Coromandel Peninsula, North Island
Tuesday 28th February - Wednesday 22nd March 2017
We left Heathrow airport on a cold and windy February night and headed off to the warmth and sunshine of New Zealand. We have enjoyed previous rallies there, so when the Coromandel Rally appeared in the magazine we knew instantly that we wanted to do it and contacted David and Judith Mills who were running the rally. They were delighted to have some 'Brits' joining them and offered us help with anything that we needed. After some research we booked the motorhome in the U.K. as this was the cheaper option, and also (as I am partially disabled) a mobility scooter to be collected on our arrival in Auckland which could be broken down into four pieces and would fit into the van for travelling. Ready for the great adventure!
We spent our first night in a motel and were then met by Martin and Cathy Hart who are co-ordinators of the New Zealand branch of the ICA. They took us to collect the motorhome and scooter, stock up with food (and wine) then onto the home of Clayton and Leisal Allsop where we neatly parked all three motorhomes on their drive before heading off for a meal with other ICA members - Bob and Pam Tilling and Roy and Chris Nuttall- and an evening of memories of people, places and rallies.
The following morning after a lovely breakfast with the Allsops we headed off for a few days wandering with Cathy and Martin before the rally started. All the sites we went to were off the tourist track but each one was close to the beach and sea, with palm trees and exotic flowers. All of these sites had good toilets, showers and washing facilities. Sandspit, Pakiri, the wonderful Half Moon Bay marina and Miranda Hot Springs - we wouldn't have found any of these sites without the local knowledge of our Kiwi friends.
Eventually we arrived in Thames where we met the rest of the group and so started our journey up the Coromandel Peninsula. The first evening, of course, had to be a meal of fish and chips - a traditional favourite meal just as at home but with snapper rather than cod! Nearly home from home! And the following day also involved fish - lots of them. After a predawn start from Tapu, six men set off by boat to try their luck, returning later with twenty seven fish to share between the vans - and the lone Brit managed to get not only the largest but the biggest catch as well. Well done Paul! Needless to say, it was fish for tea again that night.
And so on to Coromandel town, trying oysters for lunch on the way, and eventually arriving at Tucks Bay, a delightful hidden site alongside a beautiful bay. From here we explored the Driving Creek Railway - a single track railway built from the dream of one man, Barry Brickell, climbing through the bush to a high tower ( the Eye Full Tower ) with fantastic views all around.
Later the eccentricities of 'Waterworks' where we wandered between ponds, fountains, spouting statues and other such 'works of art' before returning to the motorhome and moving onto Colville and another beach front site.
It was at this point that the roads started to become quite interesting with stretches of dirt roads winding their way up hills, down valleys, and always along the coast with fantastic views of pristine beaches, turquoise seas, blue skies and acres of trees as a background. Many of these views were stunning and we did take one or two (!!! ) photos to remind us when we came home.
At last we arrived safely at Port Jackson which was to be our most northern site of the tour, with a car journey ( thanks to Bill and Val Solomon who unhitched their caravan ) up to Fletchers Bay where we found a beautiful small bay, a lovely beach and an unexpected freedom camp site. Not the kind of place to take sixteen units to, but definitely to be remembered for future plans! It was a wonderful day with glorious weather but that was soon to change and the following day the rains came in a torrential downpour. Yes - it does rain in New Zealand!!!
For two days we dodged storms but still only missed one 'Happy Hour' - (that's dedication!) before leaving early the following morning and returning to Colville and then back to Coromandel and the rest of the tour. We celebrated that night with a meal at one of the pubs, pleased to be back on track again and ready for anything.
The next day saw us being introduced to the New Zealand green lipped mussel at the Mussel Kitchen. On advice from our Kiwi friends we shared a bowl of mussels with garlic sauce and a bowl of mussel chowder between us and found both to be really delicious. We were now starting to realise that with so many lovely cafes for lunches and restaurants for evening meals that we probably wouldn't be eating all the food we had in the van - again!!! We never learn!
Anyway, off we went back down the coast visiting Matarangi (where we stayed on a disused air strip), Rings Beach (close to the glorious Opito beach where some of the men went fishing), Waitaia Bay near Whitianga, (a group BBQ for our evening meal beautifully cooked sausages!)
then onto Whitianga itself where we camped in the centre of the town on a large car/trailer park. Here the ladies wandered off for some retail therapy. Some of us found a nail salon for a bit of pampering, others checked out the local shops and cafes before meeting the men for lunch at a Thai restaurant. The following day saw us at the outdoor Farmers Market which sold not only cheeses, wines, and honey but carvings, ornaments, hand knitted goods and shells.
We were now nearly at the end of our tour with only a couple of days to go. Leaving Whitianga the following morning, we travelled down the coast visiting Flaxmere Bay, Cooks Beach, Purangi, Hahei and Hot Water Beach where the hot springs bubble up into pools on the sand at low tide. We, of course, got there at high tide, but couldn't do much about that if we were to be at Tairua on time! It was another beautiful drive through more glorious scenery. Having settled down, had our Happy Hour and our dinner, we congregated in the site Sports Hall for the evening entertainment - Val recited some poems from Pam Ayers, Roger
sang some songs which reminded us all of our Alaskan trips, Bruce and Marie sang more songs, Margaret recited a piece she had written about the vans on the rally, all of which were named, and Bob played his guitar for us all to sing along. The evening finished with all the Kiwis singing together the haunting Maori song 'Pokare Kare Ana' for us. What an end to the night!
And so the last day started. We were moving onto Pauanui where we were to have our final dinner in a Sports and Recreation Club - a very nice meal indeed. Thanks were given to the rally organisers, David and Judith Mills and Alan and Del Jones who had not only produced a really interesting tour of the Coromandel, but had done so with unfailing good humour. We shall all remember the bright pink top hat which was presented each night at Happy Hour for the 'random act of kindness' performed that day. This ranged from starting our van with jump leads (yes- another hired van!) to picking up a dropped cable from the road, and giving a hair trim! We were presented with a beautiful glass plate to bring back to the UK which will always remind us of our wonderful holiday and the friends we met - both new and old - who were so lovely to us.
Leaving the group felt very strange but we were now going to spend some time with friends before returning to the UK. Our first day we were up early for a visit to Hobbiton to see how much that had changed since our last visit. New Hobbit holes, larger trees and shrubs, the Green Dragon now providing complimentary drinks - but Pickles the cat was still snoozing in the sun after a night of pest control so not too different! A few more photos were taken for the album, then lunch and onto Mt Maunganui. For the next week we explored the East Cape Area of the North Island, seeing more lovely empty beaches, doing a bit more shopping, seeing friends and generally enjoying the fantastic countryside.
Martin also gave us a message to bring back to the British ICA - please, please put on some longer rallies which will encourage people from NZ and USA to come over to Britain and keep our group truly international. Everyone is very, very welcome to join their main rally here which is run every February. If anyone from the UK wants help with anything from booking the van to information on camp grounds, where to go etc. then the committee have e- mail addresses etc. which can be passed on. We can honestly say that the welcome we were given could not have been better. In fact, we had an absolutely fantastic holiday. Thank you Kiwis - we will be back!