Tauranga to Whitianga (Coromandels, New Zealand)

Sunrise out the window is amazing. It’s perfectly coloured and reflects off the ocean. I stay in bed longer than usual just to watch this marvelous sight. Not that we lie in terribly late. We are on time to join Rachel (our Couch Surfing host) for breakfast and some more conversation. In fact, by the time we hit the road it’s almost 11am and we have at least three hours to drive.

The drive up the State Highway 2 to Waihi is uneventful.  The scenery is as pretty as ever with green pastures and rolling hills lining the road. To our left is the mountain range that separates the coast from the Waikato basin where we began our journey ten days ago. It looks almost familiar with its steep sides and jagged ridgeline.
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We stop in Waihi to see the open cut gold mine. It’s ugly but worth a look. Unfortunately, we have an unpleasant incident with a museum. There is a small museum in town and another large one near the iSite. We chose the small museum and, after paying our $5 (each) entry fee are told it is being renovated and that many exhibits are missing. We should have asked for our money back at that point because only one exhibit is worthwhile  (a faux mining tunnel). We didn’t go to the big museum near the iSite because we didn’t see it until we were leaving town but it looked more modern from the outside.
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The mine itself is impressive. The north wall has collapsed under a land slip, which emphasised the scale of the project. I wouldn’t say it is picturesque because mining is part of the earth destroying greed that is causing so many of our social and environmental problems. But it’s impressive all the same.

The rest of our drive to Whitianga is stereotypically Kiwi. Winding roads take us past dairy cows and herds of sheep. Occasionally the sea comes into view with blue waters stretching to the Americas. Campervans crawl along slowly. We haven’t seen many to date but now are bombarded with this quintessential style of tourism. We had even considered camper vanning here ourselves until we did the maths and worked out that a car was more economical for us. I also get the impression that freedom camping isn’t as easy here as it once was. It’s just a shame we didn’t manage to get a photo of the many times we saw winding roads, campervans and dairy cows all in the one place. It would have been good to look back on.

We check into our BnB at Whitianga. Our host has everything down to a fine art and we are warmly welcomed. We are both fatigued so relax a while in our room watching Netflix and snoozing a little. It’s dusk by the time we get up to look for some dinner. We meander on foot through town and along the dark waterfront. We’re spoiled for choice of places that smell amazing but settle for steak night at the Whitianga Pub. $18 gets is each a perfectly cooked steak with a real mushroom sauce (not jist gravy with mushrooms added but an actual sauce made with mushrooms as the key ingredient) and delicious mini roast potatoes. What a way to reenergize.

Taupo to Tauranga (Bay of Plenty, New Zealand)

After a late night completing the puzzle we are both slow to get going in the morning. Besides, the bach is so peaceful. We drive into Taupo to use some wifi and confirm the address of our Couch Surfing host tonight. Later we will discover I wrote the address down incorrectly but, for now, we feel secure in knowing where we will sleep tonight and set off north out of Taupo.

Not far out of town we pick up a British man who is hitch hiking his way to the Bay of Plenty. We offer to take him as far as the coast and then he will need to find another lift for the final short drive south to the town he is headed to. He accepts and our drive becomes quite a social affair. I never used to pick up hitch hikers because, in Australia, we are taught hitch hikers are dangerous and likely to murder or rob you. In fact, in any states, hitch hiking may even be illegal. But I changed my mind in Hungary some years ago when I met a man who had hitch hiked the world and told me of how fun it was. Since then I have met other lovely hitch hikers and now have no qualms if the person looks okay. It helps out the hitch hiker and it creates new human contacts for us in a disconnected world.

Rotorua comes and goes. We had thought about stopping but it looks like the sort of town that has worked out how to take our money quite quickly for relatively little reward. That’s the thing about New Zealand, it’s an expensive country to travel. Food is expensive; even vegetables are more expensive than in over priced Australia. Accommodation is not too bad if you stick with Air BnB, which is a thriving industry here. But everything that can be seen and done is captured by tourism operators and, because people pay, the cost of paying is quite high. That said, if you stay away from the Rotoruas of New Zealand you can still enjoy a good budget holiday like we are.

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We see a sign to Okere Falls. With all the rain we’ve experienced that sounds like a promising prospect.  And it is. The walk to the falls is relatively short. This used to be a place Europeans came to in the early days of tourism. And we still come. It is possible to book a rafting trip here or to watch the rafts descend the falls. But none appears to be departing for our viewing pleasure today. Possibly due to the high water levels after Cyclones Debbie and Cook. We explore the paths and walk down to a cave right near the base of one of the falls. Maori people used to hide in this cave to escape battles, particularly women, children and elderly who were not fighting. It’s loud in the cave as water rushes under the rock. Further down the path we come to a pool where water is churning a rope swing hangs from a tree. I wonder whether this is for rescue purposes or whether locals swim here. Surely the former I still more likely.

We drop our Englishman at the motorway and turn north while he travels south.
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Before long we are in Tauranga parking near a beach on a beautiful sunny day. It’s only about 21’C (70F) but feels like summer. It’s amazing how quickly the body adjusts to new surrounds. While we don’t swim we do take a short walk along a rocky outcrop to take in the views and watch the surfers riding waves. It feels good to be at a white sand beach again after the black sand ones we’ve been to. Somehow it feels more “normal” and safe. That’s silly because volcanic sand itself doesn’t make a beach more or less dangerous than any other. But still, black sand beaches feel somehow more dangerous. Probably due to the colour of the water and a perception of what could be lurking below the surface.
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We eventually find our Couch Surfing hosts’ house after writing down to the incorrect address. Rachel is an awesome host. We spend the night sharing stories and eating food. Paul and I commandeer the kitchen, for which we are grateful because we have lots of left over groceries we won’t be able to use for the next two days and it feels good to share with our hosts who are so generous to let us stay in their homes and share their lives for a night or two. And, in this case, to share the most amazing ocean views.

While we didn’t do much sightseeing today, we did share the day with two awesome new people and that makes it a pretty special and awesome day.