Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Three Hidden Gems- Coromandel


While David went fishing I went exploring, this time picking a perfect blue sky day which is still not the best for photography but one heck of a lot better than the mono tone of grey I had the other day.

I travelled north of Simpsons Beach over the winding and hilly road through the Coromandel Forest Park towards Kuaotunu turning right into the little village just before the highway takes a sharp left and runs along the coast towards Matarangi and on over the range to Coromandel Town on the west side of the peninsula. 

We've explored the Kuaotunu Peninsula on our last visit to the Coromandel but there's nothing like revisiting one of your favourite areas again and especially when it's such a lovely day. 

Once through the village it's onto the notoriously steep, narrow and gravel Black Jack Road which climbs steadily up and over a headland. I stopped at the top to take a photo looking back towards Kuaotunu Beach, Rings Beach and the far one, Matarangi. Hidden behind the tree is Whangapoua and way out of frame the world famous New Chums Beach (all links are of my blogs from previous visits).

Just a little further on and the road drops down to the first of my hidden gems; Otama Beach. I stop again to take a quick photo, there's no traffic on the road so I'm able to pull up when I see a gap between the trees. 

This may be of interest to some; see the square dark colour building towards the bottom left? (click the photo to enlarge). It was the 2003 Home of the Year & 2005 Home of the Decade. It appears often on TV and in magazines to do with architecture, home & garden or holidays, click the link to see more. I'm sure that green shed above it must house a spa pool! Actually I doubt it as the bach has a bath on wheels which can be wheeled out onto the deck.

Otama Beach is stunningly beautiful and totally deserted except for one lonely swimmer.

I zoom in along the beach towards the small holiday settlement at the far end of the beach and spot the swimmer's partner sitting in the dunes. The glare off the white quartz sand is intense, sunglasses are definitely needed today.

I carry on to the settlement at the end of the beach where there's a large grass reserve overlooking the beach and the Otama River outlet. There are a number of large gnarly pohutukawas hanging off the small cliffs above the beach... 

...and stairway access down to the beach.

At the bottom of the stairs a swing hangs forlornly off  a large pohutukawa branch and in the loose sand, hundreds of footprints belie the fact that the beach is once again, deserted.

Then it's back in the ute and up and over the next headland, stopping again at the top to take in the views. This one is looking out towards the Mercury Islands.

And then it's down the otherside to gem #2 (and IMO the jewel in the crown of nearly all the Coromadel Peninsula beaches)...

This is beautiful Opito Bay...

...with it's dazzling white sand and crystal clear waters. And just like Otama, the sand squeaks under foot too- overseas, white quartz beaches are often called 'singing beaches' because of this sound.

At the far end of Opito Bay there's a walk out along the headland to the Opito Point Pa site, and like most headland pa sites it has 360 degree views and is surrounded by steep cliffs which would have thwarted approaching attackers.

The front lawn is a public reserve, but how's the position of this holiday home. You can see a corner of it in the photo above. I have my lunch at the picnic table enjoying the warm sun and the sound of silence.

Opito Bay has gone a lot more upmarket since our early days of visiting it by boat and anchoring in the bay. Many of the traditional baches have been replaced with flash new holiday homes and instead the old trusty (& often rusty) tractor parked in drive, Sealegs on Stabicraft boats are now the norm. 

This guy trundled along the road behind me, then across the reserve, down the access track, across the beach and into the water. Then with hardly a hint of hesitation, he started the outboard, raised the legs and was off. I can see why Sealegs are so popular; it was so much quicker than hauling the boat down there on a trailer, launching it, having someone hold the boat and park the tractor, etc.

This is one of my old photos, taken from our launch in January 2007- those are tractors and trailers lined up along the beach waiting for their boats to return from a day's fishing. Opito Bay provides the shortest and most direct route to the Mercury Islands so it is popular place in the height of summer.

It was time for me to head to the next hidden gem which is indeed quite well hidden, and not so well known.

Matapaua Bay is a tiny little bay with just a handful of houses, tucked into the south side of the Kuaotunu Peninsula and fronting the north side of Mercury Bay (does that make sense?- check the map below for more detail). The road over to the bay is very narrow, steep and winding and not recommended for anything larger than a regular vehicle.  

It's late afternoon by now and the sun is quickly disappearing off the beach. It takes me all of  5 minutes to walk from one end of the bay to the other and I'm sure I'm the only one to have set foot on the beach in days.

From Matapaua Bay I zoom in on The Twins/Motumanga, two small island rocks in Mercury Bay that are popular for fishing and diving around.

I spot some movement at the far end of the beach and watch as a pair of endangered New Zealand Dotterel/Tuturiwhatu hurry along the tide line in my direction. I sit down in the sand and wait for them to pass. 

They scurry along for a few metres then stop and probe the seaweed, them move again, stop, probe, look, probe, then it's off again, their tiny little legs moving in a blur as they change course quickly when a sand hopper bounces out from underneath them. For a change they weren't too worried about me sitting quietly in the sand and I was able to get some great shots of them as they moved up the beach and then back past me again. This is their territory and they must spend all day sweeping back and forward along the beach. 

It was time for me to head home after a very successful and enjoyable day exploring, and not for the first time, I think how lucky I am to be able to experience these magic days.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Hot Water Heaven


It seems that many of those that had walked to Cathedral Cove were now on a mission to tick another 'must do' off their list. 

With low tide due in a little over an hour, the road to Hot Water Beach was very busy.  

The carparks were filling up... 

North end carpark
...and a steady stream of people, carrying a range of colourful shovels and wearing an assortment of swimsuits or in various stages of undress, were making their way along the sand... 

...arriving from both ends of Hot Water Beach, all heading towards a gathering of people near the centre. 

It's here that hot water bubbles up through the sand from two springs that are located about 2 kilometres underground. 

And if you dig yourself a hole the seawater & hot water mix and form a natural hot pool to soak in. This is only possible though for about 90 minutes either side of low tide.

Those that arrived early leave large holes behind them as they move down the beach following the tide as it recedes. Those without shovels or haven't the energy to dig can find a luke-warm sandy slurry in the pools left behind, enough to soak your feet in.

Here are a few more photos; I often don't see the various idiosyncrasies and interactions taking place while I'm shooting so I love checking the photos out afterwards. Click on them to enlarge.

Check out the boys in black tights (one with a hole in the butt!); they digging towards Spain and they only have their hands.

How about the guy in his Calvin Kleins. And the tiny baby being held by Poppa while the family have a soak.

One of the boys has found himself a spare shovel, and groups of foreign tourists are sharing a pool, chatting and making friends. 

The boys are still digging, their pool getting wider and wider- perhaps they can't read English either, the water must be hot as no one is soaking in that area. The lady in pink has found an empty pool and is holding it for friends getting changed.

The guy in the Calvin Kleins really should stop digging. And what about the guy with the guitar.

These are the owners of the feet in the first photo.

And a last couple of photos of the many people enjoying the Hot Water Beach experience.

Here's a few tips for when you visit Hot Water Beach; 
1) Beg, borrow or buy a shovel, as a last resort hire one for an exorbitant price. 
2) Change into your swimwear before you walk to the beach area. If you must wear your underwear, make sure it doesn't stretch when wet.
3) Leave all unnecessary gear, including guitars, in the car.
4) If it's a cold, grey, overcast day, take a towel & a warm jacket.
6) Be prepared to get sand where the sun don't shine. 
5) There is a cold water shower on the deck beside the restaurant; you must leave your swimwear on though (and no I don't have a photo of that one!)  
6) It's a longer walk from the first carpark (the one shown in the photo up above). If you park at the end of the road near the cafe/restaurant and houses you will have to cross a small stream, which is fine if you've removed your shoes (watch for sinking sand around the small rocks near and in the stream). 

The best park is the second one, this carpark may look deserted and you might want to drive to the end thinking you'll be closer to the beach but you won't, the 2nd carpark has a short walk through bush to the dunes and brings you out on the otherside of the stream. So no wet feet and closer to the action.

The beach was nowhere near as busy as the last time I visited it but then again that was in late summer. As I mentioned then, thankfully other 'hot water beaches' around New Zealand aren't as accessible or as well known as this one. Not yet anyway, *touch wood*.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Simpsons Beach Snapper, Whitianga


From Mt Maunganui we made haste to the Coromandel via Waihi Beach and stopping for lunch at the often overlooked beach settlement of Whiritoa.

Whiritoa was once the poor cousin of Whangamata & Pauanui which are further up the peninsula and the more sort after holiday destinations. I think it still slips under the radar now as many outsiders seek coastal holiday homes in the Coromandel. It's a charming little settlement with a beautiful white sand beach and a well developed waterfront reserve (you do have to be careful swimming here though, especially outside the summer season when there are no surf lifesavers on duty).

We parked beside the reserve and had lunch sitting in the warm sunshine at one of the picnic tables while watching a White-faced Heron/Matuku Moana gingerly walking through the spongy Pohuehue (Wire Vine) snatching up grasshoppers and lizards.

It was then on to our next destination which is just north of Whitianga and where this will be the view out our back window for the next couple of weeks.  

Simpson's Beach Camp (or Wharekaho Beach if you're not a local or a regular) is a wide strip of beachfront land in the front paddock of the Simpson family's 1000 acre farm. It's the perfect spot to launch small boats, kayak the calm waters, fish, swim, walk along the beach or just relax in the sun. 

Friends Noeline & Jim in their 5th-wheeler left Simpson's a few days after our arrival.
They'd been there for a few weeks, so it was lovely to be able to catch up with them before they left. 
The farm has been in the Simpson family since 1927 and they have allowed many generations of campers to stay in this little piece of paradise ($10 per night per van, dogs allowed, on a lead). They have also donated thousands of dollars to charities from the camp fees. 

Simpsons Beach is tucked into the bottom corner of Mercury Bay, alongside Buffalo Beach and about 6kms from Whitianga township. We’re in familiar territory now having spent many hours cruising Mercury Bay and berthed at the Whitianga Marina when we weren’t visiting the Mercury Islands. 

Whitianga also holds many fond memories for David. Back in the '70s his parents lived at Harbour Lights which is just down the road. David’s sister & husband owned the local Four Square store & he spent many weekends & holidays driving to & from Auckland to visit them, and to fish and dive in the area with friends.

Sunset over Simpson's Farm
And six years ago, when we first started this journey, one of the first shake-down trips was spent exploring the Peninsula for six weeks. We stayed at Simpson's Beach back then and knew the next time we visited we'd stay for longer, get the dinghy out and go fishing.

Watching the world go by
Unfortunately after the first couple of days of perfect weather, stormy weather arrived and a strong wind churned up the surf and made it just about impossible to launch the Takacat. 

We did manage to get the dinghy out beyond the surf one day but not before a few large waves had washed over the boat and soaked everything. David was not impressed, especially when he had a rough time trying to find a sheltered spot to fish that day. 

He put on his waders one day and tried a bit of surf casting while he waited for the weather to clear but no luck was had.

Other than a few semi-permanents at the far end of the camp and a few campers during the weekends, we were often the only ones in camp. We decided that because we'd already explored much of the Coromandel, this trip was going to be more of a slow moving journey, staying at 3-4 of our favourite places which happened to be perfect spots for fishing & relaxing. 

The weather and the sea eventually settled and David was able to head off around the point and out into Mercury Bay fishing for several days in a row.

Big bay, little boat
And finally, after a long and much anticipated wait, the hunter-gatherer returned with snapper for dinner.

It was a welcome change from the trout and salmon we've been having over the last few years, fishing on the lakes down South. But now I'm dreaming of blue cod!

Photo by David :) 
On one particularly calm day, David took this fair weather sailor for an explore along the rocks and out to a couple of the small islands in the bay. 

The  Fluttering Shearwaters (middle left) were very cheeky and not afraid to come in close
 trying to grab the bait and the catch!
Unfortunately, after catching a couple of very small snapper and nothing much else happening, I got a little green behind the gills bobbing about on the ever so small ocean swell and asked to be taken back in. But not before we did a circuit of the 'Little Hole in the Wall' which is near Mahungarape Island. The original, more well known (and bigger) 'Hole in the Wall' is further out in the bay, on the way to the Mercury Islands.

On one of our trips into town, I got David to drop me off at the wharf and while he went and did a few errands, I walked back home along Buffalo Beach enjoying the late afternoon sunshine. These photos are from my camera phone so excuse the quality.

While David was out fishing one day, I drove the 40kms around to Hahei, Cathedral Cove and Ferry Landing on the other side of the Mercury Bay. The sun was shining when I left but by the time I got there, a monochrome grey haze had taken over the sky. 

Tourists return from a kayak tour to Catherdral Cove and out over the marine reserve at Hahei
I was going to walk to Cathedral Cove but decided the shots wouldn't have been too great with the quickly darkening grey background so I decided to explore the area by vehicle instead. We'd walked to the Cove the last time we were in the Coromandel and that day also didn't produce too many great shots. It looks like I'll have to return another time. 

A cocky cock pheasant wandered past me while I was checking out the beach reserve at Hahei
One thing I did notice though, was the amount of tourist traffic visiting the Cove and this was in mid May when you'd expect it to be a little quieter. You definitely need to park in the visitor carpark at the entrance to Hahei village and catch the shuttle to the start of the Cove walkway, the top carpark was chocker both circuits I did. 

I also startled a kereru feasting on guavas in a small bush in the reserve.
There were even some enterprising locals selling parking sites on their front lawn for $10 a park. Some visitors, thinking they were saving money, were walking from the village carpark. It's a steep 2km walk to the start of the track and then another 5km return walk to the cove. As on our last visit some visitors were wearing the most inappropriate shoes and clothing for a walk; jandals (flip-flops), high heels, handbags and dresses!

They must have been on the Cove walk because they certainly weren't crowding Hahei Beach!
From Hahei I drove down to Ferry Landing to watch the passenger ferry to Whitianga come and go a few times. A five minute ferry ride saves a 40km and 45min drive into town.

Whitianga Wharf and waterfront from Ferry Landing.

I stopped on my way back from the Landing to take a photo of Flaxmill Bay, that's Shakespeare Cliff in the background. This is one of my favourite places in Mercury Bay, we used to anchor up here- often rafting up with friends- to relax, swim and enjoy the company of like minded people. 

A bit like motor-homing; you might not see each other for months on end but when you do, it's just like it was yesterday and you fall into the familiar banter and routine. What great memories, I felt a little sad pulling away, as it was such a fun time in our lives.

Two Kotare/Sacred Kingfishers watched me while I reminisced
I took a drive along Cooks Beach, checking out the freedom camping area right at the end of the beach in the reserve beside the Purangi Estuary (where I found the Rockwood caravan that had left Simpsons the morning before).

To read the finer details, click to enlarge.
In case you're wondering this is why Mercury Bay is called, well, Mercury Bay. A marker stone on Cooks Beach.

Of course a visit to this side of the bay wouldn't be complete without a stop at Hot Water Beach. But if you're anything like me and a dedicated people watcher you'd want to enjoy a separate blog post with plenty of photos! Well, you're in luck, coming up next....

And here's one final photo from Whitianga Wharf which will make you smile- Only in New Zealand!