Published: June 12th 2011June 9th 2011
The kids were dragging a bit this morning. Unless the car rides count, we really hadn't given them much down time. But this was our last day on the Coromandel Peninsula and we hadn't headed up north beyond Whitianga. So we finally rallied the troops by around 9:30 and started driving north with no destination in particular.
It seemed a few degrees colder in the morning than it had been the past few days, so we dressed slightly warmer. We still packed rain gear, swim suits and even some extra clothes. We had a vague plan to hopefully make it to New Chums Beach, a beach described in one travel books as "one of the top 10 beaches in the world". We couldn't get an exact description as to how to get there. We knew it wasn't accessible by car but couldn't determine how long it took to hike to it. Further, some of the instructions in a Coromandel guide that we found in our rental home sounded a bit sketchy.
We meandered up the coast past Whitianga, where we had previously rented the hot rod bike. After about a half an hour of driving, we saw a little
spit of land with a car park, so we pulled over. It was a place called Quarry Point in a town named Kuaotuna. The spit was a deteriorating chunk of rock extending about 100 meters out into a large bay. The waves were hitting it on either side which formed little pools. A few determined trees had managed to take root in some of the higher points. It offered fine views up and down the coast as well as some steep pasture land inland which was dotted with sheep and was capped with a couple of cows not wishing to brave the incline.
With the incoming tide, some of the protrusions had to be negotiated by leaping from rock-to-rock. As the surges came in some of these rocks would disappear for moments. Geddy and I made it out to the second farthest point. The last one seemed inaccessible under current conditions. As the tide continued its steady march, Geddy had to do some really fancy footwork to make it off as he had stayed several minutes longer than I had (he was searching for a way out to that last point). We had a nice break at Quarry Point
and loaded back in the car.
We decided to make a go at New Chums Beach. It had warmed up enough to make the sound of hiking to a beach sound inviting. We drove to Whangapuoa, which appeared to be a decent sized town. At least there were lots of homes along the road into it. "Lots" is all relative as the size of some of the "towns" we had driven through was quite comical. So for purposes of this discussion, I'm calling "lots" about 100. We found a little market to get some provisions. The market wasn't very well stocked, so we inquired about a cafe perhaps in town. The lady told us that they were the only game in town. Upon further inquiry, we learned that there were only 47 full-time residents of Whangapuoa. Either the name scares off the others for most of the year or they just come during summer months to enjoy the ocean. The store did have a hand-drawn map on the door indicating how to get to New Chums Beach and estimated the hiking time to be about 30 minutes.
There was a small car park at the end of the
New Chum's Beach
Here was the view as we came off the trail.
road a quarter mile or so from the store. We parked there and grabbed a couple of bags of supplies and headed off. The beach at Whangapuoa was nice in its own right. It stretched for quite a way in front of beach houses to the south. Where we started our jaunt, the beach was split by the run off of a decent-sized stream. To the north the beach transformed into an uninviting rocky turn toward the ocean. The stream was bloated by the high tide, so two minutes into the hike we had to change into bathing suits and remove our shoes to make it across the thigh-deep channel. Always fun putting your shoes back on in the sand. From here we headed to the rocky shore that jutted out to an impassable cliff.
The rocks along the shore took some time and care in negotiating. They ranged from football-sized to Theo-sized. They were mostly stable and not too slippery. The boys nimbly attacked the mass of rocks and Suzy tried to keep up with them to keep them in sight. Ivy more cautiously approached the challenge (imagine!) and I stayed back with her. Amazingly three seniors were
heading in the same direction. This seemed highly ill-advised as one of the women had already fallen twice and I seriously doubted that we would see them on the other side.
The rocks eventually started giving out and we saw a couple of points that accessed something resembling a trail. Suzy and the boys were no where to be seen, so Ivy and I picked a point and started trekking through the slop. The combination of the thick foliage and the recent rains had muddied up the trail something fierce. The track headed away from the water and made threats of heading up to attack the incline. Unlike most trails that we had hiked, this track featured a thin-trunked palm that somewhat resembled the giant ferns that grow like palm trees in the forests (see picture of Theo under an "umbrella" shaped tree from one of the kauri hikes). At times the trail disguised itself as a slippery muddy slope. There was even a knotted rope to assist in the climb on the upside track. Fallen trees and shoe-sucking mud added to the quest.
After about ten minutes of slopping our way up the slope, we were presented
with the opportunity to gain purchase on an even steeper decline. A snowboard might have sufficed. Toward the bottom a sympathetic sole had built some steps out of the muck with some boards. This aided in the final part of the decent and the track compassionated flattened into something passable. A few hundred yards of tramping through the palm trees led us to an unspeakably beautiful site. Something out of a travel magazine. A magnificent stretch of sand devoid of anyone else. Knotty trees angled from the edge of the slope and reached over the sand toward the ocean where waves gently rolled in at a steady pattern. The sand was soft and a ribbon of shells outlined the high-tide mark which had been reached a couple hours ago.
The boys were already engaged in full play as kids just seem to naturally do at the beach. Suzy had set up camp under one of the trees and we were good to go. The beach was U-shaped with the south end jutting out under a granite-like cliff with nearly perfect vertical chunks scrapped out of it. It was somewhat reminiscent of the erosion patterns on Devil's Tower. To the
north, the beach gave way to lush green hillsides which extended further out than the cliff to the south. This side also formed into a larger hill, but with a much more forgiving slope than its counterpart across the bay.
It was amazing to have this half-mile stretch of amazing beach all to ourselves. We were sure that the elderly trio wouldn't make it and thought that a brief shower during our hike over might have deterred anyone else from considering the trek. We walked around, took a couple hundred pictures (none of which came close to capturing the beauty of the place) and eventually settled in for a picnic lunch.
To our amazement, the trio pulled into the beach about a half an hour after we did. Very impressive. Another trio of younger hikers made it down to the beach and unbelievably left after spending all of about 10 minutes in paradise. The journey, not the destination, I guess. The older folks had there lunch and we chatted with them for a while before they headed back. They were a couple from Thames (a town about 2 hours away) who had a friend from Christchurch visiting. Suzy
Geddy playing some baseball
Hitting rocks and shells into the ocean.
chatted with the couple and I had a talk with the woman from Christchurch, mostly about the earthquake damage and rebuilding efforts (or lack thereof). It was nice to talk to some locals which we hadn't gotten nearly enough chances to do.
The kids and I frolicked in the waves some. The water temperature wasn't really too bad. Suzy put on her shoes to walk the length of the beach. At nearly the center of the beach there was a red lava rock outcropping that extended just enough into the waves to make it impassable without getting totally soaked. She had a nice walk, took some cool photos and found a swing on a tree. When Ivy realized that she had gone, she ran up the beach to join her. She ignored my shouts to put on her shoes, but she managed to limp across the rocks. On their return I met them to carry Ivy piggyback over the harsh footing.
We enjoyed the beach for most of the rest of the afternoon before heading back to beat the setting sun. We got back without major incident and were greeted to the beginning of the sunset on the
Coming out of the waves
The water was warm enough to play in the waves.
beach at Whangapuoa. There was a nice island right off the beach that added to the beauty of the scene. Even though the tide was low, the stream was still running enough to require us to remove our shoes to get back across. Geddy took off one shoe and creatively managed to cross by keeping his shoe foot on the rocks and stepping into the stream with his bare foot. This also enabled him to get his shoe back on without much problem. I imitated the act, without the same level of grace but it worked.
We got back to our minivan and just were amazed at the day. It was totally unbelievable to have seen a beach like New Chums Beach, let alone have it to ourselves for most of the day. Don't pinch me, I'm not ready to wake up!
There are more photos below