I’m sitting on a porch with a beach front view this morning, full of gratitude. Pat is out kayaking in the ocean. Later, we’ll climb a little mountain and put the long line out (I think this means fishing). We did not expect to be here in Tauranga spending the day like this, but yesterday was flowing in full force, and we’re going with it.
A brief catch up: last week we did a quick tour of Auckland, biking up to Northland and staying a few nights in an eco-village just north of Kaiwaka. We decided to change course, returned to Auckland City, sold our bikes, and set out by thumb. Our destination was the Coromandel Peninsula.
We found out that morning that we had a place to couchsurf in Coromandel town, so we set our sights there. We took a train out of the city, got oriented with the help of a sweet Kiwi from Papakura (there is the back of the shopping center, there is my old golf course), and found the main road. We set out walking to the highway on ramp–a school bus, empty of children, pulled over for us and took us right to the highway with apologies for not being able to take us further. We stood in the sun a few minutes, thumbs out, and eventually got a ride.
This was the first of three incredibly nice women who picked us up, drove us a good chunk of our route, and left us with all their contact information and invitations to stay with them if we found ourselves in their various hometowns. It was amazing. Then, in no time, we found ourselves in Thames, at the base of the Coromandel, in another car driving across the city, then immediately in the gigantic camper van of a French couple and their two very small children driving up the windy, narrow road that follows the coast north to Coromandel town.
So we arrived. We texted Shep, our host for the next three nights, and he picked us up and took us to his place. We had dinner, watched a movie, and slept so well. The next day, we rode around with Shep, seeing gigantic eels in a drainage ditch and towering kauri trees off the windy 309, until he dropped us off to explore Cathedral Cove.
Cathedral Cove is magnificent rock formation on the beach, a cathedral-esque passage to get to another sandy stretch. It’s right on the water. We ran between crashing waves to get there and immediately went to investigate more cool rocks. It was a clear, sunny day, perfect for the beach. Paradise.
Next day we went down near Thames to hike the Pinnacle. We happily got a ride right to the trailhead with two Kiwi students from Auckland who were surprised that we planned to go up and back in one day. This encouraged us to hustle and not get stuck in the park after all the other folks had driven away–it was nearly 20km to town, and not mug traffic on the road. It was a nice hike, the first we’ve done since Katahdin. We got to Pinnacle Hut (remarkably similar to the AMC huts, but all self-service) just after noon, ate a little lunch, and set off for the Pinnacle. It was all stairs from there, straight up to a craggy outcrop that offers views of the Pacific. Paradise.
We scrambled down, arriving just as two guys from Vienna were about to drive back to Thames. They gave us a lift, no problem. From there, we got another ride to Shep’s place from one of his fellow first responders. Easy peasy.
So yesterday we woke up in Coromandel town. We said goodbye to Shep, a terrific host, and started hitching. It took a minute, but eventually a German tourist pulled over and took us halfway across the peninsula. From there, a Kiwi couple drove us to the ferry in Whitianga. We crossed the river, saving ourselves 40 minutes of driving time, and got a series of short rides to Hot Water Beach. We spent a few hours in this otherworldly place, lounging in a big tub we dug right on the beach, tapping into the magma-heated hot water that springs up just under the sand. We stayed here until the tide got high enough to invade our tub. Possibly one of the cooler things I’ve ever done.
We left just before we started to burn, catching another series of excellent rides with Aussies on holiday, a woman on the way to the hospital who wanted company, a Kiwi who showed us Whangamata Beach (lovely, picturesque waves, white sand), and a Maori couple on their way home from a successful job interview. They dropped us off in Waihi, where we grabbed some groceries and checked the phone. To our dismay, we saw that the woman who had offered us a place to stay had had to cancel the offer due to another obligation and a dying cat. That left us in a tricky spot. We decided to continue to Tauranga anyway and find a park to pitch our tent discretely for the night. A couple from Chile and Brazil drove us the whole way there, dropping us at the city center.
Here, the flow amplified times a million. On a whim, we decided to walk to this park, not that one, go down this street, not that one, oh let’s check out this market, etc. We entered a row a stalls, lingered over a furniture maker, and when I turned around a woman stopped me.
“Is his name Pat?” she asked, “Pat Kelley?” I answered yes, and they hugged and suddenly we had place to stay the night. We had run into Sarah, who went to middle and high school with Pat. This was, in fact, not the first time this chance meeting had taken place; nine years ago, this happened in Santa Cruz.
So, we found ourselves at Sarah’s parents’ house, who were having about of a party to welcome home Sarah’s brother from Australia. I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend the evening. Close to midnight, we set up our tent and fell asleep in their backyard, still grinning.