Carlindsay Takes on NZ
Carlindsay is back in action and better than ever; we’ve covered just over 500 kilometers, hit both the east and west sides of the North Island, and checked off more than a few of the New Zealand "must-dos" plus found a couple of our own hidden treasures.
We’ve just spent another rather rainy night in Raglan at an eco-retreat called Solscape, but that's a story of its own, so let me catch you up to speed on our antics up to this point.
Day One: Auckland/Piha/Whatipu
On Tuesday I left Taupo at quarter past five and picked up Lindsay at the airport around 9am. There’s nothing like seeing a familiar face emerge from the International Arrivals portal and running up to tackle-hug your baggage-laden friend. From there, we made a couple of quick stops in the city of sails: Ponsonby for some bougie breakfast at the health food hotspot Little Bird Organics, and Takapuna to use the WiFi at the library and show Lindsay the beach. Having checked off Auckland, we gassed up and headed out west on the road towards Waitakere.
West Auckland is famous for its black sand beaches, and Piha is probably the most famous and most popular of the lot of them, so we decided to stop there first and see what all the fuss was about. And Piha was indeed impressive. We sank our toes into the black sand and took the steep but quick climb up Te Piha, a giant rock in the middle of the beach where ancient Maori lived and fished.
We considered staying the night there, but with plenty of daylight to spare the lure of a less-travelled beach called Whatipu pulled us in, so we hopped back in Beezy and drove another hour back onto the highway until the road got much, much skinnier, steeper, and oh, unpaved as well. About two kilometers from the camp we turned a corner and saw a car hanging off the edge of the road with caution tape around it—definitely a scary sight for Halloween 2017, "Don't tell my mom we saw that," I said to Lindsay. Although now that I'm writing this she'll probably find out...but it's okay, Mom, we made it!
The six kilometers of unpaved road leading into the campsite definitely make Whatipu feel pretty remote, but when we arrived late afternoon there were already a few cars parked up on the grass flat that backed up onto a green hillside—I have to say I thought we might be the only ones there.
After pitching the tent, we walked through the marsh and onto a sandy path out to the expansive beach. Deep blue waves in the distance crashed onto flat black sand that stretched to the rocky outcroppings of Whatipu. Like so many places in New Zealand, I was struck by how small it made me feel, a tiny human dwarfed in comparison to the enormous rock formations and constant roar of the surf.
When the sun started to set we were back at the campsite, but as the sky grew more and more orange by the minute we made a last-minute decision to run out to the beach again in our flip flops—a decision we came to regret as we awoke the next morning with burning calves. All in all, I’d say it was worth it though.
Day Two: Cathedral Cove/Hot Water Beach
On day two we trekked from the west coast of the North Island over to the Coromandel Peninsula, which was about a two hour drive through cloudy Waikato, a region of green pastures dotted with dairy cows and clusters of evergreen trees.
We’re still (kind of) sticking to the training program for the half marathon so we planned to run somewhere near our first stop, Cathedral Cove. The sign at the public car park said the path down to the beach would take 45 minutes to walk, so we figured a run would take around 20 minutes. The schedule called for 30 minutes for that day, so we figured it would be close enough. Well, it took 12 minutes. And it was mostly downhill. But who cares—training programs are more of a guideline anyway, right?
At the beach it was overcast and a little windy, but these are the kind of places that are impressive on any given day of the year, no matter the weather. I admit I was a little disappointed because it was stellar swimming back in January when I was first here, but hey, can’t win ‘em all. And, as Lindsay said, “It’s everywhere!” referring to the spectacular vistas on the path to the cove.
From there we headed over to Hot Water Beach for the night, and got up to see another pretty cloudy sunrise the next morning. The bright side of a not-so-bright sunrise was that we had the beach all to ourselves. Again, maybe not quite as stunning as it was when I first visited in January, but it’s hard to be disappointed when it’s just you and the waves.
Day Three: Mount Maunganui/Bridal Veil Falls/Raglan
From Hot Water Beach we followed the highway down the east coast of the North Island to Mount Maunganui. The first time I hear about “the Mount” was up in Paihia when I spent two weeks working for accommodation at the end of the summer. A handful of travelers I met were heading down to Mount Maunganui to find work as the high season waned in Paihia.
Within thirty seconds of driving into Mount Maunganui I could see why, it felt very much like Paihia, just scaled up to a mid-size city. The city is situated on a flat strip of land that juts out from the shore lined by a white sand beach on one side and a port on the other. Mount Maunganui rises from the end, a bit like an exclamation point on the city of Tauranga.
We climbed to the top in a little under an hour on a busy gravel track, passing plenty of other tourists as well as local moms with babies in front carriers and athleisure-clad young people. Even on a cloudy day, the views did not disappoint. There is a network of paths that go all the way around, so you get a 360-degree view of Tauranga’s surrounds and the Pacific Ocean as you make your way around the mountain.
From Mount Maunganui, we drove back across Waikato, through Hamilton, where I put on my best Jeff Spucoli impression (“Alright, Hamilton!”) About fifteen minutes outside of Raglan we passed a sign with a camera icon indicating there was a place called Bridal Veil Falls at the turnoff a few hundred meters ahead. “Bridal Veil Falls,” I said to Lindsay, “should we do it? I mean we’re not in any hurry to get there right?” So we veered left and took a quick detour about fifteen minutes down another winding New Zealand road and ended up at a pretty stunning waterfall created by a stream that dropped 55 meters into a lush and jungle-y gully.
And with that, we had reached the west coast of the North Island once again. As I watched the sun drop behind the clouds on the horizon of the Tasman Sea I couldn’t help but be grateful for the chance to travel the length of this country again, but this time in a car, with only a rough outline of an itinerary, and a good friend to share the adventure with as we take each day as it comes. When the plan is there is no plan, it gives you space to take detours, and make your own adventures, whether they be on or off the beaten track.
So friends, I'm gonna sign off and go catch a yoga class now. If you skipped to the end to get the main update here it is: New Zealand is still stunning (if a little rainy,) life is good, and Carlindsay is taking on NZ in style.