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North Coromandel Oct.2010

Labour Weekend 2010 - Far North of the Coromandel

Labour Weekend, in mid-October, is tradtionally the start of the New Zealand holiday season. It's in the spring, the schools have the week off, and it sees many Kiwi families making their first holiday of the year. Many Kiwis have a holiday home - known as a 'bach'. 'Bach' is short for 'Bachelor Pad'. Traditionally a typical Kiwi bach is small, tatty, near a beach, and furnished with left-over bits of furniture. See:Baches

We decided to use our new toy to continue our quest to find our very own Kiwi bach…We had a definite price range - you don't want to spend too much on a place you'll be visiting infrequently. And we would continue looking in our most favourite area - the Coromandel. And in particular the area to the north of Coromandel town. Past Colville it's all gravel - to the small settlements of Port Jackson and Port Charles. What better way to try out Art's new 'Tonka Toy'.

Day 0 - Preparation

The day before, we'd packed our suitcase for the long weekend, put together the bag of kitchen equipment and all the food we were going to take (we had no idea what shops were going to be open in Coromandel Town, and there aren't any shops at all to the north). 'Don't forget - bread, everything on this shelf in the fridge, and the chicken breast and steak from the freezer' I said. Art would be doing the final packing on his own, as (per usual) I had to go and earn some money to keep him in the way that he's become accustomed….

With more space to spare than we were used to (there's definitely more room in a Pajero than an MGF…) we could have catered for five more people. The chairs and table were a must (both also fit in the MG - behind the seat). But we did leave the new tent behind - much too cold at night this early in the year! Instead I booked us into the Lodge rooms at the Shelly Beach Top 10 Holiday Park, just to the north of Coromandel Town and on the Colville Road.

I'd bought the three largest scale Land Survey maps for the far north of Coromandel - annoying, as with a bit of careful positioning they could have fitted it all onto one. But worth it, as with the plan being to go onto gravel roads, we wanted to know what we were likely to find!

Day 1 - Friday - Auckland to Shelly Beach

Art picked me up at the Ferry Terminal at Half Moon Bay, and we were on our way. I'd caught the earlier ferry, as we'd heard dire warnings about the traffic going out of Auckland on holiday weekends.

As we might have mentioned before, these New Zealanders don't know the meaning of traffic. We purposefully avoided SH1 (which is, aftr all, the main road through NZ) and headed l?south through Clevedon & Hunua. Left onto SH2 for a bit (maybe a bit more traffic than usual?) then left again towards the Firth of Thames.

Bank Holiday Traffic to Coromandel

There is a one-lane bridge with traffic lights over the Firth of Thames. It's notorious here for traffic queues. Sometimes people have been known to queue for a couple of hours here. The bridge is being replaced this year with one that will take traffic in both directions - but this isn't due to be opened for a few months so we were expecting delays. We approached with trepidation. With 2 km to go the traffic slowed down. But it was still moving! And it continued to move…. Some intelligent person had decided that instead of leaving the traffic lights with the normal equal phasing, they'd arrange for a couple of guys with 'stop-go' poles to replace them. This meant that the Auckland traffic had much longer than the Thames traffic - and the total time added to the journey for the bridge queue was a mere 10 minutes. Well don, that councillor (whoever you are).

Then another left, up the Thames to Coromandel road. I love this road - it hugs the coast, and has some spectacular scenery. There are a few communities along the way. The only trouble here is that the beaches are stony, and the houses are generally on the wrong side of the road to the beach. And as we're talking main road here - not ideal.

The Road to Coromandel Town along the Firth of Thames

We arrived in Coromandel Town at 7:30. The original plan was to stop for something to eat, but the reception at the holiday park shut at 8 pm, and dusk was fast approaching. We had food to cook ('Do you fancy the steak and salad?'), so we decided to carry on. In fact the holiday park was much close than we anticipated, so we arrived there 10 minutes later.

The lodge room was absolutely fine. You know what you are getting with Top 10 holiday parks. They won't be exciting rooms, but they'll be clean and comfortable. And the camp facilities will be good. Get a membership card and you'll get 10% off every visit. It soon pays for itself.

We unpacked and I headed for the kitchen with the food bags. Out came all the ingredients for dinner - or not, as the case may be. ('Where's the steak?' 'I packed everything you said'. 'including the stuff from the freezer?' 'Oh no, I forgot that.' 'How about the box of tomatoes and cucumber?' 'Where was that?' 'On that shelf in the fridge at the back' 'I must have missed that'………). Fortunately one of the things that Art had bought in the supermarket was a pack of mince and a new pack of tomatoes. As I always keep a chilli seasoning sachet and a microwaveable rice in the emergency foodpack (for some reason the emergency tin of tomatoes was missing), we ended up with a fairly basic chilli con carne. Ah well - Art hadn't forgotten the wine….

Day 2 - Port Charles

We started the day with a huge breakfast (Art hadn't forgotten the bacon and eggs). Then we headed north with our list of houses from the real estate website (www.realestate.co.nz). The first detour off was to Amodeo Bay. There were a couple of houses for sale down there. One in particular caught our fancy - a possibility? Then to the end of the tarmacked road, and right towards Port Charles.

Road to Port Charles

There were a couple of properties at Port Charles that were within our price range. And it was an area where a 4WD car was - if not essential - definitely preferable. The gravel roads were OK, but an ordinary family car would have needed to take things very slowly. There are a few places where you could see that a torrent of water during the winter months had worn grooves across the road.

We drove to the far end of the road first, to Stoney Bay. And guess why it's called 'Stoney Bay? It's a beautiful bay, and the water and surroundings are beautiful - bit the beach is stony. This is the start of 'The Coromandel Walkway', which heads north towards Port Jackson. There is a very basic DOC campsite here (no kitchen facilities, longdrop loos and cold showers), but not much else. A real out-of-the-way place. Lovely!

Stoney Bay

Back towards Port Charles is the first real settlement - Sandy Bay. And guess what? It's sandy! There are typical bach-type places here - busy on a holiday weekend, but normally I expect it's very quiet here. One of the baches that was definitely in our price range was a bit further along, at Careys Road. But it was on a river plain and estuary (lots of mud at low tide), and was pretty basic. OK, but….

We carried on south, onto the gravel road that would take us through Little Bay and Kennedy bay, ending up eventually at Coromandel Town via the back roads.

Our favourite place ws definitely Little Bay. There was one place there in our price range. A small section, high on the road, with what

Little Bay

amounted to a garage with solar power. Not quite what we'd imagined for our money…. An amazing view though. And we had a lovely chat to the next door neighbours. Very nice people (but only there for three weekends a year). As for the rest of the places - the ones in our price-range, we didn't like. If we liked them they were out of our price-range. C'est la vie! We decided that it would be much more practical to allow other people to buy the baches, and we'd rent them off them for a very reasonable price from bookabach (www.bookabach.co.nz).

So it was back to Coromandel, where we found a cafe and a butcher. But Art had decided we were eating out tonight. We'd gone to a restaurant ('Success') when we'd been up earlier in the year, and joined the locals (including our real estate agent) for a pub quiz. The food was reasonably priced, and excellent. So we booked a table for 7:30 pm, and went back to the holiday park for a relax on the beach.

Success lived up to its name - an excellent meal, with reasonably priced wine and a pork loin chop that cut like butter.

Day 3 - Port Jackson

Port Jackson is the furthest point north in the Coromandel. The journey to Port Jackson is along a long gravel road that hugs the coastline. There are very few settlements and houses along the way, and we didn't see a single real estate agents board! But what a beautiful drive…. We've been really lucky with the weather this holiday weekend. It's been glorious sunshine the whole time. But with a south-westerly wind, it's definitly been chilly out of the sun.

Road to Port Jackson

By the way - you can drive the road in a 'normal' car, but do it slowly. Also, there is a ford as you approach Port Jackson. It was reasonably low when we went through it - but with a little bit of rain it would have been a different story.

Port Jackson Wharf

Port Jackson itself is tiny - blink and you miss it. We carried on to Fletchers Bay, another five kilometers on along a cliff-hugging gravel track. At the far end is another DOC campsite, and a backpackers. Again, this is an out-of-the way stunning location. There's a lovely beach, and many boats. And this is where the Coromandel Walkway ends (see yesterday).

Road to Fletchers Bay

We set the chairs up on the beach, and I got the reading book out. A bottle of beer each (just the one - that cliff track was a bit severe!) and we were set up for the next couple of hours. The best entertainment of the day was the 4WD with boat trailer, that managed to get itself stuck axle-deep in the sand - and the tide was coming in! A second 4WD was brought in to tow it out - but they obviously had no idea about towing, They tried accellerating up the beach, spun the car round, and broke the tow-rope! Eventualy they dug the sand away from the wheels and axle, and (with minutes to spare) pulled it free.

Fletchers Bay

I had an energetic half-hour after this, and walked a short way along the Coromandel Walkway to a point where I could take pictures of the bay and Art still lounging at the far end of the beach. Then we investigated the campsite office and backpackers. The couple who look after the place were very friendly, and knowledgeable. They have the kind of job that is some peoples idea of heaven, and for others it would be hell. No in between - in the winter, there are times they are completely cut off, and shopping in Coromandel Town is a good hour's drive away. No popping down the corner dairy if you run out of milk here!

DOC Camp Site

If you want to stay in any DOC campsite then it will cost you $9.20 NZD per person per night. The Fletchers Bay one has similar facilities to Stoney Bay, the other end of the Coromandel Walkway. The beach is nicer - golden sand vs. stones - and it is bigger. There is also a backpackers! $25 per person per night. Kitchen facilities and hot showers too…..

It pays to have large tyres

We took a slow drive back to our holiday park. We were hoping to get a coffee at Colville, in the only cafe to the north of Coromandel Town. But it had closed for the day. Be aware - I think it closes at 3 pm. A glass (or two) of wine, and a dinner of barbecued chicken drumsticks from the Coromandel Town butcher, and coleslaw from 4 Square. (Another note here - you can't buy tubs of coleslaw salad or potato salad in supermarkets here. If there is a deli section, you might be able to buy it loose. Otherwise, it's in salad fridge of the the fresh fruit & veg section, and add the dressing separately.) Then cheese and an apple for afters and an early night.

Day 4 - The Journey Home

We planned a slow drive back, with two stops to visit friends and relatives en route. But we needed a decent coffee, and the Aero Garden Centre Cafe opposite the airfield in Thames was just what the doctor ordered. Good coffee and scones, and a reasonable price.

Old and New Bridges across the Firth of Thames

First stop was going to be to my cousin's family bach in Kaiaua. Kaiaua is on the Seabird Coast, next to Miranda. Kaiaua is famous for its fish and chips - you'll find the shop next door to the local traditional hotel. But take your own vinegar - in NZ they don't usually provide it, and if they do, it will cost you. Most of the land nearest the coast is flat, but my cousin was lucky enough to buy a section a few years ago with a lovely view. The family were there for the Labour Weekend, and when we arrived we found another friend there with her children too. So it was a bite of lunch (not fish and chips - the girls were all on diets), a glass of wine, then a game of cricket. A typical way to spend Labour Day.

Then on further up the coast, to Beachlands. This is another outer-Auckland suburb, with a ferry to Downtown Auckland. Beachlands still retains it's village atmosphere - but I wonder for how long. There is a lot of building going on here, and rumours of a shopping centre. Many of the locals are against this - and I can understand why.

Stand in Granny

We were visitng a couple more friends who had just had their first baby. Charlotte was a week old, and just under 7 lbs. Tiny! It was lovely to see her, and the proud mum and dad with their new New Zealand citizen. Many congratulations, Lee and Laura! I held Charlotte for most of the visit, and decided it was time to go when a sweet mustard smell started emanating from the wriggling bundle……

So our first trip in the Tonka Toy was a success. Now where shall we go next??

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tonka_trips/b_coromandel.txt · Last modified: 2012/04/07 21:28 by art
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