Friday, March 4, 2011

New Zealand-Tauranga & the Coromandel Peninsula


Week 3

On Monday I drove north up the coast to Whangamata located in the Coromandel Peninsula. After work, I went to check into my hotel but no one was there. There was a sign on the door telling me to let myself into my room. Where is everybody? Gone I later found out. I might as well go check out the town...which took up about five minutes. There was one main street with all of the shops and restaurants. If you were driving you could go through it in about a minute and miss the whole thing if you weren't paying attention.

Whangamata Harbor

Coromandel Forest
Next, I had to drive to Kopu which is on the west side of the peninsula. The only way to get there is to drive an hour through the Coromandel Forest Park which has some seriously steep roads with extremely sharp turns the entire way but also spectacular views. My only complaint is that there are few places to pull over and take it all in. There's not even any shoulder on the road so if you pull over, your car will go flying off a cliff! This forest, with the exception of the road that goes through it, is basically untouched.

Mercury Bay, Whitianga
Tuesday I had to work in Whitianga which is another hour or so up north in the Coromandel region. So I set out again and was off through the Coromandel Forest and Tairua Forest. Not a bad commute to work. After work, I explored Whitianga (another one-street town) and visited Mercury Bay and then set out to go back to Tauranga.

On the way back I just had to make a pit stop at Hot Water Beach. I've been to many beaches but never one like this. If you dig a hole in certain locations of the beach at a particular time of day, warm geothermal springs will bubble up from underneath the sand. You can dig a hole and sit in your very own hot tub.
Hot Water Beach
Tairua Forest
Driving up steep mountain hills really sucked the gas out of my car and while out in the middle of nowhere, my gas light came on and my car started making a threatening beeping noise with an exclamation mark flashing on my dashboard !!! This is not good. Next, the skies opened up and it started pouring. It was a treacherous drive with no gas in the pouring rain through the steep and sharp turns of the forest. I didn't think I would make it out of the forest but when I finally did, the car coasted to the nearest gas station and I took my first breath in probably ten minutes. I was almost back to Tauranga when I suddenly came to a line of cars. Traffic in the country? Once I inched a little further up the road I was informed by a police officer that the road to Tauranga was closed. This was the only road to Tauranga but it should be open again "in about three hours," he told me. Drivers just pulled their cars over and left them on the side of the road to wait. If this happened back in New York there would be a riot in the street. But the road was closed so there was nothing left to do but to turn around and find someplace to pass the time. I made a U-turn and drove back into the town of Katikati and saw a sign for the Katikati museum. Perfect!

Outside the closed Katikati Museum
So I went in and found out the museum was also closed. This is not my day. At least the cafe was open. Until they closed that too. But they let me sit on a bench outside until the road opened back up two hours later. Apparently, a tanker truck tipped over and the road had actually been closed since 6 am. It was now 5:30 pm. When I finally got back on the road the skies cleared and as I drove on the only road to Tauranga, a brilliant rainbow stretched across the sky.

Ok, New Zealand. I still love you.

Te Puna Quarry Park

Te Puna Quarry Park
Wednesday was a much better day. I went to Te Puna Quarry Park, a community project built in an old quarry. This was one of my favorite places I've visited here so far. It's part museum, part sculpture garden--with works by local and regional artists, part hiking trails (or "tramping" as they call it here), part botanic garden. They also threw some rock climbing in the mix as well.

Musical sculpture
 They didn't forget to add a musical element either. Visitors can play music on this sculpture made from found objects and the sound will echo through the park. This place was really fantastic. You can stick to the main track or venture off onto one of the little side trails. Wherever you choose to go you'll discover a sculpture. You could come dozens of times and still not see it all. It would be a different experience every time. They also have a butterfly garden as well as a sensory garden for the visually impaired. Admission is simply a donation and the park is open all the time. You just let yourself in and explore.

Kiwi Train

Kiwi 360
Thursday was a triumphant day when I found my first cafe that served filtered coffee. Victory!

 I was working in Te Puke (It's pronounced Te Pookey just in case you were wondering) so I had to go see Te Puke's main attraction, Kiwi 360. I took the guided tour of the kiwi orchard. We drove in the little kiwi train through the orchards which grow not just kiwi's but just about 70 other kinds of fruit as well. We got to walk under the vines and pick kiwi berries and eat them. Kiwi berries (or Arguta) are like tiny little hairless kiwi's that taste like a kiwi and grape mixed. They were sweet and delicious. An interesting fact I learned about growing Kiwi's is that only the female vines can grow the fruit. The male plants only need to work for about two weeks out of every year to pollinate the females. Typical. ha! At the end of the tour, we were allowed to get off the kiwi train and wander around the orchard on our own. The guide let us pick and eat the Nashi off the trees. Nashi is a type of Asian pear that grows very well in the New Zealand climate. They are shaped and look like yellow apples but taste more like pears. They taste so good I had to take a couple for the road...because you never know when the road might be closed and you could get hungry waiting for it to re-open!

Picking Kiwi Berries

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