Since publishing the last blog we have tried to squeeze in the final few things that we wanted to see and do before we have to give this wonderful way of life up and head back to reality. On the 16th we decided to rent a car for the day so that we could drive to a region of the Bay of Plenty called the Coromandel, known for it's stunning coastal formations complete with golden beaches and crystal clear turquoise waters. We set off early to pick up our car and make the most of the days rental. Fortunately, the weather lived up to the reputation held by the Bay of Plenty as being the sun-spot of New Zealand so we were able to enjoy the scenery at it's best. Our first stop was Waihi Beach, which turned out to be an almost exact carbon copy of the beach over the hill from Cashy and Gary at Ohope! We decided to rest here and eat lunch before setting off along the eastern coast of the peninsula. The beauty of having your own transport in a country such as New Zealand, where everytime you turn a corner your breath is taken away
by more spectacular scenery, is that you can just pull over at the most remote, untouched beaches and enjoy a little piece of paradise as often as you like. And we did just that! Our chosen route took us via Opoutere Beach, where we walked for 15 minutes through native Kauri forests and ferns, until we finally came out onto a lengthy stretch of golden sand with fresh green hills that rolled into the ocean, and ferns that framed the dunes behind us. After we had taken a lazy stroll, admired the surfers and taken some pictures we were back on the road and heading for Cathedral Cove. The area here is part of the Te Whanganui-a-Hei Marine Reserve, so just off the coast there are many unspoilt islands. The next stop of the day took us across the peninsula where we weaved between hills covered in Kauri trees and sheep, stopping for a moment to look at Waiau Falls, to Coromandel Town on the West coast. The drive between this small town and that of Thames further south is one of the most beautiful drives in New Zealand (although, every road we've driven while here has been stunning in
it's own right!). It hugs the coast as it passes through small settlements, clinging to cliffs dotted with Pohutukawa trees, known as the New Zealand Christmas tree. By this time it was beginning to get late so we decided to stop in Thames to watch the sun set, and it turned out to be one of the best one's we've seen yet. We picked up a take away pizza for dinner and started the 3 hour journey back to Whakatane in the dark.
The next day saw the arrival of Bill and Marilyn, Paul's parents, which had been long awaited by all of us! It was so nice to see friendly faces from home, and most importantly, they brought chocolates from Hotel Chocolat, so Kirstie was doubly happy! We borrowed Cashy and Gary's car to pick Bill and Marilyn up from the bus station, so we decided to give them a preview of the area from Kohi Point, a look out that provides panoramic views across the whole Bay of Plenty. They seemed pretty impressed! The next few days were spent living the Kiwi lifestyle while they recovered from their jet-lag. This consists mainly of going to the beach,
swimming in the sea, picnics at West End, kicking a ball about down by Ohiwa harbour, body boarding, surfing, sunbathing and eating BBQ food!
On the 21st, Bill and Marilyn hired a car out for a week so that we could drive around the East Cape. This area is relatively untravelled and is very isolated. The interior is divided by the densely bushy Raukumara Range while the coast is riddled with coves whose shores are lapped by the inviting waters of the Pacific Ocean. Again the freedom of having our own transport allowed us to stop where we wanted, when we wanted, which meant we were able to enjoy doughnuts at Opotiki beach, admire more surfers at Hawai, stop for a drink at a cafe in Te Kaha and take a moment to appreciate the intricate carvings on the Tukaki Marae opposite the cafe, then pick a beautiful spot on the cliffs to eat our picnic lunch. Unfortunately, by this point the sky was covered in clouds (the tail-end of the recent Fijian cyclone) so we had to eat in the car, but that's just the nature of the weather in this region, so we watched huge waves crashing
on the rocks at the foot of the cliff instead of soaking up the sun. After lunch we continued on to Raukokore where there is a pretty little church perched on the edge of the land looking like a perfect postcard, but with the weather the way it was I think we were all half expecting the church to be washed in to the sea! We drove on until we came to the turning for Lottin Point Motel, our accommodation for the night, which was on a farm at the end of the windiest road, perched on the edge of a cliff. The Motel was owned by a rather strange man named Bruno who had jumped ship from Denmark in the '70's and hadn't been home since, and who also collects baseball caps; the walls of the bar are covered in over 2000 of them left by visitors from all over the world. Being in the middle of nowhere, the only place to eat was at the motel and so we had excellent fish and chips, followed by a few drinks at the bar where we got talking to some fishermen from Taranaki who were also staying at the motel.
We had hoped that the clouds would have cleared by the time we wanted to leave in the morning, but we had no such luck and so decided to by-pass the eastern most point of the cape, and New Zealand, and continue along the eastern coast. We stopped in a small town called Ruatoria for breakfast and a coffee at the servicemen's club where we met a lovely maori woman who gave us some history of the area and told us about some of the soldiers whose portraits covered the walls. We stopped at various beaches including the pretty Waipiro Bay, and Tokomaru with it's crumbling pier. We had ice-cream in Tolaga Bay, and stopped to take photos of shimmering silver birches scattered about the countryside. We took a detour to Whangara where the novel Whale Rider was based and discovered a spectacular little bay nestled behind the hills. The next stop was Gisborne where we strolled around some of the local souvenir shops for an hour or so before setting off for Morere where we had arranged to stay at the Moonlight Cottage, which turned out to be as lovely as the name suggests! Set on a farm
(again!) but this time inside a sheep paddock... With nowhere to eat nearby, we were back in the car as soon as we had collected the keys, and drove to Mahia to search for some food. We were in luck! Of the only 2 places to eat within half an hours drive, we lucked out and had some of the most delicious food yet, with steak to start, and slow roasted peaches with brandy, sugar and ice-cream - YUM!!! Our return route to Whakatane took us via the Waioeka Gorge where we shadowed the winding Waioeka river through native forest. The road was long but very picturesque, so our cameras had yet another good work out!
On the 25th we drove back to Rotorua to visit Te Whakarewarewa (Te Fa-ka-re-wa-re-wa) Thermal Village where we saw how Maori people utilised the volcanic activity in the area before they had modern amenities. Boiling water pools were used to cook vegetables, while steaming holes in the ground were covered and used as underground ovens to cook meat. Water from the hot pools was channelled into smaller pools and cooled with water from the lake and used for bathing and washing. While here
we also saw the world renowned Prince of Wales Feathers geyser, and a very enjoyable concert in the garden of one of the houses within the village where locals first welcomed us with the te powhiri greeting ritual, and performed traditional dances and sang to us, performed the haka and played traditional stick games. We also saw how poi are used as a form of expression alongside singing, and how to use a toiaha.
On the 26th it was time for the all important Jumping Tuna festival in Whakatane, a time of year when people are drawn from all over the country to participate in a fishing competition with a first prize of $120,000 to be awarded to the fisherman with the biggest catch over a four day period. It's meant to be a big deal for the small town that is Whakatane, but we were slightly disappointed after Cashy and Gary had painted a picture in our minds of it being a busy, bustling time of year, only for us all to walk down to the water front to find out that the harbour entrance had been closed due to rough weather, so there were no people and
no fish! On the up side, The Strand had been closed off to traffic and a stage had been erected so we did get to enjoy some local bands and singers performing. We went back to Cashy and Gary's house for a BBQ dinner, then hit the town again to enjoy the atmosphere with a couple of drinks in the evening.
The 27th was shadowed by the fact that not only was it to be our last day all together, but also officially the last day of Kirstie and Paul's trip. We spent the morning shopping in town, and the afternoon generally chilling out and packing. In the evening Cashy and Gary surprised us all with a farewell BBQ on the beach! This time we had a permit, so the first duty completed once we arrived at the beach was the lighting of the bonfire. As we all sat round keeping warm, drinking beer and wine, eating BBQ food, and gazing at the stars, Paul and Kirstie were both distracted by thoughts of leaving, and the closing of the most amazing chapter of both of our lives to date.
Saying goodbye at the airport the next morning was
horrible. Staying with Cashy and Gary has been so great, like being back at uni together again! They have been so generous and kind to us, hopefully one day we will be able to repay them. We've been so lucky in meeting amazing people wherever we've been, and have lots of great stories to tell. We owe so much to everyone who has helped us out throughout the last 7 months (you know who you are!), a big big thank you to you all. Without you, our trip as we know it wouldn't have been possible.
So this is it! Thank you for reading our blogs and sharing our journey with us, we hope you have enjoyed reading our stories as much as we enjoyed writing to you about them! Now it's back to the real world...
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