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Published: November 29th 2019
“Have you ever paddle boarded before?” Called one of our guides, Matt, as we bumped down the track to the lake.
We all answered in the negative.
“And you’re choosing to learn and do it for the first time in the dark?!” This was obviously meant as a joke, but we looked nervously at each other. We had just been collected from Rotorua, our 3rd stop in New Zealand, for paddle boarding and glow worm cave exploring. I had already started to become a little apprehensive at the prospect of falling off whilst in a cave and struggling to get back onto the board again, feet dangling in the dark water with goodness knows what lurking.
“Are there eels in the cave?” I asked, nervously.
“Not any more,” he said, cheerfully. Matt went onto explain that there used to be one called Boris whom he fed bits of cheese, but that he was very old and had cataracts (apparently eels can live up to 100 years) and he died. Matt presumed of old age, but admitted that he couldn’t be sure that Boris’s high cholesterol, dairy-based diet didn’t contribute at all.
After donning wetsuits, life jackets and head torches
and a very brief explanation (“you stand on the board and paddle”) we were off with our first ever experience of stand up paddle boarding. Thankfully it was still light outside which definitely made the whole thing considerably easier. Having said that, Charlie fell in within about 15 seconds and was named “the first trout” by our gleeful guide. My relief at him falling before me didn’t last long; I was the third trout shortly after. But we soon got the hang of it and what followed was the most magical evening. We leisurely paddled across the lake and watched the sun set over the lush green mountainsides around us to the sound of only lapping water and birdsong. When darkness fell we made our way over to the caves and, lying on our backs on the boards, drifted in and saw the glow worms like constellations above us and their reflections dancing on the water below.
I know it sounds gushing, but our journey through New Zealand so far has felt somewhat otherworldly. Even the drive from Auckland felt like we had stepped back in time, traveling through endless verdant farmland as far as the eye could see,
At Gemstone Bay, a welcome shady break en route to Cathedral Cove. Not pictured: massive amounts of sweat.
dotted only with single-story wooden clapboard farmhouses and pro-life billboards sagging at the roadside. As we passed one tiny cluster of wooden houses and a general store I half expected to see Scout and Jem from “To Kill a Mockingbird” running down the road and Atticus Finch sat reading on the porch.
Our first stop was The Coromandel Peninsula, ruggedly beautiful with the Coromandel Range forming the mountainous spine of the peninsula, covered in lush temperate rainforest and edged with glorious beaches. Originally with a history of gold mining in the 1800s, Coromandel was an escape for hippies in the 1970s and currently has a lot of focus on environmental conservation and organic, homegrown food. We looped our way up through the steep, winding roads (real vom-inducing) and to our accommodation: a treehouse cabin overlooking the flourishing valley and congratulated ourselves on our luck (especially after the grot-hole experience in Auckland).
It wouldn’t be a lie to say that literally every corner you turn in New Zealand is another stunning vista. We spent the subsequent few days marveling at the peninsula’s ravishing beauty and wandering along beaches and through forests. A particular highlight was the very sweaty hike
Cathedral Cove rock formation. Unfortunately full of bloody tourists taking photos!
to Cathedral Cove - so named for the natural rock archway across the beach. The sweat was worth it and the cove spectacular, made even better that we got there before the huge group of shrieking school children and could leave whilst disapprovingly raising our eyebrows to each other.
Our journey to Rotorua, and the eventual aforementioned paddle boarding, took us through the avocado capital of New Zealand - what a claim to fame. In such a sparsely populated country with lots of officially unnamed roads on the map, I suppose it makes sense that the locals can name the streets whatever they like. It certainly tells you a fair amount about the area; presumably Margot (of Margot Drive) and her pal Kelvin (of the neighbouring Kelvin Way) are particular fans of both Cornwall (Cornwall Road) and blueberries (Blueberry Lane).
We’ve only had one full day in Rotorua but it feels like more. The morning was spent at the luge track - a gondola up the hill, then racing down the tracks on the go-kart/toboggan hybrid before the chairlift back up was certainly a way to blast away the cobwebs. We certainly did feel our age, though, having
Does this count as cyber bullying?
arrived early “to beat the crowds” and then, as it filled up, looking around and realizing we were at least 10 if not 20 years older than the other patrons. I’m pleased to say, though, that as probably only people there with driving licenses we held our own.
I also loved our walk through the redwood forest on the treetop walkway 20 meters in the air via a set of platforms cleverly attached to the trees via slings so as (supposedly) not to damage them. It is easy to understand the strictness of the New Zealand customs process to protect them from Kauri dieback - a disease thought to be brought into the country on hiking boots and equipment. Considering that over 60% of New Zealand native forests have already been lost due to deforestation and the disease, it is little wonder that they are desperate to slow and reverse this process and to save these majestic giants.
“Try and kneel on the board as you approach the beach, otherwise you’ll have a nasty surprise when it hits the sand,” called out Matt as he guided us back from our paddle boarding excursion from the shore. Too late,
Coromandel Peninsula. Maybe Buffalo Beach. Not sure. Real nice, though.
and I was over - ending the experience as I started it: sitting shoulder deep in the water. What a day.
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