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Oceania » New Zealand » North Island » Coromandel » Thames
November 28th 2008
Published: December 3rd 2008
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SparkySparkySparky

The Cook's Lookout Motel Cat. The little devil!
Day 13 - Wednesday 26th

We opened the curtains to a fantastic morning and great views from our room across to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and Bay of Islands. Norm knocks on the door and brings Sparky to bid us farewell. He’s a lovely little cat and immediately gives us a star showing outside the chalet. It’s a pity we can’t stay longer. So off we go but it’s down to Waitangi for the third time because the camcorder lost all the video taken yesterday. It’s a good job we have the still cameras.

The dash south to Thames is memorable only for the terribly bendy Highway 1. For a main spine road it’s a disaster, offering lots of things you didn’t expect in New Zealand, like heavy traffic, many roadworks and tailbacks, and some road rage. Once we’re on the Coromandel road, life is more relaxed again and there are good views of the peninsula.

We can’t find the motel we want but take the slightly dated Avalon Motel. It’s perfectly clean and comfortable. The owner and his wife are very friendly and helpful.

Day 14 - Thursday 27th

It’s a beautiful day and we
Dodgy GuestDodgy GuestDodgy Guest

A sense of humour from Norm & Shelagh at the Cook's Lookout Motel, Paihia, Bay of Islands
head north to Coromandel. The scenery and views become more spectacular as we head north hugging the Firth of Thames. The road is very bendy and close to the sea so Doreen is not enjoying this part of the drive. And neither of us enjoys the numerous roadworks, many involving tar spraying and chipping that don’t appear to improve the road. The chips are left for traffic to disburse and our windscreen is hit a few times from lorry-thrown chips. Just before Manaia the almost empty road goes inland slightly and the views are wonderful. Coromandel town, named after HMS of the same name when it visited in 1820 is easy-going and features many old buildings. We’d intended to travel on the Driving Creek Railway a very interesting 5km line but miss the first trip by minutes, while the second trip is too late for us.

We visit many scenic coastal inlets, towns and villages, with gorgeous empty beaches, particularly Whangapoua. Whitianga is a nice place overlooking Mercury Bay where Captain James Cook anchored the Endeavour in 1769, claiming the possession of New Zealand for King George III.

Hot Water Beach, where you can dig a small trough in the sand and sit in warm sea water, heated by hot carbon dioxide forced up from deep in the earth. It's a hive of activity. At Opoutere we walk through the forest of the Wharekawa Wildlife Refuge to a magnificent empty golden beach. We video some stealthy Bar-tailed Godwits picking fish out of the estuary for food. At Waihi Beach we find an excellent motel near the extensive beach. Our chalet is huge with two bedrooms and all other mod cons, sufficient to take a family of six easily. We wish we could stay longer.

Day 15 - Friday 28th

With rain lashing down through the night we feared the worst for today, however, we opened the curtains to a bright and sunny day. We visited the Waihi Gold Mine, which is a huge hole in the ground, the one that Billy Connolly visited but it was pure chance that we came across it. It’s directly across the road from the tourist information shop. Then we drive down the coast to Tauranga to climb Mt Maunganui. Unfortunately, the traffic congestion is horrendous and the mountain completely swamped by rapidly developing urban sprawl. We have trouble parking and there are bus loads of visitors so we quickly shift the car and walk to the excellent nearby surf beach, which is a superb resource for locals.

We move on to Rotorua but get completely lost in the urban sprawl of Papamoa. So we have lunch and then find our way out. Arriving in Rotorua later than intended, we go to see the Te Wairoa Buried Village and Lake Tarawera. The place is overflowing with bus loads of visitors and the charge of $27NZ per adult and no concessions for the retired made us give it a miss. We decide to visit Te Whakarewarewar and Te Puia “One of Rotorua’s main attractions” according to the travel guide. Having been to Yellowstone National Park, we are completely under whelmed by the experience and leave having paid $50NZ rip-off prices and, again, no concessions.

We hurtle down to the Lake and town of Taupo. By shear chance we arrive the evening before the huge annual around Lake Taupo cycle races, where about 1200 cyclists arrive each year. The place is heaving, the traffic jams horrendous and we fear we'll not find a bed for the night. Fortunately a great assistant
Hot Water BeachHot Water BeachHot Water Beach

Dig a hole in the sands let the sea in and get a warm bum.
at the tourist information office manages to find us the last room at the out of town Bayview Wairakei Resort, nice place, fabulous room, nice people and a gorgeous buffet to finish off the day.

We get cable broadband at the hotel and David connects up because all our email responses and messages will not post under the previous wireless internet connections. Immediately all our waiting messages leave the computer in a jiffy! David can’t get his photographs organised for our travel blog so switch off the broadband after about half an hour's use but he is suspicious of the way the connection is setup.

Day 16 - Saturday 29th

It's another cloudless morning and have had a good night’s sleep, except for the cycle competitors that arose at 5.00 and clumped and bumped away until we got up at 7.00. We fill the car with luggage and David goes to pay the bill. He’s exasperated to be charged $38NZ for the internet connection he only used for 30 mins. He creates merry hell at reception. The duty manager states that the provider is an external company and the hotel has no control over the charges.
Waihi Gold MineWaihi Gold MineWaihi Gold Mine

They shift tonnes of rock to get a few grams of gold. The mine runs 24 hours/day, seven days a week but, according to the locals, they shut the mine for a day to allow Billy Connolly to ride his motorbike to the bottom!

David states that the hotel takes the payment so it has responsibility to sort things out and refuses to pay. The manager phones the internet provider and can’t get any sense from them so passes the phone to David, who can’t understand a word from the other end. Evidently it’s based in India or possibly Malaysia, according to the manager. Oh yes, very convenient! David states that the internet provision is intended to confuse and rip off customers and an international hotel group like Bayview should dump any provider that rips off customers. This whole episode taints what was a very enjoyable hotel experience. The manager reduces the cost to $15NZ and David agrees to pay but remains very unhappy!

We move to the Huka Falls, where the Waikato River, its source at Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand 4km away, channels through a narrow gorge. Taupo is alive with swarms of cycle riders starting their journey around the Lake in warm sunshine - Wow! We stop and watch for a while. Also we admire the tremendous scenery. This area is so much better than Rotorua. As we drive along the lake to Turangi, admiring the views as we go, we slow down often to allow batches of riders safely past en route to the finish at Taupo. It’s a wonderful sight with crowds and helpers cheering the riders on. It all seems well organised and must be great to participate. We pass through Turangi quickly to prevent hindrance to the riders. We move to a fabulous viewpoint above the town, the lake and the riders.

We move on through the Tongariro National Park a huge wilderness that provides exquisite scenery around every bend. The first Mountain is Tongariro, then Mt Ngauruhoe and finally Mt Ruapehu. Just under the summit of Mt Ruapehu (2769m) is the imposing Grand Chateau Tongariro built in 1929. The Chateau overlooks a busy golf course and lots of patrons enjoying themselves. Just below the ski slopes at T'op of the Bruce' is the Visitor Centre at Whakapapa Village. There are numerous sights to see around here but we decide to move on via Raetihi to the Whanganui National Park.

As we move uphill we come across a good viewpoint, David getting out to take photos. Suddenly, from a couple of cows, a huge herd of cattle builds at the fence. They're absolutely fascinated by the goings on. Every movement he makes the eyes follow. Hilarious! They must be expecting a good feed?

We want to follow the great Whanganui River as it winds its way from the mountains to the town of Wanganui and the Tasman Sea through Whanganui National Park with its many hills and valleys. Unfortunately, our guide book doesn’t tell us that after Raetihi there is 30Km of unmetalled road severely roughed up by logging-lorries and we decide to return to Raetihi and head down to Wanganui by a move direct route. We are disappointed to miss the National Park, infact we are sad to miss a number of sights but we can’t fit it all in. That’s life!

Day 17 - Sunday 30th

The Atlas Motel in Wanganui is dated though perfectly clean and comfortable but, like all of the motels we’ve used in New Zealand, the TV picture is dire. This wouldn’t normally matter because we don’t watch the TV much but England is playing the All Blacks at 3.30 and David is up to watch the match. It’s a trauma because England gets drubbed again. What the hell is going on
Fuel costsFuel costsFuel costs

Now look guys. Talk of Rip off Britain with its huge purchasing power? Look at the cost of diesel. It's 43p/litre. The petrol is 51p/litre. Doesn't it make you sick?
RFU? England is light years off the Southern Hemisphere sides, especially the All Blacks. Our New Zealand hosts do not gloat, in fact they remain slightly critical of the All Blacks, which makes our life easier but is a significant indictment of England’s Rugby! The RFU and the Premier League Clubs should take note of Graham Hendry’s free consultancy and remove all foreign players from the League when contracts are up. The development of English players is inadequate and this reduces competition for places in the national team.

We head towards Hawera to get views of Mt Taranaki, the early low cloud a worry in case we can’t see it. However, as we drive, the clouds clear and a snow-topped mountain suddenly appears. It’s fantastic, this huge volcanic cone rises, phoenix like, from the plains below. All around is rural splendour with nosey cattle grazing, oblivious to their fantastic surrounds. Once the photo ‘masterpieces’ have been recorded, we decide to get closer to Wellington a day earlier than planned to enable us to book the ferry to the South Island as we have to return the hire car at Wellington and pick up a new one at Picton on the South Island.

We head for Palmerston North where we arrive much earlier than expected, the road being significantly better than further north. We decide to carry on through the Mangawatu Gorge to Woodville, where Doreen hides from the view because she can’t cope with heights and shear drops, then follow the Tararua Range and Forest Park south in the Wairarapa Region. The weather is hot and the scenery is fabulous. It’s a wonder the travel guides don’t mention this area more often and, what’s more, the roads are quiet and a joy to drive.

Before Masterton we come across occasional regimental lines of cattle returning from or going to milking via a tunnel under the road. It’s a fascinating sight. In town we find a huge room in the fabulously new Chardonnay Motel and all for £42/night! For that price in the UK you wouldn’t get a room, never mind one with king size bed, LCD TV, two recliner seats, table and chairs, fridge, microwave oven, ceramic hob, and free internet etc, etc. Whats more, we are surrounded by numerous wineries. The night is very relaxed, sipping excellent ice cold local Chardonnay for £2.70 a bottle. What more would you want?

December

Day 18 - Monday 1st

After the best motel we have ever stayed in we head on an empty road to the coastal town of Castlepoint and the Castle Rock, the rock named by Captain James Cook in 1770. It’s the first cloudy day we’ve had since the storms at Paihia. It seems classic rural New Zealand, sheep, cattle occasional farms and woodlands. David walks up to the lighthouse above ragged limestone rocks weathered at the edges, exposing ancient shells and fossils. School teachers coach their pupils at tag rugby on the beach and their handling skills appear far better than England’s players.

We return to Masterton and head south to Wellington, passing through interesting little towns overlooked by the mountainous Tararua Forest Park on one side and lower hills on the other, all very scenic. Crossing a gorge through the mountains to Wellington was unexpected and a bit spooky. The fairly narrow road climbs steeply and is shear on one side, which isn’t too bad but the huge articulated trucks passing on tight corners are!

We call in at the Interislander ferry terminal to ensure we have tickets for
Lake TaupoLake TaupoLake Taupo

Nosey swans to the fore.
our trip to the South Island tomorrow. The sliproads to the ferry port are tight and tricky but we manage it by pure luck!

We then head for the Capital Gateway Motel. The motel entrance is at the end of a slip road on to a busy highway and a driver is attempting to join it. Do we stop and get the car behind up our boot or do we cut across his path. We do the latter and survive - wow! That was close. The motel staff are very friendly and we get a good room for the night. It’s been a long day and we flop out on the bed, drifting into deep late afternoon sleep. We have a great meal and sleep well.

Day 19 - 2 December

The curtains are so effective at keeping out the light that we wake around 8.00, which is very late for us. It’s been raining through the night and it’s cloudy outside, although warm. We decide to do a tour around because we don’t have to be at the ferry until 13.00 for the 14.15 sailing. We head over the hill to the west of Wellington and
Chateau TongoriroChateau TongoriroChateau Tongoriro

With Mt Ruapehhu behind.
get completely lost. We learn much about the city’s suburbs but it doesn’t calm the nerves. By chance we find our way through the urban maze and try to get to the tourist information office at Porirura, where we can’t find a parking space so we move onto the tiny settlement of Pukerua Bay, where we eat our lunch. The scenery should be fantastic but the low cloud spoils things a little. The clouds are clearing and we hope for better things as we decide to go through the pass to the ferry port. A Wellington train dawdles along the hillside above the main road in and out of tunnels.

We remember a petrol station near the ferry and decide to fill up there but miss the junction. Never mind, don’t panic, we manager to go back near the motel and find a way back. The filling station has only one petrol pump, all others are for diesel. The filling station is unmanned. The machine we try at our pump isn’t working and we feel helpless.

We need not worry because a local lady explains all and we search for the AMEX credit card. Shock, horror! David can’t find his card. He’s left it at the motel! He got the motel receipt but not he card. Don’t panic! We use our RBS card and fill up. Now we have to circumnavigate back to the motel, which we do with some trepidation and difficulty but, low and behold, the staff have the AMEX card, a thousand times phew! They were worried they’d not be able to contact us, which is true. Never mind, life saved, thank you ladies you are stars! Now back to the ferry where Avis do not have any staff at reception so go back to the car and take digital photos of it to prove it’s not damaged and drop the keys and return form down the slot, with a comment about what we've done to save any comback from Avis.

By now the sun has burnt off most clouds and the weather is excellent. We are amazed as the Portuguese-built ferry Aratere smoothly traverses the Cook Sound despite the might of a gale and plenty of white horses. These can’t shake it. It's one of the smoothest ferry rides we've experienced. The views are sublime but the gale whips a ladies handbag from her shoulder and dumps it in the sea. She is panic stricken, poor soul. David meanwhile nearly loses his spectacles and the camera bag in the gale but stoically gets his photos. Doreen enjoys her book in the lounge by the front windows and doesn’t venture outdoors.

At Picton we collect our hire car and stop at the Jasmine Court Motel. It is a superb room and the owners are fabulous. This now is the best Motel we've ever stayed in and one by which all will be judges. You even get CDs to play and free DVDs. The shower has a huge circluar door and jaccuzzi style massage sprays. You don't want to leave once you're in there! Guess how much? £50/night. The Scottish Tourist Board needs to wake up to the competition.



Additional photos below
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A nice touch!A nice touch!
A nice touch!

David's cafe latte on the Aratere. Caledonian MacBrayne could match the quality of the coffee never mind put a milky Scottish Thistle on the top.
The Aratere heads for PictonThe Aratere heads for Picton
The Aratere heads for Picton

Is this not idylic? The ferry passes through narrow channels and the islands appear in touching distance.


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