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Touring New Zealand 2014 - part 8

Cook Strait: We had a rough cross of Cook Strait in a Southerly. In the days before we were due to cross the Cook Straight the forecasts showed a huge Southerly was blowing up. The ferries were all cancelled after one had to turn back the day before we were due to cross . We were in the Marlborough Sounds only 20 km as the crow flies from Picton where they depart and you could see reflections on the water - most unreal how local conditions can be so different.

Before we left in the morning we heard the early ferries were being cancelled again then we got a TXT to try to get there early as check-in was starting 90 minutes early for our 1400 departure as they hoped to get away early! Hard for those without a contact number. The Cook Straight looks small but it is a mean bit of water in a Southerly as the winds and swells are funneled making it extremely rough. The marine forecast promised 5 metre swells with the the occasional 10 metres as well as the gale force winds. We were on one of the two first ferries to get out of Picton and for a long time it looked as if we might have to turn back but after a much longer than usual passage we got through. We were fortunate - we positioned our selves in the middle and in a well ventilated area by a window and might have been the only two passengers not to be ill. We stayed first night at Top10 Holiday park in Lower Hutt - not impressive but Wellington Club did not have a room that night and it was doubtful ferries were going to run so did not want expensive cancellation when they rang to offer that night because of a cancellation.

Wellington Club: The next two nights in Wellington Club which was haven hidden in the middle of Wellington. I will say ne more as Pauline, who has reciprocal membership, will be writing it up for the Oxford and Cambridge Club in London and we will add her text in due course. In fact we will not say a lot about Wellington as we have written about it most years.

Wellington: This time we spent a lot of time round book shops in Cuba street area and bought "New Zealand Jade, The story of Greenstone by Russell Beck" a 1970 classic. We walked down the waterfront in the afternoon and found there was an area with an evening market and other open air festivities including competitive painting and dancing down towards Te Papa. We sat down and watched for a hour with a jug of Mac's Dark. It was a strange system as it had to be taken off us and carried across to the sitting area and we were not allowed to stand up whilst drinking it.

The next morning we walked up to the Botanical gardens which were just behind the club but separated by the motorway and found lots of areas we did not know. Before walking down to the rose garden and back down through the Bolton Street Memorial Park which had been the cemetery for the Wellington colony between 1840 and 1892. It comprises three separate cemeteries - Church of England, Jewish and public. As well as interesting headstones the park contains the Selwyn oak which is believed to have been planted by Bishop Selwyn, NZ's first Anglican Bishop and also past Archbishop of Lichfield to have a buffet lunch in the club. Pete spent the afternoon in Te Papa whilst Pauline did some more shopping, mainly round the book shops. In the evening we joined up with John and Blyth and went to the Osteria del Toro (60 Tory Street, Wellington) and had a very filling meal starting with a Greek Tasting Plate of homemade dolmades, kalamata olives, hummus dip, pita bread, grilled lamb souvlaki skewers & fried calamari. The highlight for us was the Capretto (for two) which is a Mediterranean delicacy of slow roasted milk fed goat, greek style roast potato, whole garlic & pearl onions. We all took a walk out at Oriental bay to work it off.

In the morning we walked down to the inside market hoping to buy some extra Pounamu off-cuts from Jade Treasures and spent some time talking to Kish before heading North. He remembered us from last year. We had brief stops at Foxton and Bulls and then went on past Wanganui without stopping to Stratford in Taranaki.

The Stratford Motor Camp: We first stayed in the Stratford Motor Camp for the first time in 2009 - we booked in for a single night and stayed two which is a good recommendation. It is run by Doreen and one of the most memorable features is the flowers. We had a simple cabin which had a sink with cold water and a fridge - we had a huge Strelitzia outside which reached to the top of our window level and was covered in flowers, I have never seen one doing more than surviving before in New Zealand and every other flower bed was a similar riot of colour. There are also some much newer and more comprehensively fitted out cabins and some reasonable tent sites and some very sheltered looking camper van slots. Kitchens were on the basic side for a 4* and we got the impression she had to be a bit careful to avoid equipment evaporating which is rare in NZ but many of her visitors are likely to be younger foreigners seeking the challenge of climbing Egmont - the kitchens are locked overnight and pots and pans are available from the front desk. The site is only 600 meters from the main street and the Carrington Walkway which offers walks up to several hours long runs alongside. The main walks on Egmont start from Dawson Falls and Mountain House which are circa 20 kms away which is a shame but it a good solid friendly site we are sure we will return to - Doreen has been running it for over 30 years and like Berta is an icon in the area.

This time we again booked for a single day and stayed for two. The change in plan was largely because there was dad weather on its way with a big tropical cyclone coming down to hit in a few days time so we decided to stay extra day for walks while it was still nice. The next day was perfect. We first went up to Mountain House which used to be one of our regular stops and is in the centre of a magnificent area for walking on Mount Egmont otherwise known as Mount Taranaki. Mountain House is sited at 845 metres not far below Stratford Plateau (1171 metres), on one of the only three road entry points to Mt Egmont. Mountain House was run during most of our visits by Berta, and her recently deceased husband Keith. In their days it served some of the best food we knew in New Zealand. Berta, a skilled chef trained in her native Switzerland Keith, who was local, was killed in an unfortunate car accident involving tourists driving on the wrong side of the road, just before we came several years ago. Keith was also an artist and there were many of his original paintings on the walls. After his death Berta held an exhibition of his work and launched a book which contains many of his paintings. While Berta was responsible for the kitchen Keith was in charge of the restaurant and then they both came and sat in the lounge and chatted at the end of the evening. The set up was very much a family affair and one very much felt a guest in their home - the lounge had their photo albums on the tables and their scrap books going back twenty years. Berta has now sold Mountain House but we still keep very much in touch and she and her new husband Fidel have stayed with us in the UK and we have stayed on their farm - we hope to visit in a few weeks time.

Waingongoro and Enchanted Track loop towards Dawson Falls: We have done several variations of this the excellent round trip tramp along the Waingongoro Track to Dawson Falls, usually going up to Wilkies Pools then returning on the High Level Round the Mountain Track then dropping down the Enchanted Walk back to Mountain House and returning on the Kamahi track. The first part of the Waingongoro Track is common to several of the walks from Mountain House but after 25 minutes one passes the turn off for the Enchanted walk. After that the stretch towards Dawson Falls involves several river crossings which need some care as they can be slippery. We usually divert to look at the Waingongoro hut. It is one of a series of huts spaced along the Around the Mountain Circuit (AMC) each hut taking 16 - 24 people on communal sleeping platforms and bunks. DOC have about 900 such basic huts for Trampers in New Zealand.

The most memorable part of the Waingongoro Track Swing Bridge, a flimsy contraption of wires holding up a series of cross bars forming a walkway with only a bit of wire mesh to add confidence is crossing the swing bridge, a flimsy contraption of wires holding up a series of cross bars forming a walkway with only a bit of wire mesh to add confidence. You look straight down to a rocky stream bed far below as you careful inch your way across. Fortunately there was little wind otherwise they do not so much swing but sway and writhe like two drunken snakes hung across the river. This swing bridge is certainly not the longest at 26.5m but supposed to one of the highest at 29m. It certainly looked a long way down as one carefully placed ones boots on the 8 inch wide strips and clutched the two waist high suspension wires and inched across. Not surprisingly there is a faded notice suggesting only one person crosses at a time. After that the remaining river crossings were tame and we seemed to soon be back on familiar tracks from Dawson Falls.

There are several routes to when one reaches the Dawson Falls area including a network of paths starting from the Visitor Centre. This time we saw little point in going right down to Dawson Falls as we wanted to save some time to do a second walk and it would have been easy to be distracted by ice-creams and looking round the visitor centre. We therefore took the turn up the ridge track to join the Upper Around the Mountain Circuit following signs for the Stratford Plateau. This section ends with some excellent views out over the valley. We do not go as far as the Plateau as that means a road walk to get back to Mountain House - instead we go down the Enchanted Track to rejoin the Waingongoro Track about half an hour away from Mountain house. The Enchanted Track had some excellent views from the Trig point before dropping steeply down what seemed like thousands of steps back to the Waingongoro Track. In actual fact the descent is 300 metres. The total time was just over 4 hours including the time for short and long stops.

We tried an alternative walk to Dawson Falls in 2009 which started off from Mountain House by first climbing to the Plateau either using the road (boring) or on the Patea loop track. We took the Patea 'anticlockwise' up to the cross with the road then straight on up the road - actually a series of zig zags. This gets most of the hard climb out of the way at the start. From the plateau one sets out on the higher AMT (Around the Mountain Track) towards Dawson Falls. We had initially only intended a short walk and our next option was to return to Mountain House using the 'Enchanted walk' but we had made such good time we thought we were on for a bit further. The next shortening would have been to descend from the high level AMT using the Ridge Track which drops one down to the Waingonoro Track not far beyond the branch off to the Waingororo Hut. We were still making good progress so we decided to continue to use a section of the many tracks round Dawson Falls that we thought correctly we had missed in the past. We took the Wilkies Pools loop track clockwise but did not take the spur to the pools then continued past Twin Falls and the Bubbling springs before climbing back up a part of the Ridge Loop Track then joined the Waingongoro Track back to Mountain House.

We then drove down to Stratford stopping at the Northern Dairy to sustain us for second walk round York loop track. They always used to serve huge ice-creams Bigest ice creams but they are in new hands and obviously out to make an impact - these were the biggest ever and we staged back to the car to work them off round the York Track.

The York Loop Track provides the opportunity to explore the old Egmont branch line which brought ballast down from the Manganui River. The York Road Loop Track follows part of the old Egmont Branch Railway Line - access is from the end of York Road which turns off SH3 between Stratford and Tariki and the small car park is right on the boundary of the national Park. The line was first proposed in 1901 to provide a source of metal for Taranaki roads, rocks for Port Taranaki and ballast for the railways. The quarries, crushers and railway were in full operation by 1908. Typically 25,000 tons per year were extracted over the next twenty years. The number of crushers was reduced in 1928 and operations steadily ran down until the quarries and line were finally closed by 1951. The original York Track was created to access the various sections of the railway, crushers and quarries during the construction phase. The current track is in the form of a loop and we passed about 10 sites of interest which had information boards. It is marked on the notice boards as taking 3 hours and our notes showed we were a bit quicker last time when it took us a little under 3 hours with a lot of time investigating and taking pictures. This time we did less exploration and kept up a fast pace to work off the ice-cream and get back for supper and completed the 7 kms in 1 hour 20 mins with one ten minute side track missed out.

We started in the car park where there was an exhibit of one of the side tipping railway wagons. We followed the track and came to the Bunk House and Cottages Site, now just a green area with some foundations. The Bunk House was also known as the Barracks and housed 20 men and had a large kitchen and living rooms. The barracks sold for 15 pounds and moved to provide a hall at the New Plymouth Railway Settlement in 1930. Six small cottages were also on this site to accommodate the married men. The main artifacts remaining are at the Crusher Site where there is still a massive retaining wall, 100m long and 7m high which was part of the building that housed the crushing machine and other works. Side-tipping rail wagons brought rock to the two crushers via an upper siding. The crushed and screened metal was then fed into wagons below for transport to Waipuku junction. The crushers were operated by water turbines. Although heavily overgrown one can still identify many of the remains.

We walked up the old line of the water supply which was over 1km long and in a 500mm diameter pipe made of rolled steel pipes. It was used to carry water to the sandtrap and crushers. Some of the rusting pipeline was still visible from the track. The Sandtrap is still intact and the valves look operational. It was used to filter any sediment from the water before use in the crusher turbines. We walked across to the River Quarry where the railway lines gave access to the river where rock could be easily found. A few remnants of the line can still be seen. We continued to the Middle Quarry Station - a site on the Manganui River which provided poor quality rock which crushed easily although it had the advantages of being plentiful and readily available. As we continued we could see of the flumes and culverts that diverted water away from the Foot Station into a man-made river. We reached the site of the Foot Station located at the end of the rail line from Waipuku. Only a large clearing remains where the rail yard was located. This was also the site of the proposed Rope Way Station which was never built as the Upper Quarry development ceased in 1916 from here on the original track is heavily overgrown and now closed. We then returned on the York Road Track which was constructed to allow access for work at both ends of the railway line.

By the time we got back we felt we had had a good days walking - the total must have been about ten miles and a lot of it over rough ground and with lots of climbs and descents. Fortunately the next day would be mostly driving over the SH 43. The next day we found out it was Taranaki day when we went into Stratford - it was deserted with only a few shops open so we got an early start on the SH43

The SH43 Forgotten World Highway Leaving Stratford we were back on one of our favourite scenic roads, the SH43 from Stratford to Taumarunui which we had come part way on a few days ago in the other direction. This is a superb scenic road which was the subject of the first of the Heritage trails in 1990. It is now labeled the 'The Forgotten World Highway' on many of the boards. Apparently it Doreen who had conceived of the name as a way of making it more popular and getting people to Stratford and she did the original booklet which we still have a copy of somewhere covering the SH43 and a few other less memorable trails. They latest version is now very freely available as is a booklet of walks round Taranaki. There are also big introductory boards at either end and signs to further comprehensive boards at most of the main points of interest. It is a fascinating trip on one of the early roads and cut across the grain of the countryside over a number of saddles giving commanding views. It is a road which is only 150 kms from end to end, some of it still unsealed, which merits (and takes) plenty of time. We have previously done the journey a couple of times from both ends but we never tire of it.

The first suggested stop is at an old Douglas Brick Kiln which is listed by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. It is situated a couple of hundred metres off the main road then down a gated farmers track. It is in poor condition and protected by an external roof.

One next passes over the series of saddles. The first Saddle, the Strathmore Saddle can give superb views and on a clear day like we had it gives a vantage of the four main North Island mountains, Taranaki (Egmont), Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. It was a favourite site for Keith's paintings. 

The Strathmore Saddle gives a vantage of the four main North Island mountains, Taranaki (Egmont), Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu

Te Wera has a Forest and Recreational Camp which does not seem to be available for normal camping but there is an Arboretum which we have walked round a couple of times. We did the walk which was rather overgrown and took nearly half an hour -there ten minutes is very optimistic

The Pohokura Saddle is named after a Maori chief from when it was settled first in 1880 - in those days the road was so bad it took three days to pack in supplies. As with many other points on the trip there are interpretation boards at the viewpoints. The Whangamomona Saddle has a walk leading off from the viewpoint which looks sufficiently interesting we will schedule it for a future trip.

Next comes a highlight of the trip, Whangamomona Village. Downtown WhangamomonaEverything seems in a time warp in WhangamomonaWhangamomona, the Valley of Plenty, was first settled in 1885 and quickly reached its full size of about 200. It has always been controversial and had difficult access - in 1903 the Prime Minister, Richard Seddon was tipped into a pothole by the inhabitants as a protest at the road conditions and eventually improvements came.

The community spirit still survives, although to some it now looks little more than a ghost town. In 1989 the village declared itself an independent state in protest at changes in the regional boundaries which removed it from its home in Taranaki. Independence Day celebrations are held every year on the Saturday closest to November 1st. One year as we passed there was a big sign saying the President was holding court in the Hotel. We were tempted to stop and seek an audience. Another year we found we had been standing next to him in the pub at lunch time but had not recognised him. There is a signposted walking trail round the village which we followed part of - much of the village is like a time warp which has led to it being used for several films.

We went into the hotel and had a look at the boards on the walls and saw they were serving some very sensible value food and we had their fish and chips - being Taranaki day and a bank holiday they added a 15% surcharge to the food and the local beer Pauline tried. There is a camp site sign posted in the village and we went down to have a look and it turned out to be based round the old school - now a communal village building - and is kept up by volunteers in the village. The costs were very reasonable and they had some basic PWD style cabins at $20 a night (2009) - the same price as pitching a tent, so next time through we may make it an overnight stop and do some of the side trips off the highway.

The next high point is the Tahora SaddleTahora Saddle where the Kaieto café used to be. It has has now closed but they still seem to have the"camp site" perched on the peak - a wooden platform on the peak doubles as a view point and helipad.

On a couple of occasions, (the last in 2009) we have taken a side trip to the ghost village Tangarakau, 6 km from the main road. The village was set up in 1925 for railway workers and their families. It quickly grew to a population of 1200 with a full street of shops. It's life was extended for a few years by work on power lines but then it quickly declined and now there is nothing left to show - the current population in the area is 8 probably the owners of the adjacent and very deserted camp-site and a farm which looked busier than last visit.

On one occasion we have taken a side trip to the ghost village Tangarakau, 6 km from the main road. The village was set up in 1925 for railway workers and their families. It quickly grew to a population of 1200 with a full street of shops. It's life was extended for a few years by work on power lines but then it quickly declined and now there is nothing left to show - the current population in the area is 8 probably the owners of the adjacent and very deserted camp-site.

Next came Morgan's grave. Joshua Morgan was a well known surveyor who died in this remote area at 35 from peritonitis and is taken as a memorial to all the men who played a part in opening up this difficult country. The grave is well preserved and only about 700 metres from a small car park.

The Tangarakua Gorge, carved by the river into sedimentary sandstone is very spectacular and redolent with luxuriant native bush but beware when driving through as this 15 km stretch of slippery gravel surface has led to State Highway 43 being ranked as one of the 10 worst highways in New Zealand by the Police.

Mt Damper Falls: We took a side trip down a gravel road to see the Mt Damper Falls, which are one of the highest inland falls in New Zealand at 76 meters. It is well worth the 20 minute walk to see the falls are a narrow stream cut deeply into the side of a huge "bowl" eroded into the mudstone - quite unlike anything we have seen before. Part way down the road is a large picnic and parking area for the Moki forest tracks with a few old steam boilers from the logging days. There is also a small caravan site just down the road - there seems to be no good place for a tent but there are three or four slots for caravans or campers. The Moki forest is the home of the endangered Kokako bird but we have never had the time to go in search.

Pete wanted to take the side trip down the Waro road which used to lead to the Tatu mines as last time we had to turn back when we got to major earth moving equipment and a working area we did not even feel it would be possible to safely walk through. We had found some pictures of the Tatu coal mine at the Tawhiti Museum. Unfortunately Pauline was not so keen and somehow we missed the turn!

It is however worth a walk up to Nevin's Lookout, about five minutes, to a magnificent 360 degree view even with relatively low cloud base. With good visibility it is spectacular. 

Maraekowhai Reserve and Ohura Falls: We were definitely short of time for the side trip off the SH43 was to the Maraekowhai reserve. The Click for larger imagesite has been of interest to us for several reasons. Historically it was a stronghold for the rebellious Hauhau warriors who in 1864 built a "rongo niu" with arms radiating in four directions to call the warriors to the cause. They danced round it chanting to make themselves invincible to musket fire. It and the later rere kore (peace pole) are still preserved in the reserve. We have been told the area has a considerably wider history also involving a flour mill, a pakeha who was shot, missionaries, notional roads and inter-tribal fighting. At the time of our first visit we knew little of this and our main interest was that it was the site of the Houseboat which was provided the second overnight stop for the Whanganui river boats on their way to Taumarunui. The site is about 18 kms off the main road down a mostly a slow and narrow gravel track. When we eventually arrived the first time we found we could not reach the poles or the site of the Houseboat mooring as a swing bridge was down but in exchange discovered there were a super set of waterfalls, the Ohura Falls which are worth a trip in their own right

One passes a little publicised DOC camp site just off the SH43 at Ohinepane that forms part of the Whanganui Journey - although a river journey the Whanganui Journey is of New Zealand's network of "Great Walks", perhaps because of the huge number of shallows and rapids! The Whanganui Journey is a 145 km journey by Canoe from Taumarunui to Pipiriki taking about 5 days. Ohinepane is one of the few camp sites on the journey accessible by land and about one day into the trip to Pipiriki.

The Otunui River Boat Landing is also on the Whanganui and has a new canoe landing below the picnic area. The boards have a marked up picture to show where the old landing was as there are no signs of it remaining. You can still get to the original location via a derelict style.

A recommended exploration off the main route is the Te Maire Reserve - we took a 10 minute walk on our first visit, with a nice river crossing on a small suspension bridge, to reach a loop walk which takes a further one hour forty minutes to complete. The initial section is in very good condition and makes an excellent forest walk through Podocarps but with so much undergrowth growing on and up all the trees it is reminiscent of the 'goblin forest' round Mountain House at Mt Egmont (Taranaki). Again time was against us but we have made a note to repeat the loop track which takes one through some lovely stands of mature trees, some stretching 200 feet upwards with clean straight trunks, probably the tallest were kahikatea (white pine) along with rimu, totara and matai. The lookout is always higher than we expected and the climb gives some good exercise. My notes from earlier trips say it can be done in sandals but boots are desirable.

On the final stretch towards Taumarunui one passes Herlihy's Bluff which consists of alternating layers of course sandstone and fine mudstone laid down to a total thickness of about 1.3 kms when the region was below the sea about 15-25 million years ago.

Taumarunui is an interesting town, it came to prominence at the turn of last century because of the railway and because it was the end of the riverboat service linking to the rail network and because it was at the confluence of the Whanganui and Ongarue Rivers. It's history goes back a lot further - it was the converging point of three Maori tribes, the Maniapoto from the Ongarue, the Hauaroa from downstream on the Whanganui and the Tuwharetoa from upstream. The tribes still exist and can trace their lineage from four of the great migration canoes, Aotea, Tokomaru, Tainui and Te Awawa. There are several interpretations of the name depending on how one splits the syllables. One is Taumaru - shade or shelter and nui - large. Another is that Maru, a great leader defeated local inhabitants and the town is named in honour Tau (you), Maru, nui (great or large). It is in the heart of the King Country and was closed to Pakeha until the 1880s. The town has not only survived, unlike so many towns along the Forgotten World Highway but grown as a regional centre. The rail links are now less important and the station now serves mostly as an information office and few trains other than freight pass through. There is however an excellent working model of the Raurimu spiral which was a fascinating way that the trains were brought up the steep slopes.

Taumarunui Holiday Park: We stayed at the Taumarunui Holiday Park 4 km outside Taumarunui - we first stayed there in 2003 when we dashed in to see the end of another defeat for Team NZ sailing in the Americas Cup. The site is good and they have the Whanganui River right at the bottom of the grounds, a forest walk at the end of the site and another longer walk along the river to Cherry Grove where the riverboats moored in Taumarunui.The owners have been gradually doing it up since we have been using it. The cabins have been doubled up by enclosing the car ports and turning them into new cabins and we had one of the larger converted carport ends. We had and excellent barbeque using the Red devil as campsite full with school parties camping although the owner did offer to bring one of the camp barbeques over to us.

Mills Reef Winery and Restaurant: We left earlier than usual as we wanted to get across to the Mills Reef Winery for lunch, it is on the outskirts of Tauranga at Bethlehem. The food, and wine, is always excellent and Mills Reef must be close to the top of our list of wineries with good tastings and excellent lunches. It was quite cool and windy so we chose to sit in for the first time - normally we eat outside the restaurant with views of there gardens. They do tasting 'paddles' of red white and mixed vintage wines and we had a red one with lunch. The paddles are a lovely idea with a piece of wood, shaped like a flattened cricket bat, with four neat circular holes and slots into it which the glasses had been slid. The food was outstanding and gave use several ideas for the future which is how it should be.We did a brief wine tasting after the emal but did not buy a lot as we already have a good stock. Pauline however bought a bag of some of the largest avocados we have ever seen.

Feijoa: It seems to be the season for fruit in the area as we also bought a bag of enormous feijoa just short of Athenree for $2.00. The feijoa is native to extreme southern Brazil, northern Argentina, western Paraguay and Uruguay where it is common wild in the mountains. The feijoa has received more attention than in New Zealand than any other country and it is commonly grown on a commercial basis but has a short life after picking unless kept very cold and has to be air freighted to europe. It is best eaten like a kiwifruit by cutting in half and scooping out the contents and eating with a spoon. It is also used for making into feijoa jam which is common in New Zealand. Jenny has a tree at one of her Bach but we have never been there at the right time and these were the first feijoas we have had to eat - recommended.

Morton Winery: We continued North and stopped at the Morton Winery for old times sake. It was one of the first wineries with a restaurant we were taken to by Chris on our first visit to New Zealand and we have always enjoyed there sparkling wines. The restaurant has been closed for nearly six years but they had some bargains in wines and we bought some 2007 Merlot Malbec at $13.95 which was very acceptable. We stopped briefly in Katikati, the mural town.

Athenree Hot Springs and Holiday Park We continued on to stay at a camp site we have visited before on the coast near Waihi which has Hot Springs and a thermal pool – the Athenree Hot Springs and Holiday Park - it is excellent. It has a limited number of cabins and although we had no problem in mid March it would be prudent to book ahead before 20th January or on Friday/Saturday nights. There is a large hot spring pool big enough to swim which has no chemical treatments but has the water changed every night and an even hotter small er pool at about 38.5 degrees C which sits a dozen people. The water is not full of salts like in Rotorua and is like silk on the skin. Last visit we spent a long time talking to Alan and his wife who also have an old wooden yacht that they have recently bought from Whangaparapara in Great barrier and now have at Whitianga. - they used to be farmers up the Coromandel. We into the hot pools in evening and morning but early because of aquarobics at 0830.

Hot Water Beach: It was now time for the Coromandel Peninsular. we decided that it was a long time since we had been to Hot Water Beach - here under water springs bubble up through the sand at low water and you can dig big pools to which fill with water almost too hot to lie in. We found there are now huge car parks at the end but beware the last one is pay and display. We were just a little late so it was not worth taking a spade with us but lots of people were still indulging behind their fortifications and the water was still too hot for comfort when one walked across some area. You could see the water bubbling up in some places and it can reach over 60 degrees centigrade and cause nasty burns.

Coromandel town: We intended to stop at Coromandel town but camp site in the town has turned from Family Parks to Top10 and was very expensive and only had one $80 cabin free. We have put up our big tent there once in the past but it is a lot of work for a single night and the slots looked very small now. We rang the alternative we have used at Long Bay also had no cabins which was a shame as the site was in some ways reminiscent of Whangaruru, but run as a commercial business and has a small shop in the office which has tubs of ice cream. The owners also had cats including a beautiful ocelot, a rusty brown colour with lots of black spots.

Camping Ground at Otautu Farm: So it was time for plan C. We called the Camping Ground at Otautu Farm, another favourite and we usually stop at Otautu for a swim even if we do not stay overnight. It is a lovely beach with good holding for mooring and we have anchored there in suitable conditions. There is also a nice wharf nearby for fishing. There are only toilet facilities and showers, no kitchens, at Otautu Farm, probably because most people there have caravans not tents. And there are only a few vacant sites for visitors, as most caravans are there for the full season. However there are several fields devoted to camping, and the site gets very full over the Christmas and New Year holidays. The idea is that their annual fee covers up to 30 days use of the caravan, and after that extra days are paid at visitor rates. They have never had cabins in the past but we have camped and also stayed once before, in one of their caravans, when the weather was too bad for our tent. They used to have a cat called Shadow which has disappeared, presumed stolen by a visiting camper.

We used to know the owner and manager who lived on the site and he had a good selection of books which can be borrowed while staying. We borrowed and read the Coromandel Holiday by A H Reed whilst we were there the first time and enjoyed it very much. We later found a copy in Davenport, at a good price. Once he realised we were seriously interested in local history he showed us a copy of the book about the area, written by the local Historical Association. It was a recent book and we were lucky to find a new copy for sale at the General Store in Colville, so we persuaded him to sign the new copy for us, as a memory of our discussions. Unfortunately it was, like many of our book now back in the UK.

Unfortunately he has now died but the new owners seem to be doing an excellent job doing the site up. We found they have bought the old Homestead which is on the site and have done extensive external refurbishment and some work on the inside and now let out three rooms in it with shared facilities, a bit like a backpackers. We found we had the 'Homestead' to ourselves for $70. It is a lovely old house with ornamental verandahs and stained glass.

Yet again we were there at the time when the cows and their calves were being separated, and the howling lasts day and night. This time the cows had been left nearby so it was not intrusive, especially in the house. The last time the cows, which had been put in a field some distance away, managed to break down the fence and escaped and were found making their way along the road back to their calves. Fortunately there was very little traffic on the road overnight. Apparently the noise goes on for 3 days so we were just unlucky. The only problem (or advantage) is that there is no vodafone coverage although just enough for a voicemail to come in whilst walking up the beach. Overall it was perfect stay and we will try to use the old homestead on future visits.

Coromandel backroads: We had a number of choices in the morning - we usually try to drive up the coast past Fantail and Port Jackson to Fletcher's Bay, and return without worrying about where we would be staying. Pete has often tried fishing at the Quarry wharf near Fantail, but never has much luck, but that is not what fishing is about. Port Jackson, the next DOC camp site has a long beach with a number of waterfront pitches, and is usually quiet in March. There is one ford to cross, but we have always got across easily. The road ends at Fletcher's Bay, at the tip of the Coromandel, looking across at Great Barrier island and the rock at Channel Island. There are often lots of young cows roaming freely by the end of the season - the objective of the farm park managers sometimes seems to be to make sure the site is so unattractive that they are not bothered with campers. The road is gravel and narrow, so it would take most of the day for the trip to Fletcher's Bay and we would probably only get back to Otuatu Farm.

So this time we thought we would have a change and follow the narrow and mostly unsealed roads across to the East coast and back to Coromandel town. Once one gets to the East side one has the choice of going North past Port Charles, Sandy Bay and on to the the DOC camping ground at Stony Bay. Last time we visited Stony Bay it was full of young bulls and there were very few flat spots which were large enough for us. The winds are also often on shore and the spots with a sea view are windy and the more sheltered spots are very stony - too stony to use the plastic tent pegs used for the main 12 attachment points on our big tent which have no flexibility in positioning - on one occasion we had to try 6 places to get a single sturdy metal tent peg in deep enough!

We decided to turn south instead and had a look at the DOC camping ground at Waikawau Bay and walked down to the beach. The next bay, Kennedy Bay has no real access for visitors although we have moored there on the way back from sailing to the Mercury Islands so we continued back across the Coromandel Peninsular towards Coromandel Town. We passed the Lucas Lookout but continued as we had decided we ought to stop at the Driving Creek railway for the first time. We had always thought it sounded a bit naff but lots of people had recommended it so we thought we ought to give it a try. We got there at just after 1200 and the next train was leaving at 1245, the trips take about an hour and March is still in their main season and they run at roughly one and a half hour intervals. Out of season they always run at 1400.

Driving Creek Railway. The Driving Creek Railway is a narrow gauge bush railway on the outskirts of the town of Coromandel. The railway leads up the mountain to a viewing platform building 165m high. The original line was built by the potter Barry Brickell on his 22 ha property where he intended to start a pottery collective. He started construction of a narrow gauge rail line purely to transport clay and pine wood fuel to his kilns. In 1975, Brickell extended his land to 60ha, and began working on what would become the Driving Creek Railway and Potteries. The new line was 15in (381mm) gauge serving the same purpose bring clay and firewood down from the slopes above the potteries. It would also be used to help re-plant the hillsides on the property with kauri and other native plants. The bank manager then suggested that opening it to the public would help pay off his loans and over the next 25 years it was steadily expanded to what is seen today.

The project has required significant civil engineering works due to the steep and complex terrain that the line traverses. Among these are a Double-Deck viaduct, three tunnels, ten bridges and inclines as steep as 1 in 14. . It also changes direction five times at reversing points to zigzag across the face of the hill one of which overhangs the hillside. The various retaining walls are built of available materials including several built out of the beer bottles consumed during the construction. The climb takes about 20 minutes and all the engines and rolling stock were designed and built by Barry on site in the railway's own workshops. The viewing point at the terminus is called the Eyefull Tower and is based on the Bean Rock Lighthouse in Auckland. Much of the profits go to funding nature conservation works and tens of thousands of Kauri trees have been planted and the exotic fast growing and invasive pines are being steadily felled and removed. Barry is now in his 80s but still works in the pottery and has made sure the land will be protected in perpetuity by various covenats on the land titles.

The name Driving Creek goes back to the days of Kauri felling when big dams were built on creeks and the Kauri trees were driven down the hillside when the dams were tripped. We have seen the remains of such dams in several places including Great barrier and we have a page on Kauri, both logging and the gathering and use of it's gum which is a unique part of New Zealand history.

Lucas Lookout: The views from the Eyeful tower had been good and one could just see the heads at Whangarei so we decided to backtrack the 6 kms up the hill to the Lucas lookout car park from which one has a steep 15 minute climb to a lookout with panoramic views stretching from cape Colville in the North to Auckland and down the Firth of Thames. It was well worth the backtrack. Back in Coromandel we went to the smoked fish shop - it seemed a bit expensive and the small pieces of kahawai and eel were very dry when we tried them.

Dickson Holiday Park - Thames: We needed to make some progress back to Auckland so traveled on down as far as Taruru on the outskirts of Thames and stayed at the Dickson Holiday Park - it is a Kiwi Holiday Park, and we often stay there in one of there kitchen cabins at the top end which is very quiet. It is the camp site with the butterfly farm. We had our usual kitchen cabin with deck and watched the sun go down with a gloss of wine and another of the huge avocados.

Tropical Cyclone Lusi: The next morning weather did not look as if it would turn out to be quite as bad as everyone expected - Tropical Cyclone Lusi was running behind schedule and weakening by then. We went into Rental car village to pick up new licence as it was running out and they also changed front disk pads as warning was just flicking on occasionally. Then to Chris where we expected to get a good view of Lusi as she passed as Chris's house is on a hill top with magnificent views in almost all directions!

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