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|Touring New Zealand 2017 - part 4|
The following morning we set off to drive as far north as we could, aiming for the Coromandel the following day. This meant we eventually stopped at Te Aroha, a nice town with a traditional holiday park on the outskirts, and really cheap Waitomo brand self-service petrol. Heading towards the Coromandel we passed the Cheese Barn at Matatoki and could not resist their blue Kallarney cheese and a large homemade scone to share, still warm from the oven. The roads were better than we expected after the downpours earlier and so we committed to the west coast road. The main road around the Coromandel, SH25, is always at risk of slips and flooding when the weather is bad. There were no kitchen cabins at our favourite Kiwi Holiday Park north of Thames but we settled for a caravan with a timber annex with a double bed. The site had changed hands and we missed the philosophical discussions with the previous owner, who was planning to retire when we last spoke with him. We think he envied our lifestyle choice! The Coromandel is a quirky area and one of the waterfront houses had installed large red statues, similar to those at Easter island, in its garden.
The first afternoon we headed up to Coromandel town, bought far too much excellent fish at the smokehouse and pohutukawa smoked bacon at the butcher, then the next day drove over one of the two middle roads - going east from Tapu to Coroglen, then up the east coast through Whitianga where we stopped for fish and chips (only $7.50 for two) and then onwards on SH25 to Coromandel again and back to the Holiday Park. Highlights of the drive were a visit to the square kauri, which we had not stopped to visit on all our previous trips, then another stately kauri on the side of the road. Approaching Coromandel town (again) there were excellent clear views from SH25 down onto Coromandel town and beyond to Waiheke Island and the Skytower at Auckland. Leaving Coromandel town we explored the road down to the Auckland ferry and Te Kouma. There is an occasional ferry service which also stops en route at Waiheke and is met by a shuttle bus for tourists to visit Coromandel town without the hassle of driving all the way round and through Auckland. We must try the trip one year when we have a spare day.
The weather usually gets warmer as we head north. We always enjoy a few days in a waterfront kitchen cabin at Sandspit, just opposite Kawau island, and a short drive north of Auckland. The nearest main town is Warkworth on SH1, just 10kms away. This year the Holiday Park was not busy and we were able to book Kauri, a large kitchen cabin with a wide deck onto the occean. It is our favourite of the cabins and we often think of buying a caravan there but it is not practical unless we can find friends to share with us. Sandspit is just a short walk from the ferry to Kawau but the weather was not reliable this year.
Instead we drove back to Warkworth, where there is a good shoppping centre with New World and Countdown supermarkets and an excellent butcher who sells free range meat including goat. Warkworth is a riverside town and there were two trip boats at the wharf but no trips were scheduled until later in the week. The obvious place to visit in the area is the Parry Kauri Park which is just the other side of town. There are two large kauri trees named after the former owners of the land before it became a public park. That evening we decanted and drank the Clearview 1998 Merlot, the excuse being that it needed to be tasted before we forgot the taste of the Clearview 2000 Merlot Malbec. In spite of its age, it was still a superb red colour and we wondered how it would have compared with our 1998 Chateau Laithwaite in the UK.
The next day we went out to Matakana and then explored Snells Beach and Algies Bay.
Then the sunny weather and historic buildings of the Bay of Islands beckoned. After a short stop at Kawakawa where we found two old briefcases in the Op shop by the station for packing our laptops (a long story!) then we soon reached Opua and the vehicle ferry. Orongo Bay used to be a Kiwi Holiday Park and is located with views of the ocean, and only 4kms from Russell and a similar distance from the Opua ferry. Unable to book a kitchen cabin because they were all booked, and there was a school group in the lodge so the tourist flat was not available, we settled in to their "Bach". It is a comfortable little detached building, within easy reach of the facilities. We stayed there for three nights in total, and the next 2 nights moved into their retro caravan. The owners were very proud of the caravan, which is a larger caravan than that we had rented in Thames, and had a large attached timber kitchen and lounge with proper woodburning stove. There were wekas, ducks and chickens roaming around the site and the morning bird chorus was augmented by the cock-a-doodle-do of the cockerel. We like the area very much and it is much quieter than staying in Russell.
Russell has enough shops to provide for self-catering, and lots of cafes and restaurants. Unfortunately the bakery in Russell only opens early in the mornings but the two little supermarkets are a good source of food, and there is also an Op shop and Hammer Hardware. The first full day we took the ferry back to Opua then drove to Paihia. There was a Royal Caribbean cruise ship at anchor and, as usual, the park was full of craft stalls in preparation for the arrival of tourists - they said that Paihia was their first port since leaving Sydney but did not seem to want to do much shopping. After Paihia we drove to Kerikeri and did our usual visit to the Old Stone Store, and then walked over the bridge and along the river to the Pumping station, then back. We had heard of a famous pear tree, which was close to the church, and eventually found the tree in the garden of the Pear Tree Cafe. It is said to be the tree from which all the orchards in the area are derived. Finally we climbed up to the Pa along a new footpath which shows the strategic importance of the hillside and from where there is good view back towards the wharf.
The next part continues with Hokianga, Kauri: The Kauri Coast, Dargaville Museum, Matakohe and the Kauri Museum, then back to Auckland/Waiheke