After a week in Piha, I was hitting the road again – it was back to Auckland for me. I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to pull myself away from the village that so quickly came to feel like a second home. I had a pretty entertaining last night mingling with the locals, my Aussie friend Emma and a Scotsman, John at the village RSA (a locals bar with overpriced delicious fish & chips).
The next day, my buddy ol’ Petey managed to appear on time and he gave John a ride back as well.
Back to Auckland, Back to Base
..the only place in the world where you can book a female dorm and end up being checked into a room with only guys. I had a couple of really great roommates – Milan from the Czech Republic, my fellow Canuck Nic from the east coast, and a Chinese man who must have been well into his late 70s. Good mix.
Can you imagine being well into the golden age of hip replacements, Matlock marathons & lawn bowling..and somehow still have the energy and patience to actively choose to sleep on a top bunk in the dorm of a hostel? Yeah, I can’t either. Never mind that Base is probably the worst possible choice if you are expecting actual sleep. Props, good sir.
I had some really good times in Auckland – went to the zoo with the super awesome Milan for our first kiwi bird encounter (I’d say that a solid 30 seconds of kiwi was experienced but IT WAS A REAL LIVE KIWI), went to my first Super Rugby game (Blues vs Brumbies), checked out the museum and sky tower. A rainy day was spent on Waiheke Island. Epic (in all possible facets) fish and chips at Shakespeare’s pub.
Caught my next bus – by a hair – to Thames, in the Coromandel Peninsula.
Actually, just a second. Let me go on a brief tangent here – I gave myself all the time in the world to plan this trip to New Zealand. Do you think I’d be organized enough to give myself some basic directions on how to get to important places such as where I am sleeping? Nah, bro. Small town = easy to find such things.
Anyway, on an unrelated note, I arrived in Thames after dusk only to notice that I didn’t know where the hell I was going. The grumptastic bus driver who had done the same route for years chose to be of no help to me, so I was left to my own device. Of course, at 7pm in a small town, next to nothing is open. After walking aimlessly for some small while, I found a Four Square that was just getting ready to close for the night. I went in. They had absolutely no idea about the existence of the hostel I was looking for, never mind where it was. A customer had overheard me, though, and piped up.
“Gateway? Of this I am familiar. The owner, that fellow is good friend of mine. A brother. Hop in my car and we shall embarketh on a magical, questical journey to this mythical land of gateways. For I, good lady, am the Gatekeeper.”
He may have put it a bit (a lot) differently, but he was very kind and turned out to be the owner of a major business in town. We had a good chat and, quite literally less than a minute later, we were in front of the hostel. It was on the street behind the bus stop. I literally could have started my aimless walk in a slightly different direction and would have been there within seconds. All in a day’s work, folks. My first and only (self claimed) hitchhiking experience.
My hostel wasn’t too much to boast about, but the people were great – some friendly Germans, an American, and a couple of Dutch guys. One of the Germans tried to convince me he was Swedish to sound more exotic than the hundreds of German backpackers one inevitably meets in New Zealand (New Zealand? More like New Germany, pfft). We had a great and relaxed night, sitting around the kitchen table with some drinks, swapping stories.
Thames was a cute, sleepy seaside town. Not much to do. I spent my first day there cycling on a trail that took me through rolling hills and a lot of farmland. My second day was spent walking for a number of hours just for something to do – found a really cool butterfly sanctuary.
Coromandel Town was the next stop on my list. I had actually booked it without researching the place, naively assuming all of the main sights of the Coromandel Peninsula were in this place – Cathedral Cove, Hot Water Beach, all of that. Yep..wrong side of the peninsula – none of these things were here. What was there, though, was a great bush walk. It started off as a simple hike to a scenic viewpoint on a hill, which turned into a rather difficult but well marked track with massive steady ascends and descends on hills of doom, which then became a proper muddy,
slippery, barefoot stream-crossing, forested good ol’ back-country adventure.
From Coromandel Town, I finally began to make my way towards Whitianga – my base for Cathedral Cove. My hostel there was incredibly accurate to it’s name – On The Beach Backpackers. It was a bright, colourful, yet slightly dated converted house with incredible views overlooking the sea with beautifully dramatic coastline. Absolutely loved it. I met some lovely folk there, including an older Swiss man named Bruno (he was hitchhiking his way around the country, kudos dude!), a Danish girl named Julie, and a fellow Canuck (Vancouver), Serena.
I hadn’t yet figured out how I was going to get to Cathedral Cove – it was a bit of a trek and there was actually a smaller town much closer to it which I hadn’t realized – so I decided to spend my first day hiking just outside of town. By just outside of town, I mean a two minute ferry across to another part of the peninsula. After some couple hours of wandering, I saw a path that would lead up to Shakespeare Cliff. About twenty minutes into the ascent, BAM.
No, I didn’t fall off the cliff into the harrowing depths of the cold, unforgiving sea.
I must’ve been too busy checking out the scenery around me, because I crashed into some rocks and slid forward on them on my knees – I still have the scar to prove it! I took that as an omen that it was time to turn back, should I decide I want to keep my leg from being amputated due to an infection of some sort – I never did finish that walk :(
Next day, I found a bus going to Cathedral Cove since I decided to perhaps not try cycling with my recent history of extreme clumsiness. Good idea? Yeeeeeah. Good idea. The walk started off well. Beautiful scenery, walking along the beach. Dipping my toes in the sea. Around half an hour into my walk, I couldn’t help but notice that there was no-one else around except locals. I stopped and asked some friendly Kiwis where on earth I was meant to be going – turns out I went in the exact opposite direction.
Alright, back ’round the right way, let’s go. Soon enough I found my way, going back up a steep hill, back down again, up many more. Finally, down to the beautiful Cathedral Cove. Worth it.
My next stop after Whitianga would be a little longer than expected..