Down Under Part II: Further thoughts around New Zealand
February 15, 2014
From Paeroa, New Zealand, where my husband Michael and I have been living since early December, it is an easy drive to two of New Zealand's primo holiday areas — the Coromandel Peninsula and the Bay of Plenty. Michael has been working (in the field of medicine) almost every week day, but he has had national holidays and weekends off, so we have gone exploring.
After some rainy days, last weekend was clear and sunny (as they would say here, "the weather fined up"). We were pleased to be off to the Bay of Plenty, primarily the city of Tauranga and its suburb, Mount Maunganui. Tauranga is a lovely little city with a very attractive downtown core, some nice shops and restaurants and a good movie theater (here called cinema). It is also known as a good spot for dolphin watching, diving, kayaking and skydiving.
Great harbor views are available from the walkway along Coronation Pier. Tauranga is one of New Zealand's busiest harbors with one or two cruise ships docking almost every day of the summer season. The Harbor, although a very good one, is tricky for those who don't know it, and all the big ships employ local pilots to help them navigate in and out. We watched a couple of cruise ships leave the harbor and were amazed at how they seemed to move easily through an opening that looked very narrow.
We were blessed to stay at a beautiful beach house in nearby Mount Maunganui with friends of our daughter. The Mount, as locals call this lush green hill, forms one end of the beach that runs along Tauranga harbor. Standing 232 meters high, the Mount has walking trails that lead around the base (a walk for me), or climb steeply to the summit (a walk for Michael). Both walks take approximately 45 minutes, only the heart rate is different. By any standard, the beach at Mount Maunganui is spectacular, with white sand stretching on for about 8km; it was a great place to stroll. The sea lifeguards and junior lifeguards (children as young as 6 called the little nippers) were having competitive games when we were there. One of the events consisted of tennis balls being thrown into the surf and the kiddos running and splashing and mostly laughing as they retrieved them.
Over Christmas and New Year's breaks, we went exploring the Coromandel Peninsula, which juts up into the Pacific east of Auckland. The west side of the Coromandel is characterized by windy roads snaking along the blue inlet known as the Firth of Thames. On New Year's Day, we drove the precarious, isolated, unsealed (gravel) road up to the top at Fletcher Bay. We had been hoping to walk at least an hour up the Coastal Walkway. Unfortunately a driving rain sent us back to our trusty little rental car and with some trepidation crossing the "ford" through about 8 inches of standing water, back to Coromandel Town and our motel. The sky cleared later and we were able to walk to a local restaurant for green lip mussels plucked from the sea some four hours earlier.
The east side of the Coromandel has a slew of beautiful white sand beaches. From Waihi Beach, stretching out over 11 km north to Hahei and Hot Water Beach the road (narrow but paved) stretches to the little gem of a beach at Cathedral Cove, with its famous gigantic stone arch and natural waterfall shower. None of these places is busy by American standards. At Waihi we saw maybe 50 people spread out over the 11km. Because Cathedral Cove is the busiest, we decided to see it by sea kayak. The tour we signed up for had two girls from Denver, a family from London, our fun guide Nick and us. We have some trepidation about joining these guided trips as we get older, but so far we seem to be able to keep up with the younger folks. Walking the sand on any one of these beautiful beaches is especially precious to us. No place in New Zealand is much more than an hour's drive from the sea, so the Kiwis can hardly believe that we have to fly well over two hours to get to an ocean!
We are quickly coming to the end of our time in Paeroa and we will miss the people and beautiful places we have seen. However, they tell us that our next post, Alexandra, in a high mountain valley on the South Island, will be in the middle of 'stone fruit' season (read peaches, plums, apricots etc. not an exotic type of fruit which I first thought) when we are there, so we should eat our way through exploring a new part of this beautiful country.
Susan and Dr. Michael Carey are longtime Windsor residents. Michael, a physician in Windsor, is working at three different locations around New Zealand.