Sunday, 1 July 2018

The Great Escape- Coromandel


Port Jackson did at least put on 4 or 5 days of calm, sunny weather towards the end of our three week stay. But the weather turned to custard once again on the Friday before the long Queens Birthday weekend.

Port Jackson
It rained on and off for most of the day on the Friday and then throughout the night when the wind also joined the party. We pulled the slide out in early on Saturday morning as the wind increased. It was blowing straight down the beach and catching the slide out awning which is sprung loaded; it tends to tug at it and release it with a thump and a bang.

We do quite often pull the slide out in when it's really rough weather, we don't like the stress and strain the wind puts on the slide; it is a relatively large (and long) slide-out compared with some and we have room inside to carry on 'living' so it's not an issue. We also sleep better at night knowing we are fairly stable no matter what the weather throws at us. We've had a few wild rides during our time on the road, none more so than one particular night at Elaine Bay in the Marlborough Sounds.

By late afternoon we were debating whether to shift off the beach site and move to the back of the camp to get some shelter from the small trees but in the end decided to stay put. By 10pm the wind was a howling gale and the noise on the roof from the rain was horrendous. But when we looked outside and caught the horizontal 'rain' in the torch beam it turned out it wasn't rain at all, we were being sand-blasted by the sand off the dunes. We quickly decided to shift before it got worse as real rain had now joined the melee. It was pitch-black outside but we managed to get ship-shape and hitched up within 15 minutes and quickly moved over to trees where we rocked and rolled the night away (luckily David had already packed the Takacat away before the weather changed).

The rain bucketed down during the night and it didn't let up until late Sunday morning. I decided to take a drive down to see how the Pahi Stream had coped with the deluge. The usually gentle flowing stream crosses a shallow ford and flows out into Port Jackson Bay near the start of the camp.

Never mind the stream, what about the ford! It was a raging torrent; and it had already dropped quite a lot leaving a tide line of debris along the grass and across the road. 

The two 'rooster tails' you can see on the far side in the photo above (click to enlarge) and below are the marker posts for vehicles to cross the ford.

As I watched, a couple of fairly large logs and an uprooted small tree went bobbing past and disappeared under the frothing water  at the bottom of the ford.

The stock fence, hanging off a wire across the stream, was taking a beating as the water and debris rushed past on its way to the sea.

Just in case you're thinking "Well, that doesn't look like too much water, I'd be able to drive through it", take a look at this video I did. Pretty impressive huh?  

Down on the beach near the mouth of the stream uninviting waves of  'brown soup' carried some of the debris back into shore.

As I drove back towards camp I though I'd go and see how the other ford was fairing (the one on the way to Fletcher Bay that can cause trouble for bigger vehicles). I stopped on the rise above the beach, to take a photo of the dirty water line creeping across the bay. By late afternoon the whole bay was brown.

It was no surprise to find the Fletcher Bay ford overflowing too. A couple of tourists are stuck on the other side; they've been at the Fletcher Bay camp and were heading back to Auckland. They'll not get through this one today, luckily they have a campervan and supplies and are quite happy staying where they are.

I tell them more rain is due so to cross as soon as they're able to. I leave them kicking a hacky sack about and head back to camp.

The weather forecast for the coming week is not the best with more wind, thunderstorms and heavy rain due from Tuesday onwards. We think we'll leave in the morning (Monday) but decide for sure when we wake up.

The morning dawns fine and calm although it looks like the rain is on it's way; we are in two minds about leaving but in the end decide we'll go. We don't want to be caught up here until the end of the week once the weather packs up. By the time we're ready to leave it's late morning and the rain starts (big fat plops) just as we say farewell to Ursula & Frederick at the camp office. And there's a couple of far away claps of thunder. Ominous signs...

The camp ford has dropped dramatically...

...and we head on through and turn left to head up the long haul to the top...

...when all hell breaks lose! A weather bomb hits directly over the top of us, lightening flashes through the gloom and the thunder booms not a half second later, wind whips around the rig and it's bucketing down; the wipers can hardly keep up.

David has the Ranger in 4WD & low range and it slowly hauls the van up the steep (and now slippery) incline- as dozens of flashes and thunder claps carrying on around us. We get a slight reprieve from the rain as we pass under the trees and then near the top the rain is suddenly replaced by dirty great hail stones! There's nowhere to pull over and David daren't risk stopping in case he can't get away again. 

The relief at finally reaching the top is short-lived as we round the corner and start to head down. We nearly get wiped out by a speeding car. Luckily we're only just moving and have stopped well before she slams on her brakes and skids towards us. She backs up and we shout at her to slow down, the conditions are treacherous. And to put her bloody lights on too!  

The road is awash with rivers of water... we crawl towards the 'big drop off corner'. We round it safely and heave another sigh of relief.

This is the same view on a more pleasant day!

The rain eases a little and the gap between the lightening and thunder grows so we know the storm is moving away. Dozens of dirty brown streaks flow into the sea as old & new waterfalls and streams cascade down the hillside.

David has to avoid several small slips and a lot of debris that has fallen onto the road along the way, and we have to stop to move this fallen branch. 

This ford has reasonably clear water still flowing over it, the rain storm mustn't have hit up in the range above yet, although it's raining lightly down here.

We pass more vehicles coming towards us than we've ever passed on this road before, all heading towards Port Jackson. I know we were mad but I wonder what has possessed all those others to drive to Port Jackson on a day like today- Queens Birthday Monday of course!

The ford before the camp would have been raging again and no one would have been able to drive over it. In fact the woman who slid to a halt at the top of the hill has now caught us up coming back; we let her pass, she still has no lights on and is driving way too fast.

The storm hasn't finished with us yet, it catches us up and it's bucketing down again (along with lightening & thunder). Its the first time I've seen water over this small ford.

But many of the culverts are blocked by debris and the road has started to flood in areas...

There are several larger slips closer to the road end although they look like they might have happened earlier in the weekend. Unless someone is carrying road cones on their back seat.

Finally and with a great sense of relief we reach Colville. Talk about testing our nerve, David did a grand job driving but we both comment that we'd not want to do that trip again in a hurry. Talk about extreme conditions, at least we know we could do it if we did get caught out somewhere. 

And so much for shooting the Colville Store on a fine day. Oh well, I'm sure we'll be back again....just earlier in summer next time.

It rained all the way to Coromandel Town and in fact there was more debris over the road on this last section than we'd seen on the Port Jackson Road. The rain was still torrential as we pulled into the NZMCA Park, the grounds saturated and flooding so we backed in beside another motorhome on the little bit of hard still available. We had a cup of tea and then looked at each other and said 'Bugger this, let's get out of here'.

We pulled out and headed around to the nearby Long Bay Motor Camp, where we'd also stayed on our last Coromandel visit. And where we'd be able to plug back into the grid and not have to worry about our power usage. Generators aren't allowed at the Coromandel NZMCA Park and we were low on energy and with the sun certainly not looking like it was going to show itself anytime soon this was the best option. And in fact we stayed for 6 days in the end, enjoying a bit of sun after the storm cleared.

And we were once again parked up in the perfect spot for some magic sunsets...

From Long Bay we headed back to Mt Maunganui for a few days to catch up with the family.  This time parking in the Ocean Camp section and having the place very nearly to ourselves for the four days of our stay. Hard to believe I know!

Then is was on to the NZMCA Park at Taupo for a few days... catch up with good friends Amanda & Paul who we hadn't seen in a long while. They were heading through to Tauranga for a few weeks.

We were lucky enough to be given a rainbow trout by a passing fisherman, so David smoked it and we had trout and bubbles for lunch. Never mind that it was bitterly cold outside; good food, fine wine and great company were worth the discomfort. Truth be told, neither of us wanted smoked fish smell inside the van; I was still trying to rid ours from the fish I'd cooked a few nights previous.

From Taupo it was back to Napier where we're now parked up on the concrete pad beside Mum & Dads' once again. Once we return from Melbourne we'll stay put as we have a couple of important family functions happening so it'll be a few weeks before we're on the move again.

This'll be the last blog for a short while- travel well, stay safe and keep warm!

Friday, 29 June 2018

Clifftops & Coastlines- Coromandel

Catch-up; I'm trying hard to catch up on my blogs as we're off to Melbourne for two weeks on Monday to visit family and are especially excited as we're going to meet our near-new grandson; 6 month old Otis. I have one more blog to post before Sunday and then I'll be taking a break for a short while. Enjoy these last few Coromandel blogs...

I did a little bit of exploring in between waiting for fish for dinner; driving to Fletcher Bay one day and walking the Muriwai Track another.

Fletcher Bay is at the end of the road, 6kms further on from Port Jackson and also on the tip of the Coromandel Peninsula. It's where the Coromandel Coastal Walkway starts (or finishes, depending on which way you walk it) and there's also a large DOC camp tucked into the valley behind the bay.

This road is also a narrow winding road which follows the contours of the land above the cliffs that drop off to the sea below. But this road is not suitable for large vehicles, not because of the road itself but because of a deeper than usual ford crossing not too far beyond Port Jackson. If you are low to the ground and/or have a long overhang you will scrape your backside trying to cross it. But if you do get through, make sure you vacate Fletcher if there's a major weather event forecast- you'll see why in my next blog. 

Fletcher Bay is tucked in front of The Pinnacles, the sharp tooth shaped rock ahead (a couple more are obscured around the point), that's Square Top Island centre left and a tiny portion of Great Barrier Island on the left.

From a look-out point half-way along the cliff edge the 180 degrees views out over the Colville Channel are magnificent- this is looking west towards Cape Colville, which forms the west end of Port Jackson...

... and east towards The Pinnacles, with Cuvier Island on the horizon. Cuvier, an uninhabited island is north of the Mercury Islands. You can see the road at the top of the bush line here, curving it's way towards Fletcher Bay. It's a long way down!

Overlooking Fletcher Bay, just before the road drops down to sea level. The camp reaches quite a way back up the valley behind the bay. Across the way you can see the start of the 10km Coromandel Coastal Walkway (and mountain bike) track which finishes in Stony Bay way over on the otherside of the peninsula and 50km by winding narrow gravel road from here.

We walked the track- to the middle and back from either end on our last visit to the Coromandel- 20kms in total. It was the best way to do it without having to catch a shuttle from the far end back to camp or in fact walk the full 20kms there and back in one day. The link above is the first half of the walk and this is the link for the walk from the Stony Bay end. I'd highly recommend walking all or part of the track though, the views are spectacular.

I did miss walking the Muriwai Track on our previous visit to Port Jackson, I left it too late and then the weather packed up. This time I had the grand idea of doing a daily 6km circuit, up the road from camp, along the Muriwai Walk and back home along the beach but in the end that's all it turned out to be- a grand idea!

Instead I got David to drop me up at the start of the track and then I walked back to camp.....once only! That's him driving home below.

The Muriwai Walk starts out looking pretty average, although there are lovely views down the valley overlooking the road.

But around a couple of corners and the views are absolutely breathtaking! The narrow track stretches out along the clifftop and disappears over the top of the knoll in the distance.

Flaxes, thick kikuyu grass and several large pohutukawa trees hang off the steep cliffs as they drop away to the rocky coastline below. Channel Island and Little Barrier Island are centre stage.

Looking back I can see Flat Top Island, the lookout area and the road to Fletcher Bay; this photo is the reverse of the Cape Colville photo, #3 up above, I hadn't realised that you could actually see the Muriwai track in that photo.

Over the knoll and Cape Colville comes into view with the track running along the top of the ridge line. There's a short track down the edge of this hill, down to the rocks below but it's very steep and I only climb down a short way, to a flat dusty scoop in the ground which looks like it's been a sheep's lookout at some stage. I take a few photos looking along to the Cape...

...and peer over the edge when I get the surprise of my life to see a fisherman on the rocks far below. Well I think it's a fisherman, I can't quite make him out so I zoom in and see that he's all set up for a day's fishing. Where the heck did he come from? And now I feel like I'm spying so I quickly pull back and head up to the track... carry on along the top. The grass is thick and has overgrown the path in places, I have to thread carefully otherwise I stand on the long grass with one foot and trip myself up when the other foot slides underneath it as I step. I have visions of me slipping over the edge...

...and tumbling down the slope, snatching at the grass and flaxes as I whiz past. At least the fisherman would hear me screaming. Click the photo to enlarge, check the red arrow to see him from this angle. The sheep lookout I climbed down to is right up the top, on the edge of the photo.

Finally Port Jackson comes into view over the ridge to the left...

...and down below a tiny hidden cove. The track crosses a narrow ridge above the cove, then climbs up and off along the top again.

Once on the ridge I have a fantastic view of Port Jackson, even spotting 'Out There' tucked in front of the trees at this end of the beach.

And on the other side I now have a clear view of the little cove- apparently known as 'Bum Bay' by the locals for reasons that are now clearly obvious!

I take a few photos of the lovely pohutukawa tree hanging off the side of the cliff above the cove.

You can't see it in the photo above but each pohutukawa along the walk has it's own self-setting gas operated Goodnature possum trap attached to protect it from the furry pests. 

I climb the short flight of steps to the top of the cove, this looking back over the track and up the steps on the other side. It's no wonder there's a caution on the track signs to watch for windy weather.

My photos just don't do the scenery and views justice, many times I stood in awe taking in all the splendour. It is an absolutely spectacular walk and well worth doing, other than a couple of staircases there's not much effort involved either, downhill most of the way if you start at the top.

The track cuts through a farm paddock and finally winds down the last grassy hill to Port Jackson Beach...

...and there's 'Out There' looking very lonely all on her own at this end of the camp. 

I stopped to say hello to Mr & Mrs NZ Dotterel who are feeding near the stream outlet. That's a wind blown Mrs in the top photo, she's a little more nervous than Mr and skirts a wide circle around me as I crouch down to photograph them.

My arrival home is timed just right. The dark broody clouds, which sat high above the range inland from the coast have now moved out over the beach. There's a storm a brewing.

And here's one last photo, I just had to do something with that heart shaped planting of pines on the slopes above Port Jackson Station homestead...