Coromandel Pinnacles and Mount Maunganui2/2/17-2/3/17
We picked a campsite near the end of the road in Coromandel National Forest. We would be close to the trailhead in order to wake up and get an early start to the Pinnacles. There was one campsite closer, at the trailhead but the wardens in the visitor center made it sound like you’d get woken up pretty early by the real go-getters. Our campsite was basic for $34 (they charge per person here- $17 a pop even with one tent) but we had everything we needed to cook a hot meal and a tent to sleep in. McKayla was happy to watch an interesting bug that she named Herman while I cooked. The next morning (Friday), after coffee and oatmeal, we were ready for our first hike in New Zealand.
At 9.5 miles with a constant and steady climb, the Pinnacles wouldn’t be the easiest one for us to warm up with, but hey, you got to start somewhere. The day began with a constant drizzle occasionally kicking up to a heavy drizzle. The weather wasn’t playing ball but we were determined just the same. The path had been set up by loggers nearly a hundred years ago to get after the valuable kauri trees, but to this day not many trees have returned. The trail was set up with about 3.5 miles of stairs. Stairs carved out of rock, leading to stairs of wood and gravel, then on to medal ladders, followed by medal bars imbedded into rocks leading to the summit. Everyone coming down the trail from the hut on the ridge was soaked. Getting closer to the summit, we found fellow day-hikers that’d come down, shaking their heads, reporting: “cant see a thing”. By the time we reached the top the clouds still hadn’t lifted and the wind was ripping. Though the clouds hung heavy, the rain quit and we had a great view of the gulch below. On our descent, the clouds cleared and gave us a marvelous view of the ocean and a handful of rocky islands. Some of the rock walls had the impressive jagged look of my beloved Glacier peaks. A half mile down from the summit, we had nothing but clear skies and stairs to look forward to. For our first hike, it definitely kicked our asses but it turned out to be a really great introduction to New Zealand.
Fairly tired from our hike, we headed out of the forest and towards one of the fancy campsites we’ve been hearing about (holiday parks) with showers, kitchens and in some cases, hot tubs. We drove a few hours, found a holiday park and spent the evening relaxing with a glass of whiskey. We’d picked up some Jameson duty-free upon our arrival. We ended up trading pulls of Jameson for a few beers along with a few stories from a Fijian, UN peacekeeping soldier. So, the next day (Saturday), our new friend guided us up the local high point.
Mount Maunganui is a large mountain jutting out of a peninsula, right on the coast. We parked along the beach and made our way on the boardwalk past small wave surfers and a fairly large volleyball tournament. The hill was the local outdoor fitness center. Several people were running or at least running through the stair portions. Our Fijian friend kept us at a pretty good pace while making all sorts of comments to people as they passed. He said it was the Fijian way, to make small talk and jokes to keep everyone friendly. The summit gave a great 360 degree view of the surrounding ocean, islands and peninsula ,as well as a good view of the port and the town of Tauranga.
After getting back to the beach, Arif led us onto a smaller hill/peninsula just off the beach. McKayla decided to take a therapeutic swim in the ocean along the rocks and let the tide swirl her around for a little while. We barely escaped an angry flock of seagulls only to later discover that our flashpack had taken a direct hit. Seagull shit isn’t that easy to get out, more oily than I would’ve imagined. After saying goodbye to our new friend, we stopped in for some Irish food then continued south to Rotorua.
On our drive south, we found an area with a few little waterfalls so we stopped for a walk. One of the falls was easily the largest rapid I’d ever seen a raft attempt to conquer. They even had a watch deck set up across from the falls so you could view rafters and kayaker attempt the plunge. We saw a kayaker make the 10 foot fall fairly smoothly – he quickly resurfaced after the initial dive, still in his water craft. The raft of 6 however had gone completely vertical, hit the bow head-on and folded like a taco. Everyone resurfaced with the same cheerful screams that’d sent them over the falls.
Saturday night we camped at the edge of Lake Rotorua. I attempted a swim but after walking out a hundred yards or so with still only my knees submerged, I gave up, dunked myself and called it a night.
Now, I’d been really worried halfway through Thailand that I was done traveling. The constant packing/unpacking, finding places to stay, dealing with language barriers, etc. has caused both of us to become less enthusiastic than we had been earlier in our trip. I was scared that our travel fever had subsided. However, I’m happy to report that after only a few days here in New Zealand, the fever is back in full swing. Driving and camping was just the change of pace we needed. We’re back to wanting to do and see everything we possibly can in the time we’re here. Good thing we’ve got a long way to go and a lot of the world left to see on this adventure of ours.