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!