12/4/09 Easter Day. We had originally planned on staying at Waingaro overnight, in order to visit the hot springs and spa pools etc. there, but then we decided that in order to cut down the costs (plus we weren't sure if they'd be open on Easter Day or the next day), we'd just go straight to the Coromandel Peninsula and stay the next three nights there before going back to Auckland. Driving there took up a lot of the day, but on the way we each had a Lindor truffle egg to keep us going, in the spirit of the season, as well as the usual sandwiches for lunch.
We stayed at a Department of Conservation (DOC) camping ground near to Whangamata. We were staying here because of the cost (only $9 a night each), but I'm really glad we stayed there anyway, because it was in the middle of wild and very beautiful countryside! It was so lovely and peaceful, and what's more, the weather had improved as we came further north, so it was nice and sunny.
After we'd arrived, we went on a walk recommended by the managers. We walked through the woods next to a stream/river for about 45 minutes, and then we came across some big waterfalls. They weren't as spectacular as some of the ones we saw in Litchfield national park in Australia, but were still pretty good. You can swim in the pool at the bottom, but the air was quite nippy so we didn't.
13/4/09 The next day it was sunny and hot, so we set off to do the three main things we had planned to do in the Peninsula; Hot Water Beach, snorkelling at Gemstone Bay, and the walk to Cathedral Cove. These are all very close together, near the little town/ village of Hahei. We arrived at the Hot Water Beach first, but found out that low tide wasn't until 4 pm, so we decided to do the other two things first and then come back. There's two hot springs under the sand on part of the beach; you dig a shallow pool for yourself in the sand and sit/lie in it, but you can only access it for two hours on either side of low tide.
We carried on to the small carpark for people wanting to do the Cathedral Cove walk, and took the last available space apart from a bus one. It was Easter Monday as well as being really hot and sunny, so there were lots of families on holiday as well as backpackers like us. The walk took about 45 minutes; we passed Gemstone Beach on the way, but decided to go there on the way back rather than the other way round. Cathedral Cove is so named because the cliff sticks right out and has a massive natural arch in the middle. There's a beach on either side, and you can walk from one to the other through it. It looks really impressive. It reminded me more of Fiji, Australia and Thailand, because although not quite as white, the sand was much lighter than elsewhere we've seen in NZ, and the colour of the sea was turqoise. We walked around and took photos, but we didn't swim because we were snorkelling at Gemstone Bay next anyway.
Gemstone Bay was very close by, and had no sand, only rocks. The sea was very cold at first, but didn't take as long to get used to as I had imagined it might. Although the fish aren't tropical, and thus aren't that colourful, we did see some very long and thin ones (pipefish?) that we had seen in Australia etc., about three other types of fish, and a couple of really big fish, bigger than any we've seen in the wild elsewhere on our travels (with the exception of the black tip sharks we snorkelled with in Fiji.) The visability wasn't quite as good as Fiji etc., but although a bit cloudy in places we could still see about 3-4 metres to the bottom. There were some beautiful seaweeds as well, different to those in Britain.
After this we went to Hot Water Beach nearby. We hired a spade because I had pictured us digging holes deep enough to stand up in, but then we realised that you can't dig any deeper than a couple of inches because the water gets too hot to stand! It was still pretty fun though.
That night we had a mammoth 20-round game of 10 card rummy (Dave won.) We had to play in the back seats of our car, because since the campground is DOC run, it was very basic and didn't have a kitchen or any other common rooms apart from the toilets and showers. Throughout the past week sleeping wasn't as much of a problem as I had thought, because our front seats could lean almost flat, and we still had the blankets we got from our flights from Calcutta-Bangkok and Singapore-Darwin, which we had used in the tent in Australia. Dave started off sleeping across the two back seats, but switched to just leaning back his front seat after the first couple of nights because he realised he'd be more comfortable like that. Although quite chilly on the nights that the stars were out, on the whole it was pretty comfortable once wrapped up in the blankets, and we got a lot more sleep than I had imagined.
14/4/09 Today was really hot, and started off nearly cloudless, so we drove to Whangamata beach. It has lots of sand dunes, and although the sea was generally rather flat, occasionally it shook out waves which although not terribly big, were just large enough to satisfy some surfers and bodyboarders. I decided to swim in the afternoon, when the sea would have warmed up a bit, but Dave went straight in. After taking a video of him bodysurfing, I sunbathed for a while. Then since Dave had gone back to the car to change, I went back too, in order to have some lunch. Our car was parked right on the seafront facing out to the sand dunes and sea, so we had a nice view as we made and ate our sandwiches. Before we did this, however, I stubbed my right big toe on the kerb. My toe covered in blood, I hobbled over to the tap outside the toilets to wash it while Dave got out the med kit, and then we sat down to sort my toe out. It wasn't as bad as it had looked at first - the nail had just ripped down too far and had cut in, I didn't have a flap of skin or anything - but was still very painful. After lunch it still hurt a lot, and I didn't feel like going in the sea anymore, so we just went for a walk along the beach to the side, where the river came out and lots of boats were moored further down. We came across lots of one particular type of shell, which I've forgotten the name of unfortunately. I didn't pick any up to keep, because I don't have anywhere to put them that they'd be safe from breakage in (this space is taken up with the shells from Fiji.) By the time we arrived back clouds had come over, so we drove back to the camping ground, stopping at a petrol station and a supermarket on the way. Nothing much happened for the rest of the day, though we walked through the woods for a bit to find a couple of old mine shafts, and we skimmed stones on the stream.