I have fallen behind on the blog. Sorry. I think the ferry ride took the wind out of my sails, so to speak. But I’m back now.
In Australia, when you are walking around everyone says “G’day.” I have always found this a bit cumbersome and it just doesn’t roll off my tongue and I always revert to my American “Hi.” In New Zealand, the standard greeting when walking along the track (trail, for the Americans) is “Hiya.” I like this one and have adopted it quite easily. If you aren’t into the whole brevity thing, then you might get greet some one with a “how you going?” which is less an inquiry of how they are doing and more a greeting. And if you want to honor the Māori culture you can just say “kia ora.” You hear that quite a bit and I quite like that too. Anyway. Hiya. I’m back!
After a massive 3 hrs of sleep in our Wellington hotel, we got some coffee, packed up, and headed for Taupō. The desk clerk asked us how we enjoyed our stay. I said “for the 4 hours we were here, it was lovely.” I think we were both still a bit traumatized from the ferry ride across the Cook Strait but were really glad we had a pretty easy day of driving.
We had booked dinner at the Brantry Eatery and were looking forward to that. The weather cleared up as we got to Taupō and gave us a lovely view of the lake and the mountains. The hotel was basic, but had a nice view of the lake and we really enjoyed our dinner at the restaurant again. The food is really quite good and it is definitely worth a stop.
We headed out in the morning for Cooks Beach which was going to be about a 4 1/2 hour drive through mostly flat farmland.
The drive wasn’t too bad, despite Google constantly trying to route us down back roads. We had been driving behind one particular truck for a while. It was going a nice speed and kept all the cars in the opposite lane from drifting across too far since it was nice and wide. At one point, Google routed us down a back road and we went ahead and followed Google’s directions. Our nice truck kept going straight.
We commented that we doubted the Google detour was going to gain us any time. Sure enough, 15 minutes later, we turned back on to the main road. And ended up following the exact same truck. From Thames to Tairua, the road was typically New Zealand: narrow and windy. You see signs all over the country warning unsuspecting tourists that the roads are pretty intense here. I am getting more used to them, but they are still no joke. Occasionally you will get a straight stretch, but those are few and far between.
We stopped in Tairua and did a bit of walking on the beach to check it out and stretch the legs. It was a lovely town with a lot of very nice houses that were definitely way more than a typical “bach.” This area is mostly holiday homes from folks coming from Auckland which is a 2 to 2.5 hour drive away. Anne, our Cooks Beach host, had told us about a good butcher shop there, so we stopped in and bought a few supplies to take with us and stick in the freezer. There is no “real” store close to Cooks Beach. The nearest New World or Countdown is about a 40 minute drive. Ironically, it is only about 5 kms away, but it is across an estuary that doesn’t have a car bridge. You could take the ferry, but then it would be a 2 km walk to the store on the other side. Bummer.
We got to Cooks Beach in the late afternoon and there was Romy out front to greet us. She was wagging and happy to see us. I could tell this was going to go well. Anne and Geoff came out and we introduced ourselves and they invited us in to show us the place. We thought they were leaving the following day, hence our fear of being late, but it turned out that they were leaving on Saturday which gave us a couple days to hang out with them and get to know Romy and the house. Both Anne and Geoff were amazing hosts and treated us to some very nice food and wine. Anne is a very good cook, so both Susanne and I were excited to see how well-equipped the kitchen was; it was going to be a very nice place to hang out for 5 weeks.
They have owned the house for 30 years and during COVID they decided to fix it up a bit and move out there mostly full time. It is at the end of a road, and a stones throw to beach. We were feeling very lucky to have found this opportunity in such a wonderful place.
Anne has deep roots in Croatia and they usually travel there every year, but hadn’t been able to go the last two years because of COVID. They were going for 5 weeks and would meet their daughter there and then hang out with their family. On Saturday, they said goodbye and we told them all would be good. We were happy we got a couple of days to hang out and get to know them.
Romy is a 10-year-old Golden Retriever that is, like most Goldens, super friendly and nice. She is huge, though. l’m guessing almost 90 lbs. She’s kind of a free spirit too, and pretty much believes that she should be able to do whatever she wants. She isn’t obnoxious, she is just big and hard to move sometimes when she decides that she has to sniff a spot for 45 minutes. But she is a cutie and already she was bonding with us, even if she thought we were a bit too structured for her taste. She really thought the leash was overkill and would go into super slow mode when you put it on her. She tried to convince us that it was sucking all her life energy and she just couldn’t go forward with it on. Hardly. I just gave her a little tug and she started to move. Susanne opted for the treat enticement strategy which definitely got her spirits going again.
We had a few days of nice weather in the forecast before the next big “soak you to a squishy” storm came through, so we decided to head out to Cathedral Cove and check that out. I guess it is super popular in the summer. We didn’t research it well and didn’t fully understand what Anne had told us, so we ended up in the $15 pay lot. Bummer.
The hike along the coast was gorgeous. It is a rugged coastline with small little coves and beaches along the way. There were a surprising number of people out there for a mid-week, mid-winter day. I would not want to be here in peak season; I am sure every square inch has a body on it.
There was a huge storm heading New Zealand’s way, so I decided to get out on the bike the next day before the bad weather set in. I had scoped a road that went from Whitianga to Coromandel that looked good. I had found a blog on riding in the area and it seemed like a good one which did not include getting squished by a logging truck….always a high priority in my ride selection.
I rode my bike down to the Whitianga ferry which was required to get across the river. It is not a big distance…maybe 100 meters to get across, but it is probably the most expensive ferry per meter traveled on the planet—$10 return with a bike! Yikes, but there is no choice other than ride the busy road 30km around it. The free market can sometimes suck.
I rode through town out to the main road. This was the first time I had a glimpse of Whitianga and it was a bit bigger than I expected. I guess it is the “big city” of the Coromandel area with a massive population of 5,400 people that then swells to almost 7,000 in the summer. It has both a Countdown, a New World market, and a very expensive ferry.
It was about 5 km down the main road to get to Road 309, which was the nice quiet one that cut up over the mountains. It was a bit of a drag, but there was at least a shoulder, so that made it tolerable. I turned off on the 309 road and relaxed. It was a lovely little road that climbed slowly up next to a river. After about 5 km, it turned to gravel. It was pretty dense forest and I just love riding along looking at all the huge tree ferns. I thought to myself “this climb is easy!” which should have been a warning. Just as I thought that, the 10% section kicked up. Oooooph. I should have known.
Thankfully, we seem to have worked out the Garmin issues and I sent Susanne about a 1000 “All good” messages along the way. I made it to the summit, ate a little food, took a selfie, and enjoyed the view. Overall it was a good route and perfect for the gravel bike.
Then the atmospheric river hit. We seem to have a habit of getting near them. There were two big high-pressure systems that were sandwiching together and forcing a narrow band of air down from the tropics right onto New Zealand. It was full of water. The only good news was that it was warm. This made us both happy as we are getting tired of being cold. Wait, have we already mentioned that?
We got quite a bit of rain in Cooks Beach, but Nelson just got pummeled. There were all sorts of floods and a bunch of houses got washed away down a river. We were really glad that we were not down there anymore. I checked in with Jon and Becky to see if they were ok and other than having to get golf balls that float, they seemed fine. We have really had some wild weather since getting here, but I guess that is true of the whole world right now. So we just hung out with Romy. She was happy. She is a sweetheart and quite easy to take care of, even if she does like to eat rabbit poo.
The rain finally abated and we had a clear day in the forecast, so we decided to take a drive up north to Kūaotunu and Matarangi. Anne had told us there was a nice restaurant up there. We decided we would take Romy for a road trip since we would be gone for a while. The road was—surprise!—narrow and windy for parts of it. Romy did not seem to appreciate this and started whining. Susanne did not appreciate it either, but she did not start whining, though I’m sure there was some passenger-side braking going on. We got to Kūaotunu and went for a walk on the beach. Romy was happy to get out of the car. We decided to drive further down the road to Matarangi and check that beach out. It was lovely and a great walking beach, with some absolutely beautiful houses there.
I had seen that there was an open house at noon, so after our beach walk, we headed back to Kūaotunu to take a look. It was up a steep and narrow road, and had a spectacular view. We decided that we liked this area and if we were going to buy a house in Coromandel, Kūaotunu was a likely spot, particularly since it’s a much shorter drive from there to the larger town of Whitianga (though further from Auckland, which we don’t care about quite as much).
We headed over to town, found a place to park, and headed over to Luke’s Kitchen, the restaurant that Anne had told us about. They had a nice outside area and it was warm enough to sit outside, so we brought Romy out so she could hang with us. We ordered a salad and a pizza. The food was wonderful, which helped improve our already good opinion of the area. Romy remained hopeful that we would drop a slice of pizza.
After lunch we piled Romy back into the car and headed back over the windy road. It wasn’t as bad the second time, although Romy would probably disagree. All in all, it has been a lovely couple weeks here in Cooks Beach and we are looking forward to some warmer nice spring weather going forward.