Tairua | New Zealand
Tairua | New Zealand
It was a 5-6 hour drive from Bay of Islands to the Coromandel Peninsula, so we set out early. We saw advertisements for glow worm caves and various wineries and marine reserves and we felt like there was an adventure around every corner that we were missing. You could spend 3 months in New Zealand and still feel like you’d only scratched the surface. Within a few hours, we had returned to the sprawl of Auckland, and took a small detour around the city, ending up in the Kumeu River area. Kumeu River Wines was established by a family of Croatian immigrants (a large population in the area) and has made a name for itself with Chardonnay in particular. John sampled a few at their cellar door, and all of them stood out, so we took 3 different bottles with us. We were amazed at the quality of the wines despite their damp climate, and there were many lessons to be learned from their experience with growing fickle grapes in a marginal climate. Passing below Auckland the landscape became increasingly flat and grassy, and rounded the bottom of the Firth of Thames when we passed the village of Thames, the entryway to the Coromandel Peninsula. This area juts up into the South Pacific Ocean and is craggy and mountainous in the center and lined with beautiful beaches on either side. We stayed toward the eastern edge in Tairua, a small beach town perched on a lagoon that fed into the Ocean. Our hosts, Paul and Natasha were very gracious and immediately greeted us with travel recommendations to fill the following days. The kids were wound up from being in the car all day, so John took them across the lagoon to the town playground. There was a wild piece of playground equipment called a Rocktopus, which consists of a metal pole with 4 curved metal arms suspended in 4 directions toward the ground, with each arm capped with a tire for the rider to sit on. The arms all pivot from the top of the pole, so when one person pushes off, the other 3 riders fly in and out and swing in all directions. It was fun to say the least, until Poppy and John swung out haphazardly and took out Peaches, who was idly waddling about the playground minding her own business. This signaled the end of playtime, and when we returned to the room, the girls retired to bed. While the girls ate PB&J and fresh fruit earlier in the afternoon for dinner, John went across the river into Tairua town to seek out dinner. This was our first real introduction to “takeaway”, a concept that is just like it sounds, food to take away to eat later. But in NZ, “takeaway” shops often combine all manner of fried foods, like fish and chips, fried pieces of vegetable tempura, fried cheese and various “nuggets”. Plus, they all seem to offer Chinese food as well. We never saw a drive-thru of any sort, just takeaway. So for our first foray into takeaway, John chose a mussel burger, a fried piece of hake and a dish called “wedges works”, which was potato wedges covered in unmelted cheese, slathered in sweet chili sauce and piled high with a few scoops of sour cream. Healthy stuff, I must say. John returned from the takeaway shop to find that Poppy had never actually slept, and we were having a deep discussion about religion. These are the kinds of things that Poppy ponders when she’s going to sleep.
Poppy was able to sit on Natasha’s (hotel owner) horse Valentine’s night, and she was so excited. She wanted so badly to ride a horse that we found a place for her to ride the following morning. We headed out to Rangihau Ranch and even though it was about 30 minutes out from Tairua it was well worth the trip. The surrounding hills and giant trees reminded us of California, and the yard was filled with friendly dogs, cats, sheep, etc. Poppy was introduced to a beautiful Appaloosa pony, “Shiloh.” We weren’t sure if she was going to be riding in circles around a ring or have a “real” experience but we were not disappointed.
When we arrived, Shiloh was all ready for us, so I grabbed Peaches and put her on my “back!” And Pops atop Shiloh set off on her adventure down the canyon, over the hills and towards the kiwi trellises. The owner let her ride on her own and Shiloh trotted down a hill, without Pops meaning to, but Pops was brave and in control and got her to slow to a walk. We rode by the cattle pasture and through to the kiwis, which weren’t ripe enough to eat since it’s been such a wet season. Then up the hill, by the sheep shearing barn and back to the barn where we started.
I was so proud of Poppy for being so brave and doing so much by herself and Peaches loved watching Pops and petting Shiloh.
We returned to the hotel where the girls were exhausted, both took a nap and of course, Peaches woke up first.
As soon as Poppy and Peaches started rustling, the day was dedicated to major adventures. Being on the eastern Coromandel Peninsula meant we were just a short drive away from some exciting activities. First up was Cathedral Cove, a rocky ocean headland that has eroded to create a tall open passage from one beach to another, mimicking the shape of a cathedral. The hike down from the village overlooking the Cove was short but rugged in spots, and the family enjoyed some exercise to get the ya-ya’s out. We passed a windswept pasture filled with cows (moo-moos for Peaches) and John and Poppy stopped for a picture in front of a gnarled old tree by the ocean. Thanks to the Ergo kids sling, Peaches rode in comfort on my back. After 45 minutes of spirited hiking, we reached the Cathedral Cove beach, which was surprisingly full of sunbathers and kayakers. We set up a towel under the long windswept trunk of a tree, and Poppy swung from branch to branch for some time, oblivious to the fact there was an amazing geologic formation just a few feet away. Cathedral Cove is impassable frequently due to tide, but we timed it well and caught the Cove at a time when we were able to take some great pictures of the family as well as the small waterfall that fell from the edge of the forest over the cliff and onto the beach. Poppy found a large smooth rock face and climbed and scrambled about for an hour, we believe she could’ve stayed there for days had we allowed her. On our hike back out we saw some friends from the OBX, who were traveling with their family throughout NZ at the same time. We made plans to meet up later at Hot Water Beach, another well known tourist spot, as they were just making their way in as we were leaving. Our next stop was a visit to the lone vineyard in the area, Mercury Bay Estate. They had a beautiful site overlooking Mercury Bay and Cook’s Beach. We were reluctant to leave since Poppy and Peaches loved rolling down the adjacent grassy hill and crashing a neighboring kid’s birthday party. When we left Mercury Bay Estate it was mid-afternoon, so instead of returning to Tairua we stopped in at Hot Water Beach, another “must-see” spot in the Coromandel. Hot Water Beach earns it name by virtue of the effect that is produced when pockets of hot CO2 bubble up from a pocket of trapped thermal energy deep below a rocky outcropping near the beach. It occurs only during the 2 hours before and after low tide, so timing is important. We arrived at least an hour early, so we set up with our bags and a shovel (provided kindly by Paul) and waited for others to show up so we knew where to dig. Our friends, the Prices, appeared after an hour and knew exactly where to start digging, since he had completed the same ritual a day prior. He was on target, because within a few minutes, we started to feel warm water at our feet. To be more accurate, it was hot water. After about 30 seconds, the heat of the water oozing up from the sand burned my toes and I stepped back. It is more common to dig a large pit close to the tide line and let cold water flow in occasionally so that the water is more comfortable.The girls were spent from a long day on the road adventuring, so we set them into bed and it didn’t take long for them to be quiet and nod off. John went out to the local restaurant and ordered takeaway to commemorate Valentine’s Day.