Having circumnavigated the island and with two weeks until our return home we decided to head back to some areas where we now had more information about sights to see and time to explore. We started by doing a loop in the Waitomo area taking in yet another waterfall and then checking bits of the west coast we had missed. The rain had caused rivers to run well and they stained the sea brown as they emptied their loads. We headed down one narrow country road which ended at a tunnel cut into the cliff for the previous flax trade. We walked through to emerge onto an empty back sand beach backed by towering, orange cliffs with a waterfall cascading down and ours were the only footsteps. It was a magical place.
The coast road deposited us back at Waitomo where we revisited some of our favourite places and also went to Ruakiri tunnels walk which we had missed. It was a loop walk through a gorge accompanied by the river which dipped in and out of tunnels ( and so did we). We also did a tramp as opposed to a walk (rough track, no steps, river crossings instead of bridges, marked by orange triangles thank goodness or we would have lost it!) to a waterfall that was well off the beaten tourist path. The falls were worth the effort falling through a sunlit slot into an orange canyon filled with green, mossy rocks.
Next came a walk along a limestone gorge that the track notes said could be boggy. It most certainly was and we deliberately walked through the stream at the end to remove some of the mud off our boots. It also didn’t deliver the views we were hoping for due to the vegetation. Having time to kill we then headed to the previously ignored McLaren Falls as the photos didn’t look impressive. The river had been dammed for hydro purposes and was now a trickle but we found a beautiful lake had been made and the area planted with a great variety of trees. It was lovely especially with the autumn colours.
Another day and another waterfall – this one came down in three leaps and then dropped into a green gorge which was very pretty. It was then back to the coast which was decidedly warmer than inland and a climb up a local mountain with lots of the locals walking and jogging up and down. New Zealanders are prolific walkers and joggers and every hill near a major town always had lots of people.
The Coromandel Peninsula drew us back for more walks and coast watching. We timed our visit to Hot Water Beach so we could feel the hot water bubbling up through the sand with our bare feet. I went on a boat trip that I couldn’t manage previously due to bad weather but found it a bit disappointing as our boat rushed madly from one attraction to the next with limited time to take photos, especially as it was advertised as great for photographers. (I also had to contend with people in front and we were rarely given side on views.) We took walks through the old gold mining tunnels to find lots of wetas and a surprise from some enterprising local. Another waterfall also gave us lots of exercise.
Hamilton gave us a much cheaper alternative place to store our van and also the unexpected delight of their themed gardens, well worth a visit.
After three months in New Zealand I feel qualified to espouse some observations
– The price of living is similar with petrol more expensive but fish, icecream and bakery items cheaper.
– DOC (Department of Conservation) is a very big presence and do a great job providing a variety of mostly well signed walking tracks, camping areas in some beautiful locations and lots of huts ranging from very basic (which we did not visit as they require more knowledge of the area) to palatial like the 80 bed Pinnacles hut in Coromandel with mattresses, gas cookers, lights, shower (cold!) and a barbecue for bacon and egg breakfasts.
– NZ is having as much trouble with depletion of native species as we are. They are working very hard at addressing the problem of stoats and possums in particular which have had great effect on their bird life. Certain areas have been targetted for intensive trapping and poisoning and we did hear more birds in these areas. They have also made use of their many off shore islands as sanctuaries for captive bred and released populations.
– NZ is more open to adventurous activities than Australia and is not such a nanny state. They allow people to take responsibility for their own actions (less fencing of cliff edges, tunnels not closed off, free self guided caves with leaflets ).
We are now back in Australia for the winter with plans to return and travel the South Island in spring.