After a long, and spectacularly scenic drive from the North, we arrived in Tairua on the Coromandel Peninsula. A rugged mountain range bisects the peninsula, with stunning white sand beaches lining the east coast and muddy wetlands on the west. This region was the site of a gold mining boom in the mid 1800s, and the remnants of this can still be seen by taking a walk in the ‘Broken Hills’. We hiked through hilly forest, eventually reaching Collins Drive, a 500 metre long mine shaft. We donned our head torches and set off into the darkness. The highlight of the walk was halfway through the tunnel, at which point we turned off our lights and were treated to constellations of glow worms on the ceiling above us.
Glow worm hunter
We also took time to visit the beach hotspots on the east coast – Cathedral Cove, a massive natural arch formed in a sea cliff near Hahei, and Hot Water Beach, where a hot spring emerges at a particular point on the sands, only exposed for a couple of hours either side of low tide. You can hire a spade, and dig your very own thermal pool in the sand. It was pretty busy with other people doing the same, but still a novel experience!
The massive arch of Cathedral Cove
Before leaving Tairua, we took a short tramp (a walk, not a vertically-challenged homeless man) from our hostel to the top of nearby Mt Paku – a volcanic cone which juts out into the ocean, affording a great view over the coastline, and neighbouring Pauanui.
It was time to head to our first climbing destination in New Zealand. The beauty of having our own car is that we can stop when and where we want, and we made excessive use of this newly gained privilege. Rather than the boring main road, we took the scenic route through the impressive Karangahake Gorge. On the other side we stopped in Paeroa, home of ‘Lemon & Paeroa’ – a soft drink which prides itself on being “world famous in New Zealand”. Our final detour was to Matamata, a.k.a. Hobbiton, after which we eventually arrived at the climbing area.
A Kiwi classic
The North Island is not known for its high quality rock climbing (in contrast to the South Island), however we had heard that Froggatt, near to Wharepapa South, was worth a visit. It turned out to be brilliant, and we had a great couple of days working our way through the best routes. The rock was pocketed schist, and looked a bit like the surface of the moon, with many of the route names being based on this theme.
Nearing the top of ‘Terror Incognita’ (6a)
Te Kuiti sunset
Every small town in New Zealand seems to have some claim to fame, and our overnight stop in Te Kuiti between climbing days didn’t disappoint, proudly announcing itself as the “Shearing Capital of the World”.
A couple of hours to the east is Rotorua, famed for its geothermal activity. The town itself is fairly unattractive, dubbed ‘RotoVegas’ due to its US-style sprawl of motels, and shrouded in a pervasive eggy aroma. It is however an ideal base from which to explore the area, which is full of things to see and do. One of our favourites was a visit to Wai-O-Tapu, a “geothermal wonderland”. We managed to be the first to arrive at opening time (a rare success), and had the park to ourselves as we followed the circuitous trail. The various geothermal sights were amazing – bubbling mud pools, lurid coloured mineral lakes, steaming craters and geysers.
The Devils Bath
Lady Knox geyser – a real crowd pleaser
Bubbling pools of mud
Looking over Lake Rotorua from the Polynesian Spa
Following an evening visit to the outdoor mineral pools, we were geothermal-ed out and so the next morning we decided to hit the mountain bike trails in Redwoods Whakarewarewa Forest. Still fresh from Asia, we were thrilled to discover that the bikes we had hired not only worked, but were actually good. Armed with a trail map, and almost zero mountain biking experience / skill, we headed off into the forest. The layout was similar to a ski resort, with hundreds of trails signposted and coloured according to difficulty. The trails were brilliant, switching between boardwalk and hard mud, with lots of jumps and features. Surprisingly we managed not to overreach, and got as far as ‘challenging ourselves’ without reaching to the next stage, ‘hurting ourselves’.
It certainly would
Down the dip
Mud spattered, grinning, and after a well earned slice of cake, we returned to our trusty steed and departed for the mountainous south.