel east coast from Whitianga. I took a bed at Tatahi Lodge (BBH 85%) and headed out on the very nearby trail to Cathedral Cove. A beautiful clifftop trail led through lush forest to several little coves and after about an hour to the famed Cathedral Cove. With warm sunshine lighting the cove up it was pretty idyllic, white sand, plunging waterfalls off the cliffs, sea stacks and the star attraction a large sea arch you could walk right through. Pretty busy as it was spring break for the school kids but that didn't detract from such a great place and hike som close to town.
That night it just poured down and after a bit of sun a breakfast it was overcast and showery by the time I was packed and ready for the day's activity, a visit to Hot Water Beach. The Go Kiwi Shuttle was a bust so I figured I'd walk the 18 km round trip along the country road. It drizzled a bit on the way out of Hahei but no big deal. Once at the beach I rented a shovel and cruised out to dig my very own spa!
The tourist pamphlets should have snapped a picture of that day's scene! 50 people with umbrellas gathered around half a dozen steamy pools hewn from the sand with a mix of unshaven backpackers, school kids and parents lounging while the surf rolled in and the rain just poured. Looking for anything just even a few metres away from the mele I sank a minor moonscape's worth of test holes but to no avail. With the rain now coming down in buckets I returned my shovel and wandered out of town a bit dejected. Soon the sun was back and my walk back to Hahei was delightful.
Next - Rotorua and Bay of Plenty