We spend Monday locally at Snells Beach. I have to sort out my Hotmail account that has been hacked and I do apologise to anyone who received SPAM directed from my account. I think I must have opened a dodgy email and allowed someone into my address book. All sorted now I hope.
We clear up the lovely Beach House that has been our home and make the walk along the beach for the last time, say our goodbyes to Gordon and then we are ready for our road trip south.
First night is to be the very Northern part of the Coromandel peninsular at Fletcher Bay. They say that one should not go back to a place previously enjoyed in case of disappointment at any changes. I came to this beach ten years ago, finding it by just following my nose until the road ran out. I was one of only three people on the beach in 2001 and my memories of it are magical.
We find it by driving south through Auckland and beyond then sweeping east towards Thames. Here we stop and discover that ‘The Department of Conservation’ now looks after the Fletcher Bay site, along with many more in NZ. We have to book the site on line in advance these days. Times have changed. The drive north from Thames is delightful. The road hugs the sea and twists around countless bays. Wherever someone has seen the tiniest space between road and precipitous cliff they have built a little house or shack or parked a caravan.
As we get closer to the peninsular and Coromandel town the looming dark clouds, intermittent showers and growing wind fill me with some trepidation. We had been promised good weather and if it was to be squally or thunderous I fear that Marilyn’s induction into semi-wild camping will be spoilt.
The road from Coromandel to Colville takes us through farmland and hills that remind me of Scotland and then the Cevenne. Here, though, very few people live. After Colville the last sixty kms of track is gravel and it starts to wind around the mountains at each bend opening out to yet another incredibly beautiful view…and the weather starts to clear for us just as we arrive.
The site is still at the end of the road but has expanded in area and now has things like cold showers and composting toilets and, tucked away at the back of the site, there is a small backpackers’ hut. The last time I was here it would have been crowded with thirty people on it . The warden tells me that there were 335 people camping on New Years Eve! Today there are maybe twenty families spread throughout the site and it certainly doesn’t feel crowded. We manage to bag a pitch right on the beach and we have no neighbours. The few boats that are launched off the beach have to pass in front of our pitch but I enjoy boats and manage to chat to the fishermen as they bring back their catch to clean.
We have fun pitching the tent for the first time and are soon ready to take a stroll up the hill to watch yet another sunset over this lovely compact little bay. We sit under the tree I sat under on my own ten years ago and it is still as magical a place. We decide definitely to do the walk over the hills tomorrow and to stay another night here.
My concern that I would be disappointed at my return is assuaged as the stars come out. My worries that Marilyn would be cold or uncomfortable in the little tent are unfounded as we tuck in under the watchful gaze of an upside down Orian who is shining so brightly tonight it seems we can reach up and steal his sword.
The reason we decide to stay another day is to walk some of the Coromandel Walkway that leads up into the hills from the campsite and around to the other side of the peninsular. It is a six hour round walk and the sun has decided to shine so that the light and the natural colours of mountain, forest, beach and sea can be seen at their best.
After a short climb out of Fletcher Bay we descend to the first bay which is deserted except for a family of ducks and some quite rare dotterels….oh and a lone snorkler probably diving for octopus or green lipped mussels.
Then a slow and steady climb opens up the coastal view as we pass through agricultural land that has some very fat and healthy looking cows at pasture. Skylarks flutter around us making their distinctive music. Over a second stile and we enter the wooded walk and some very welcome shade. We are up high now and there are tantalising glimpses of the sea crashing against the cliffs below and then we have a precipitous descent into Poley Bay that is fed by a river that has cut a gorge into the mountain behind. We are mindful that we will have to make that climb on the way back and that there is probably a similar climb out of the bay to our destination ‘The Lookout’. So a banana top up is called for and a brief rest in this lovely spot. Another lone diver works their way along the rocks that fringe the coast.
We must be getting fitter because the climb out is steep but not too arduous. Excuses can be made for frequent stops as the views start to unfold again. It is also very hot now, and Marilyn improvises a version of the Foreign Legion’s headgear using the snood/hood/headband that she carries in her pack. It’s an intrepid if eccentric look, but very effective.
Here I am reminded of hillside walks I have done in Greece except the olives are replaced by all sorts of sub-tropical species. The occasional Pohutukawa that is still in a scarlet bloom makes us aware that these hillsides must be even more spectacular around December when the colour would clothe the hillside. The cicadas make constant music around us and Tui birds call to each other across the valleys with their resonant croaks and gurgles as they end a call. Sometimes it is a noise like a rusty gate opening and closing. We also hear the ever present Mynahs making with their repertoire of calls and crackles. A fantail does a lovely dance in a tree before us. All this makes the climb very pleasant and before we know it we have reached ‘Lookout’ and I video the 360 degree panorama and photograph a beach that could be a deserted Myrtiotissa ( a beautiful beach in Corfu that I frequented in my youth). What better location for a spot of grub before making the return journey. Even the steep ascent from Poley Bay cannot faze us and we are back to enjoy the evening by the beach at our little tent.
Another sign of progress occurs when a helicopter lands in a pitch just behind us. A couple of the guys who are here to ‘escape’ Auckland and do a little fishing, own this thing and one of their mates has just flown in from Auckland ( 20 minutes) to collect the fish. Apparently the helicopter is often used to do reef fishing. They actually land it on isolated rocks and reefs that are inaccessible by boat. Of course the fact that most of us have driven for hours along a dusty gravel road to get here because it is isolated completely bypasses the thinking of these two guys who are busy hatching a plot to fill the two pods that the helicopter can carry with sellable goods that the isolated campers might need or want! Mercifully the helicopter is soon departed and the small crowd that gathered maybe expecting an accident or perhaps just caught up in the slightly anachronistic episode disperse back to their tent sites and peace descends again.
And as the stars come out – there again is upside down Orian to guard us in our little tent and we are lulled asleep by the sussurration of the waves just metres away.