Marilyn becomes very excited this morning.We are packing the tent and putting away our dried washing that we have had to wash and wring by hand and dangle over various guy ropes when she spots someone in one of the big camper vans who unfolds a mangle from a side compartment of the van and proceeds to wring dry their washing before hanging it on a pop up washing line.
“ No dangle for the man with a mangle!” she exclaims.
I don’t know if I am more shocked by the sight of the unfolding mangle,Marilyn’s exhuberance at spotting it or her rhyme.
One of the fantastic experiences on my trip ten years ago was my stay at the YHA hostel at Opoutere. I had followed my golden rule of finding somewhere to stay on a road that is off the beaten track and that leads to nowhere and had found a peaceful and well equipped site along such a road. As our stay at Fletchers had not disappointed I decide to try for Opoutere again and we set of on the 300km drive in high expectation.
The road back to Coromandel seems easier this way round. We see countless pukekos – a bird rather like a black chicken with a tiny head and a red beak that scurries around like a road runner. It is gradually losing its power of flight and is endangered somewhat by the predatory stoats that eat them and the possums and rats that steal their eggs. Everywhere the Department of Conservation is fighting a battle to trap and kill these introduced predators.
Along a stretch of stream we see kingfishers all perched, at intervals, along the telegraph wire. And there seem to be deer everywhere. Perhaps these are livestock there are so many.
In Coromandel Town we discover that in New Zealand these days even the small towns do a mean line in good coffee. Refreshed, we set off over the hills and then down into the plain that leads to the Eastern Coast.
We are disappointed at Hot Water Beach to have missed the low tide and so we cannot make our own hot water pool by digging in the sand. However the day has turned a little grey and threatens rain and the beach is already pretty crowded so we are also a little relieved that we don’t have to get wet and sandy by sitting in a pool of warm water with a small football crowd and we move on to our destination. We decide to forgo the ‘Sushi ‘n’ Crepes’ that is on offer in our eagerness to get to our destination with stomachs intact.
To my amazement I find Opoutere and it is as if time has stood still at this little hostel. The term ‘Youth Hostel’ is a bit of a misnomer these days. Although there are some gap year backpackers in these places you are just as likely to meet the ‘mid-life gapper’ or even old timers like us enjoying the facilities. This is probably even more true in these quieter backwaters.
And the facilities are excellent. There is a well equipped and clean kitchen, a small, snug sitting room with a fair library and a wood fire that I remember having to use last time I was here. The showers and toilets are impeccably clean and very welcome. The two small bunk rooms look comfortable and the little chalet type rooms are well set up and all have verandahs.
We decide to camp in one of the three pitches – in the same place I did ten years ago actually – only this time we have one neighbour in a tent on one side of us, and on the other side, nestling in the palms, a young post graduate student is staying in a slightly battered caravan that looks very cosy. She is doing a masters in ecology and helps out in the hostel while also doing some study in the surrounding reserve.
We are getting to be expert at the tent erection now and more time is actually spent in moving it around the pitch and the practice lie downs so that we ensure the softest, flattest bed is found.
The hostel is perched above an inland lagoon formed by a sand spit that protects it from the sea. The spit has a small forest all along it and the lagoon itself has reed beds and sand dunes all of which is a bird nesting paradise and the air is full of their various songs day and night. All manner of wading birds feed on the falling tide. We can watch it all going on from the lawned terrace above the spit.
We take a short walk through the woods and onto the beach as evening sets in. A lone surfer tries unsuccessfully to catch some waves and I can’t help thinking that he or she is a little foolhardy to be doing that on their own in these big seas. But these Kiwis are a hardy lot.
As darkness surrounds us we take a short walk along the banks of the lagoon where I remember glow worms were abundant when I was last here. And yes they are here again! The bank is lit up as if with fairy lights in a random pattern and I am delighted to be able to share them with Marilyn this time.
We are serenaded back to our tent by the call of the morepork owl and some other nocturnal birds that call to each other from the surrounding forest. We eventually fall asleep but not before wondering if these birds ever do anything like hunting in order to keep alive as they seem so intent on out singing each other all night.
We would love to spend another day at Otoupere but decide to head south to Taupo so that we have a couple of days to explore the centres of Rotarua and Taupo and all the interesting thermal bits that they have to offer. Today is largely about the journey and finding somewhere to stay in Taupo.
Again the driving is easy and the miles are eaten up away from the coast and on to a more mountainous and volcanic scenery until we reach the lakes of Rotarua and Taupo. We find a quiet spot to pitch our tent just outside Taupo deciding against a hostel in the centre of town and, after a brief exploration of the town, we enjoy an authentic Italian meal in a family restaurant. The green lipped mussels are particularly fine and suitably huge.
Craters of the Moon and Rotarua….
The area around Rotarua and Taupo is on of the world’s great geo-thermic sites. I have to confess a fascination with all things volcanic that is maybe a bit ‘laddish’ and I set off with enthusiasm to share with Marilyn some of the sites in the area. Many of them have been mercilessly commercialised and so I start with one that I remember from my last trip. “The Craters of the Moon’ has a name that is enticing enough. It is cheaper than most other sites but should give a feel for the whole rotten eggs smell, squidgy erupting boiling mud, fumeroles and hissing steam, and earth stained in all sorts of colours.
Half way around the hour long walk we have smelt the sulphur, seen the steam, witnessed a few blobs of molten mud and I detect that Marilyn is decidedly underwhelmed. I try to be enthusiastic but perhaps the site has lost some of the potency I remember from years back and the next site will get her geo-thermic juices going. We move on towards Rotarua and to Waimangu – the site of of a huge volcanic explosion in the 1880s that blew half a mountain away along with all the tourists who were enjoying swimming in the thermal lake from the pink terraces. A whole new lake and eco system has formed since then. Exploring this is bound do the trick.
A two hour walk to the lake will cost $36 each. Include a short boat trip around the lake – $90 a head. Over a tasty lunch Marilyn persuades me that she is fairly interested in some of the old photos of this disaster but that really the rest of the package would be a waste of money as she had seen enough boiling mud for the day and that really all this gurgling and hissing and pongy steam doesn’t really do it for her. I can’t persuade her to join me in a thermal mud bath or a Polynesian spa and so we end up spending a very pleasant afternoon in Rotarua sitting in the sun on the lake watching all the activity of helicopters and sea-planes taking off. Para-gliders and jet boats, pedalos and wind surfers enjoy the water. The black swans beg for food and squabble over it.
We take our stroll through Government Gardens – a very English/colonial park. There is a huge match of mixed bowls taking place and the summer flower beds could be replicated in an English country garden. It is all very gentile and surprisingly pleasant and a long way from explosions and eruptions and steamy fumeroles. It is quite easy to forget the powerful, destructive forces just a mile or so under our feet.