Sunday 21 April 2013

Lucky Escape

1250kms, 41 days, 12 camping sites & 50,000 photos (not quite but you get the picture, or should that be photo) we are back in Tauranga after our wonderful trip around the Coromandel Peninsula. We’ll be here for a month or so catching up with visiting family & tying up a few more loose ends before we are back on the road again, hopefully in early June.  Our next adventure will be exploring the "Winterless North” during winter(of course) before we finally head, in spring, to the South Island for a year or so.

Our last night at Waihi Beach was very unsettling. The drought has definitely broken in this part of the country.  I had thought the rain at Broken Hill was torrential but it had nothing on the hammering we got at Waihi Beach. The noise was deafening, the rain ran off the van in a solid sheet, the paths & roadway around the site were flooded & poor Maddie thought the world was going to end. With the school holidays starting, I felt sorry for the dozens of campers that had arrived late afternoon & early evening to set up their tents & caravans. I could also hear the stream that flowed just behind  our van roaring through the narrow gap on its way to the beachfront.  I was thinking it was lucky we gave those eels a few feeds because they’ll have surly been swept away or if they did manage to hunker down in the stream bed they wouldn’t be seeing the light of day for a few days.
The stream runs under the bridge just beside our camp site
After a very long night and just before daybreak the rain got even heavier, solid & torrential for a couple of hours & then it just stopped.  After that a steady stream of bedraggled campers & excited kids started making their way to the showers & kitchen but generally their camp sites looked like they had survived the night reasonably well. There was a lot of surface water lying about and that benign stream that was at the most about 6 inches deep yesterday was now a raging torrent. I took the photo below with my cell phone from my bed when I woke. 
Wet & bleak
And I bet most of you reading this are thinking we got caught in the breaking news; the Waihi Stream has broken it banks, there are flash floods, dozens of campers at the Top10 holiday park have been evacuated, firemen are using ropes to help campers across a bridge. Waihi Beach Road is flooded & cars are stuck in flood waters etc. Well that was our “lucky escape”, we left yesterday morning after Friday night’s heavy rain. The latest problems have been caused by Saturday’s downpour. Here’s the stream before & after Friday’s rain, it’s now burst its banks & flooded all the cabins, the bridge that fireman were called to help with evacuations is the one that was beside our campsite.  Maybe we would have floated out of there had we still be on site, David is so relieved we were gone.

That's what it looked like the day before
Before leaving Waihi Beach, we had a reasonably quite last day letting Maddie enjoy the campground facilities & making friends with some of the arriving children. It was lovely for us to have the time with Maddie but we can both honestly say we NEVER want to be in such a popular family orientated campground during school holidays again. The noise & activity went on all day & well into the night. I seriously think that some parents must come for a break themselves, they seem to release their kids into the grounds & say “go for it” just be home for dinner!
Maddie & I went to feed the eels again, there seemed to be lots more & I noticed all the red swirls on a few of the eel photos that I had over-exposed, maybe it's the slime that they're releasing as they slithered about all over each other.

Notice the red swirls, maybe slime?
Maddie also wanted to go shell hunting again, she didn’t think she had enough shells to take home for Mum & she also wanted to find some more of my special ones for me.  I think she felt guilty as while her & Poppa were washing her shells yesterday she tried to help by washing mine too. She threw my delicate shells into the bucket with hers & gave them a good rinse around & broke most of them. She told me Poppa broke them but then later must have thought better of it & said, she & Poppa had broken them but we’d get some more tomorrow.  True to her word she found me lots more.
Shell Pasta
Waihi Beach
We did our last dump station duties at the fairly new & well appointed Waihi Beach dump station, Maddie was intrigued to see what was going on, although quickly took a few steps back when the lever was pulled. She had been curious whenever she  used the toilet as to where it was going, she even took  a look underneath the van to check it out once.  Maddie has also named out water pump Mr Woodpecker, & it does sound like a woodpecker everytime it hammers through the van.
The connected hose is to flush the black tank
And that was that. We drove through to Tauranga yesterday morning in overcast weather, managed to park up the van & unpack a fair bit before the rain hit us as well, solid torrential rain that has flooded parts of Tauranga too. The drought has well & truly broken.
The rain pouring off our slide-out roof back in Tauranga.
I really wanted to get out there & save some of it :)
We have had an amazing six weeks & have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Life on the road is all it’s cracked up to be & more. You do have to have an open mind & be ready to step outside your comfort zone should the need arise, you do have to prepared to compromise on some things that you might usually take for granted but generally it’s a fantastic way of exploring our beautiful country & we're loving it. It’s a thrill to wake each morning to a different view & know that each new day will bring new experiences. We have met some great people & without exception everyone is so friendly & welcoming. We really do live in Paradise.
We threw ourselves in the deep end by tackling the Coromandel as our first major trip but we’ve decided that David will be able to handle anything that comes his way now, nothing could be worse than some of the roads that we have travelled.

I’m working on a map of our travels with links to all the places we’ve visited & links back to the blog which I’ll post here in due course. In the meantime a big thank you too, to the dozens of people who are following my blog, it’s nice to know you’re  “Out There” following along.
See you up north…..

Thursday 18 April 2013

Maddie's Day

Maddie was up with the sparrows this morning, keen for poppa to wake up and take her swimming. Which he did twice during the day. Maddie has been having swimming lessons & is doing really well but we didn't have any floatation devices for her with us. She really wanted to swim in the big pool & then we remembered our life jackets. Turned upside down & with your legs through the arms holes you sit upright & bob about in the water. We have done this in the past ourselves in a hot water swimming hole on the Waikato River while sipping a glass of wine. Maddie was a little hesitant to start with but Poppa soon got her sorted & then he couldn't get her out of there.

We then found the eels to feed in the stream that runs through the campground. There were about 6 or 7  at first just lazing in the shallow water but as soon as we started feeding them they came from everywhere to join in the frenzy. Don't ever think there's no eels about when you have a paddle in a stream, I watched in horror as they came out of holes in rocks you'd hardly think they could fit & from under rocks & the retaining wall with gaps no thicker than your finger. They appeared from everywhere, swimming upstream through the rapids with their backs out of the water, climbing over exposed rocks & up the rocks to take the bread from David's hand. It was fascinating watching them and when the food had gone they all slithered back from whence they'd come until there were only half a dozen left again.

Next we had lunch at a café down the road & then went beachcombing There had been a large surf overnight & at high tide this morning due to the strong wind. There was a lot of debris, seaweed & shells washed up to the high tide line. Maddie collected a lot of colourful shells to take home & I found some familiar delicate "sheep's horn" shells. As kids we used to collect shells & make ornaments with plaster of paris. Sheeps horns were highly sort after by us as they only appeared after a heavy sea, which wasn't often.

Waihi Beach

Wednesday 17 April 2013

"Closed for the Season"

It rained on & off all night but by daybreak the worst appeared to be over & the sun was trying to make an appearance. The birds seemed to be very pleased as well, there was an amazing dawn chorus with lots of not so common bush birds we recognised.

We would love to stay on here at Broken Hill, but after looking at the forecast for the next few days and seeing that heavy rain & gale force winds are due back later today & for the next couple of days we decided we really didn’t want to get stuck out here in the wops by a slip or the river bursting it’s banks. Even with the rain, this has been a great campground, we’ve both loved the isolation & the peace & quite although I’m sure, going by the large number of sites dotted around the reserve, it must get very busy during the high season.
The sun came out for a brief couple of hours so before we headed off we decided to do two of the short walks that start near the campsite; the Broken Hills Battery Walk & the Gem of the Boom Creek Loop Walk. This area was once a bustling gold mining settlement & rusting relics from two of the batteries litter the bush alongside the tracks although we only managed to find some old wire rope, a  large scoop of some sort & a round metal sheet that may have been a tank.
Broken Hill Battery
Of more interest to us were the two mining shafts we came across. It's hard to believe that over 200 people lived in this area early last century, along the side of the river & this stream were a hall, post office, shops & houses. By 1914 the two large batteries had ceased production & people had moved on.
If you’ve been following my blog you’ll know what I’m going to tell you we found in the mining sharfs aren’t you? Cave wetas! And dozens of them again.  Here’s the link to the other post on the wetas where you'll find some detailed facts - Gold Mine, Wetas & Glowworms

In fact one of these shafts wasn’t a shaft afterall, it’s thought that this was some kind of jail. There was the remains of a steel bar protruding from the roof & the end opened up into a wider space. Someone with a sense of humour has added extras for special effect!

The mining shaft was much longer than the other one we visited at White Star Station & of course pitch black, it also turned a couple of times which always un-nerves me as you can’t see the light from the entrance. Did we have our head torches? No, again we forgot them. Thank God for mobile phone apps. I held on tight to the pack on David’s back as we walked through & tried hard not to think of the wetas swaying about just above my head. It didn’t help that I hadn’t realised that they can jump long distances! Duh, of course they can, that’s why they have such bloody long legs!
Back at the campsite we packed up and pulled out, still nobody about & just a small tree down across the road which David was able to skirt around. We did try manhandling it out of the way but it wouldn’t budge. Must remember the chainsaw next time! ;)

The river was still high but was dropping fast
Our next stop was not far down the line to another campground near the beach, small, private & with a great recommendation from some people we met at Colville;  Opoutere Coastal Camping. I’d already earmarked the area as there were a few walks & bird watching opportunities on the beach & in the estuary nearby. 
Opoutere Estuary
Down the road we went, all the way to the end only to find a sign up ‘CLOSED FOR THE SEASON’ And there were the owners with their car & trailer packed to the gunwales with kayaks & bikes strapped to the top parked outside their house; obviously off on their own holiday (the guy was quick to disappear inside when he spotted us). So there was nothing for it but to turn around, luckily in a paddock that had the gate conveniently open, & head back to the main road.

But not before rescuing a friendly old, fat, black & white corgi cross dog. We came around a corner & there he was stumbling down the middle of the road looking very tired & hot & bothered. David thought it was a small pig at first. He came straight up to me when we stopped & as there weren’t any houses nearby I decided he needed to be rescued. He had a collar on, no name tag but about 15 years worth of colourful registration tags. He lapped up a little water I offered him & followed me around to the door like he wanted to hop in. David wanted to drive on. I told him there was no way I was leaving him.
There should be a photo right about here of the dog but I figured if I got my camera out at that stage David would have throttled me!

The dog continued to plod along the edge of the road. I ran ahead around the corner until I found a house; an old run down house that I had to fight my way through junk to get to the door. An old guy answered it & told me that he thought the dog might belong to someone quite a way back up the road. He told me this after he told me he wanted to shoot all dogs. They were nothing but trouble.
When I got back out on the road David must have decided if he wanted to continue this journey he had to find a solution. We (as in the royal we) have saved a number of animals over the years, once David was in his suit & tie on his way to a conference when I made him climb a barbed wire fence to haul a sheep out of a very muddy bog(he's done this a couple of times since), in Ireland we had to turn around & travel quite a distance back to a spot where  I was sure I’d seen a sheep with huge horns caught in a fence. I had & it took all his effort to free him plus a seriously squashed finger that got caught in the wire.  Another time he had to run in amongst  morning rush hour traffic along the Tauranga expressway with the cat cage after I saw an injured plover up against the centre concrete barrier (I've been told to insert here the fact that I continued onto golf while he carried out the rescue). So he knew we wouldn’t be going anywhere until I had helped this old dog. My hero.
He had stopped a guy in his ute and after I came out & told them where the dog may have come from David convinced the guy to take him up the road & drop him off. So we bundled him onto the tray of the ute where he promptly collapsed on all fours, tied him with a bit of rope to the deck so he wouldn’t jump (not that he could possibly manage that) and sent him on his way. Job done. I’m sure the guy in the ute thought we were barking mad.
By now we’d decided to head all the way through to Waihi Beach. We had tentatively suggested that Maddie, our grand-daughter, come & stay with us for the last few nights of our Coromandel Odyssey & especially now that her mum & baby brother had chicken pox which she had kindly passed onto them.

And with the weather about to turn to custard & school holidays due to start on Friday we decided we were about done with the Coromandel. So now we are parked up in a tight little spot at the Waihi Beach Top 10 Holiday Park, under a huge pohutukawa tree where we have no TV reception (we keep forgetting to check that option; make sure the satellite reception has a clear view) with the wind gusting & a few showers passing through & one happy excited little girl trying to fall asleep in her very own bed on the sofa.

The Waihi Top 10 is an excellent holiday park  for children, there’s a great playground, heated swimming pool & spa, a huge bouncy cushion & you can even feed the eels in the stream that runs through the park behind our van. The beach is just across the road too, along with a couple of great looking cafes.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Rain, Rain & More Rain

Well it has torrentially rained for 28 hours solid now & we have had the park to ourselves since early this morning when the two cars left.  No one has been silly enough to arrive this afternoon and now we’re even wondering if the road is accessible. Thankfully there were no fords that we crossed to get here. That we can remember.  David took a drive down to the bridge that we crossed to make sure all was ok that far down, & it was.

Yesterday before the heavy rain started I took these photos of the Tairua river which flows past the campsite.


This morning I put on my rain gear & my gumboots and walked over to the river to see how far it had come up. I was kind of expecting a raging torrent but it was a surprise to see how much it had changed since last night. I was too scared to venture right down to the edge in case I slipped but David took me down to the bridge later in the day to get a shot too.


Our fresh water tanks are full to overflowing & David has filled every available receptacle we have onboard & still he is collecting it; so much water going to waste. Well in fact it’s not going to waste really; the bush will be lapping it up. Mini waterfalls are flowing all over the place & the blackbirds & thrushes are having a ball. It's not getting too boggy so the rain must be soaking in, we’re just hoping the gravel tracks out of here to the road will be fine by tomorrow. And that there have been no slips caused by the soaking. I guess if you’re reading this we’ve made it back to civilization.
Once we had our awning fully extended & tied down it provided a great shelter for us. I had lots of things to do inside that I’d be saving for a rainy day & David did what he’d be dying to do for many days; clean the ute! Well why not make use of the rain although he used the hose on the campsite water tap. But at least the rain helped rinse it off afterwards.

This camping business is swings & roundabouts, it’s all about balancing out your resources so you’re not running out of necessary supplies  that would make for a miserable few hours or days. If it’s sunny, you have heaps of solar power pumping in, so using electrical devices isn’t a problem but then you have to watch your water use(if there are no taps nearby), short showers, shallow sinks, flush for #2s only etc, etc. 

If it’s raining you can top up your tanks & have a longer shower but then if you’re not plugged in it can’t be too long, that pump uses precious electricity & there’s no sun to restore the supply. The best option is to be plugged in at a campground with a hose tap nearby (& internet supply freely available) but where’s the fun in that. My happy day is when  we’re leaving a powered camp site & visiting their dump station on the way out. I can have a one long hot continuous shower because the water can be topped up. Power is no problem for the water pump, & if the grey water tank fills? That's no problem either, empty it on the way out!
It’s now 6pm & it’s still raining heavy, the forecast is for a lull tomorrow morning & then heavy rain again so we’re hoping we can make a break for it before it sets back in again. We’ll definitely be coming back here at some stage to finish our exploring.

Monday 15 April 2013

We Nearly Came Unstuck

With the first heavy rain forecast in the whole four & a bit weeks that we’ve been away, we couldn’t quite decide if we'd stay put at the Top 10 campground at Hot Water Beach or headed out into the wilderness again. Broken Hill, a DOC (Dept. of Conservation) campground was the next place I had tentatively marked on our route, 47kms further south & getting that little bit closer to home.

Did we need power to keep us topped up? Who knew when the sun would shine again to top us  up via the solar panels. Did we want the internet to keep us occupied (yes; that would be me!) Would we be better staying here in the Top10 high & dry & safe from any weather related problems even though the wind gusts were starting to move the van about a bit. We weighed up the pros & cons of moving on and decided we might as well be tucked up in the wilderness facing the rain than here in the camp, either way we’d be stuck inside.
In between passing showers we packed up the van, hitched up, emptied our tanks once again, set TomTom for Broken Hill & hit the road. The turn off was off the Hikawai-Kopu road and by the time we got there it was raining quite heavy on & off.

There was a large ford to cross at the beginning, the stream still just a trickle & then the road turned to a track, it was 8kms to the end and the track slowly got narrower and we crossed another couple of fords.
We were both starting to get a little worried, we’d always said we’d unhitch & check out any unknown roads if we felt uncomfortable about the chance we might get stuck with no turn  around areas at the end of dead end roads. But we kept seeing signs that we were heading in the right direction. Mostly signs saying “Private Property” “Keep Out” “No Hunting”, these would indicate the landowners in this area were fed up with the public accessing their properties from this road which would mean a lot of people heading up this road to the DOC land.
Along the way farm animals looked up & stared at us rumbling by, some were even startled; like they hadn’t seen anything like this down here before. And then we saw a farmer on a tractor coming down the side of a hill, I said to David  'He must be thinking “Those guys are keen” as the rain squalls continued to pass through.

And then we were at the end of the road but no sign of a DOC camp. I could see a sign board a bit further on so got out with the umbrella & had a look. Yes it said “Broken Hill”, yes it indicated many of the walks to be had in and amongst this old gold mining area, but no, it didn’t say anything about a DOC campground. “Oh wait, look there it was” At the other end of the park, 17kms away and accessed from a totally different road! Physically different but not that different; one was called Puketui Road & the other was Puketui Valley Road! Never trust your TomTom……well in fact that’s not quite right, always check your husband had entered the right information. But to give him his dues, it did say Broken Hill, it did say Puketui and it did say(somewhere) that it was hard to find.

Thankfully at the end of the road were some stock yards & a barn so there was a reasonable area to turn around in and thank God for the manoeuvrability of the fifth-wheeler. We felt a bit of a fool driving back down the road, the animals still standing there staring at us, at least the farmer had disappeared. I’m thinking he just said to himself “bloody JAFAS”.

So back we went retracing our steps until we found the right road to turn into, it followed alongside the Tairua River & wasn’t too bad width wise until towards the end when it narrowed down, especially where there had been some major slip areas which had obviously wiped out the road into the river below & been repaired.

At the end of the road was the DOC camp, & what a beauty it was too. 
I'm not too sure who was going to enforce the liquor ban...
A large tiered site set amongst mature native bush on the banks of the river. There are dozens of sites to choose from, lovely grassed areas in amongst the bush or under trees.
There was no warden on this site, it’s self check-in , you drop your fee in the “iron maiden” and find yourself a spot. We have a DOC pass so no need for us to pay, just fill in our details.
There was one other motorhome parked near the entrance , two cars arrived later in the day (& stayed overnight) & the motorhome left before dark & that was it. Just us & the wilderness. Oh & the rain. It rained solidly all night, It didn’t let up one iota & in fact got heavier & heavier. There was quite a bit of wind too but we were quite sheltered below the tree line. I love the sound of rain on the roof & on the van it was very loud. But I can seriously say that by daybreak it had certainly lost it's appeal.
This is the first lot of heavy rain we’d had since we’ve been on the road. We’ve had a couple of overnight rainfalls & one day of drizzle & that’s been it. The Coromandel is calling out for rain, as is the rest of NZ, the drought has taken a heavy toll so we can’t really begrudge the fact that it is now pelting down with rain. I was hoping to do some of the walks in the area & David had his eye on doing some trout fishing in one of the few trout rivers in the Coromandel. No such luck.

We’d already discussed the process of collecting water especially when we’re freedom camping, so much clean water falls from the sky in a downpour like this that it makes sense to try & collect some of it. It pours off the corners of the van & the awning & we're going to sort out some sort of collection system for it before our next trip away. In the meantime McGivor set about adapting a few bits & pieces & managed to fill the containers dozens of times over. He couldn’t keep up with them, he’d turn his back & the other one would be fill. We didn’t have a funnel but a Sprite bottle came in handy. The benefit of this was one long hot shower this morning! No rationing today!
Last night before darkness overtook us, David found a Morepork (NZ owl) roosting in a tree nearby, we were able to get right up close to him but unfortunately it took me awhile to sort out my camera settings and by then he’d moved on. It was a thrill to see him though & hopefully David might find him again tonight.

Sunday 14 April 2013

Cathedral Cove

Cathedral Cove is another very popular tourist attraction we decided to visit. The signpost said a 45minute walk to the cove but it’s very deceptive when you look at it from the viewing platform by the car park. It looks like it’s just a few hundred metres away and I’m sure some of the people we saw making their way there thought the same too. A couple of women were in high heels, a few wore stockings on an extremely humid & hot late summer's day, some carried their handbags like they were going shopping & then there were some very elderly people with walking sticks.

In fact it’s two & half kilometres of pretty strenuous  walking, up & down and over some very uneven ground in places even though it’s a well marked & worn track. The climb up the very steep stairway out of the cove on the return leg is a real killer.

Was it worth it? Well we decided we liked seeing it better with a wine in hand while lunching on the deck of the boat safely anchored in the lee of the famous archway for the afternoon, much less of an ordeal! J Actually it wasn’t that bad & it was great to see it from the beach & walk through the huge cavern but it would have been nicer if the sky had been blue for me but then again, that would have meant a very hot walk back to the car.

The above shot may look familiar, some of the scenes for The Chronicles Of Narnia - Prince Caspian Movie were shot inside the archway.

Cathedral Cove's famous sea stack, Te Hoho, crowned with Pohutukawa trees, stands strong despite the endless erosion of the Pacific Ocean. The eight million year old ignimbrite rock is made of white pumice and volcanic ash.

We also visited Cooks Beach, another large crescent of white sand with a good number of baches & holiday homes five & six deep lining the beach, another very popular holiday spot. 
Cooks Beach & Lonely Bay
Next stop was the lookout at Shakespeare Cliff which gave a panoramic view right around Mercury Bay, from Whitianga’s Buffalo Beach in the west to Hahei in the east and all the islands in between & further afield. Straight across the water was Simpsons Beach where we were staying a couple of nights ago.

Centre back- Buffalo Beach, Whitianga
Centre Left- Flaxmill Bay

Simpsons Beach, the pines we stayed under to the right

Shakespeare Cliff & Flaxmill Bay
Then it was down past Flaxmill Bay, another little beauty, & one we’ve anchored in for a swim & relax awhile during the day. On & up over the little rise to Ferry Landing & the wharf where the passenger ferry from Whitianga comes & goes all day long. A five minute crossing saves a half hour & 40kms trip by car. 

Some obviously think the ferry is too expensive :)

Ferry Landing Store & Library; I guess you only need a small library because the books will be short stories as the ride is only five minutes long.
Mercury Bay Islands & part of the marine reserve
Along side the ferry landing were a family of oystercatchers, the parents teaching the two chicks how to gather shell fish. Each time they managed to stab a limpet or nab a cockle when it opened it's shell they make a big fuss & headed for the beach with the youngsters hot on their heels. The young birds quickly took over finding their own dinner.

A quick stop at Hahei on the way home, which is a very popular beach due to it being very close to Cathedral Cove, it also fronts the marine reserve that covers a wide area on this side of Mercury Bay. A lot of kayak tours leave from Hahei Beach, along with glass bottom boats so visitors can see the spectacular sealife around the reefs & islands of the reserve. A very long time ago in the early days of our  boating adventures we totally forgot about the reserve & stopped for a fish. We wondered why we had a very fruitful couple of hours! Luckily nobody spotted us, it’s a possible $300,000 fine & forfeiture of your boat if you’re caught.

Hahei Beach from Cathedral Cove lookout
Hahei Beach