In Hot Water

Trip Start Sep 23, 2004
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Trip End Ongoing


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Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Christmas was spent exploring the Coromandel Peninsula. Half a world away from Mum's turkey and boozy mince pie, we decided that we would go for a traditional Antipodean Christmas, filled with sun, sea, sand and barbeques. Despite the best efforts of the weather, we were pretty successful. There's something satisfying about being able to sprawl on the beach and build sandcastles after eating too much Christmas lunch!

The drive from Auckland to Coromandel was a fairly long one, made longer by the fact that the roads on the Peninsula refuse to go in a straight line for more than 3 metres, and mostly haven't been sealed yet (the three main stretches of road to receive the gift of tarmac apparently only got it a decade ago). We took the route up the west coast, which follows the shore in torturously twisty fashion, and gives amazing views of isloated beaches, rolling surf and flowering pohutukawas- the New Zealand Christmas tree which bursts into crimson splendour for December and January. It reminded me of Cornwall- with the wrong vegetation. This is one of the areas of New Zealand known for great sea food, though to be honest that probably applies to the whole country. They are as proud of their traditional dish of fish and chips as the British, with the main difference being that whereas most British chippies serve you greasy cod and soggy chips that have probably been hanging around for a few days, here the fish is fluffy and the chips crunchy... with those little yummy crispy bits (yes, they've been near potatoes....). Mmmmmmmmmmmm. Most British chip shop owners need to be sent out here right away to be reminded of how they used to do it!

Anyway, before I got sidetracked into that little rant, I was going to tell you about the oyster farm we went to. We decided that a late lunch of oysters on the half shell would be great when we reached our backpackers, the Cat's Pyjamas. So we purchased a large box for $18 (about 6 pounds). Turned out a large box contained 24 of the things! Which we thoroughly enjoyed... then realised why you only ever get half a dozen each. Apart from the price, eating 12 live oysters can leave you feeling rather queasy! I'm sure they got rather tipsy on the wine I was drinking then had a raucous party in my stomach.... But the pesky molluscs had settled down enough for me to enjoy the Christmas barbeque laid on by the owners of the backpackers- sausages, sushi and huge green mussels- cooked to ensure that they behaved themselves!

On Boxing Day we took our spade in hand and drove round to Hot Water Beach. The beach is sited above a series of hot springs, and for a couple of hours either side of low tide you can dig your own spa pool. This involved a bit of trial and error, but eventually we had a lovely warm pool to luxuriate in. The spring feeding our pool was too hot to sit on- careful positioning was required to avoid a broiled bum- but a trickle of cooler water leaking from the pool above ours made it extremely pleasant. We lay about for a couple of hours, until the tide came in and things started getting chillier!

We were delighted when, a few days into our trip, the clouds vanished and we were greeted with gloriously clear skies. We headed back to the beach, to go sea kayaking round Mercury Bay. The beaches and islands around the bay are formed from a volcanic rock similar to pumice, which has eroded into some amazing formations, including a huge arch at Cathedral Cove. We explored islands and tunnels and visited a beach populated by stingrays which glided under our kayaks. Our guides produced a cafetiere and produced very good (slightly sandy!) cappucinos which we drank whilst exploring Cathedral Cove.

The weather was just too stunning to go straight home, so after lunch and more liberal application of suncream, we hired snorkels and flippers and headed out to Gemstone Bay. This was my first snorkelling trip and I was surprised by how easy it was. We explored forests of kelp sheltering sea urchins and numerous little fish, then headed back round to Stingray Bay for a closer encounter. They were rather sluggish when we arrived, sitting on the bottom partially covered with sand. They seemed much larger up close than they did from the kayak, with long bony tails and eyes which peered up from the sand. We left the water- being very careful where we stepped- to relax on the almost deserted beach. When we returned to the water, we found that the fish had woken up again and glided up to look at the two bizarre creatures who kept staring at them; they were amazingly graceful and appeared to flap their wings and fly through the water. Seeing them in an aquarium is nothing compared to being in the water with them! The rest of the trip was spent walking on stretches of golden sand which we had to ourselves, exploring little bays with amazing rock formations and barbequing more of those huge mussels. Not a bad way to spend Christmas!
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