The Wandering Tops

The Wandering Tops

11 April, 2017

Coromandel Peninsula

With the rain from cyclone Debbie passed we had a gap in the weather of a couple of reasonable days to do a road trip. Weather reports indicating that more rain and windy conditions would be heading our way later in the week from another cyclone which was heading south from Fiji and Vanuatu (Cyclone Cook).

Whangamata beach with clouds threatening.

With this in mind we headed north along the eastern side of Coromandel Peninsula, we turned of SH2 at Waihi and continued on SH25 along the coast taking in the magnificent coastal views.

Main road through Whangamata

The warf at Whangamata looking up the harbour.

At Whangamata drove down to the warf and and checked out the beach at the river mouth before retreating to a coffee shop in the main street when the rain started to drizzle. Whangamata is also known for the Beach Hop a Rock and Roll and car festival held in March. We had noticed on our previous travels to Katikati a number of classic cars which we believe may have attended this weekend.

Hot Water Beach, couldn't believe the number of people gathered around the area where the hot water bubbles up at low tide.

Many bring small shovels to assist digging to make your own hot water pool at low tide is the best time. Near the centre of the group it's nearly boiling hot, too hot to stand in that area.

I joined the multitude and found my own hotwater pool.

We continued on north passing through Tairua a pretty coastal town before turning of SH25 towards Hahei and Hot Water Beach. It was difficult to find a carpark so knew it was going to be busy on the beach. It certainly was with tour buses bringing tours to this popular destination.  From here we went to Hahei and was hoping to walk along the beach around to Cathederal Cove. The carpark was also full and the attendant informed us that the access from the beach was closed due to damage from recent storms.

Hahei Beach looking towards Cathedral Cove

We drove back to SH25 and onto Whitanga which is on the northern side of Whitanga Harbour to Cooks Beach and Hahei. At Whitanga we stopped for lunch and watched the ferry taking passengers from Whitanga to Cooks Beach, only a 5 min trip across the narrow section of the harbour entrance.

Lunch at The Harbour House Cafe

Whitanga Harbour

Looking souh across the harbour to Cooks Beach and the cliffs near Cathedral Cove

After lunch continued our drive further north through Kuaotunu then turning east along the bay. After stopping to overlook the bay we travelled over a small range turning into Matarangi a small holiday town on the coast facing north. This was a nice holiday town with a large number of very nice baches (holiday homes) and a nice looking golf course. Unfortunately there wasn't many or any options other than the golf club for accommodation and dinning and at over $200 a night was a tad above our budget!.  As the rain started to fall we had a drive around the streets and checked out the beach, quickly, then decided to continue o Coromandel for the night another 20km. This offered more accomodation and dining options.

Kuaotuni Bay

The drive over the range would have been spectacular but as we got higher the rain became heavier and visability was limited. At the top of the range you could hardly see the sign to the lookout so the view was non existent - it was just a matter of proceeding with caution over the range to Coromandel. Decided to stay at the Harbour View Motel for the night, not that the view of the harbour was an attraction in the rain which continued.

The Coromandel Hotel or known as the Top Pub. Wine and pub meal great finish to the day.

The morning view from the Harbour View motel in the morning, much better than yesterday when we arrived.

In the morning we woke to some sunshine and relatively clear skys, so considered going back to the lookout before we were to continue on the eastern side of the Coromandel Peninsula where the road is narrow between the sea and cliffs along the Firth of Thames to Thames.

The decision was made for us! When checking out I spoke to the motel manager who informed me that the (SH25) road was closed between Coromandel and Thames due to storm damage (slips across the road). This was also confirmed by an electronic road sign just out of town, so back up the hill we went.

At the Whangara Road lookout, looking east the way we came and the way we were returning!

The clouds had cleared enough "just" to look back towards Coromandel and McGregor Bay (only 3 second window before the showers!).
As we headed back to the western side, the same way we had driven up the previous day, we got the opportunity to visit a couple of areas we missed on the way up. We drove into Whangapoua and stopped where the walk to New Chums Beach commenced. We didn't cross the stream to walk along the track to New Chum beach but could see that would be a great spot to go for a day, maybe next time! Whangapoua is another clean and nice looking holiday village.

Whangapoua Beach

As we headed down the western side could take in the view of the coast from the opposite direction and was able to make a couple of stops on the way to appreciate the view. The days weather had a mixture of sunshine, threatening clouds and some light rain. Unfortunately this didn't offer many great photo opportunities. We stopped again at Whitanga for coffee, overlooking the harbour .

At Tairua we decided to take the option of SH25a and go over the Coromandel Range to Thames and have a look at the road we had expected to travel down. The drive over the range was good, different type of scenery again as we drove between the range at times rather than having the sea on one side.

We drove to Tararu just north of Thames to where the road closed sign was which gave us a bit of an idea of what the road would have been like - quite narrow and winding inbetween the sea & high mountain range. Headed back to Thames for lunch and some shopping. The road from Thames to Paeroa we hadn't been on before, and again was different scenery.  This is lush dairy farm country and we had come away from the step mountain range to an undulating valley.

From Paeroa headed back to Tauranga through Karaganhake Gorge seeing a few road workers clearing the road from slips which had occured a few days earlier.

The countryside and beaches are just spectacular and although we did not have warm sunny weather on this road trip we thoroughly enjoyed our drive.

03 April, 2017


Whakatane, approx 86kms SE of Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty was on our list to visit purely so we could pronounce the Wh = f as you should in New Zealand. Sad really but brings on a smile!

The drive took us along the east coast and was quite different to our drive to Rotorua. Once again we avoided the Toll road and enjoyed spectacular scenery, in particular the long beaches.  Stopped off in a town called Te Puke for a coffee before heading on our way, having another stop at Kohioawa Beach just before Matata. The beach was lovely however not used to seeing the grey sand (volcanic).

Enjoying a great coffee at Te Puke,  quite a busy little town.

Kohioawa beach, the highway is between the cliff and the beach

Once in Whakatane we called into the information centre and picked up a Heritage Walk map which took in the wharf area and continued up to the Heads.  Along the way were various Maori landmarks with good information signs which made an interesting walk.  These included Irekewa's rock: Mataatua Waka replica: Statue of Wairaka: Whakatane Heads (Kohi Point): Muriwai's cave and saw White Island with lots of smoke billowing out. Whakatane is a lovely town and has a lot of Maori history and culture.

Looking back from Whakatane Heads back towards Whakatane, note the statue of Wairaka on the RHS

The Mataatua Waka replica

Drove up to Puketapu Lookout - this has been a lookout site for the Ngati Awaiwi for over 600 years and in 1965 the Whakatane Rotary Club developed the site as a lookout and reserve, providing great views of the town, the river mouth and beyond.

View of Whakatane Heads from Puketapu Lookout

Whakatane from Puketapu Lookout
From the lookout we took a scenic drive to Ohope Beach which was voted NZ's Most Loved Beach (AA Traveller poll 2014).  This is a summer holiday destination nestled in a sheltered bay which sweeps 11kms along the Pacific coast.  Once again it was the grey sand that we are not used to on a beach and unfortunately the weather was not warm enough for us to have a swim.

31 March, 2017

Rotorua for the day

Well the sun was shining so we decided to do a day trip to Rotorua. From Tauranga its about 70km with the road passing through picturesque Mangorewa and Mangapouri Gorges. Such a pleasant drive and took just over an hour.

The view of Lake Rotorua from the cafe.

Arriving in Rotorua we were surprised at it's size, it was much bigger than we had imagined and a very tidy town, although a bit 'wiffy' at times! But first up we needed a caffeine fix so found a nice coffee shop, Third Place Cafe, overlooking Lake Rotorua. From here we went down to Lakefront Drive another pleasant park where many families and tourists were enjoying the Lake.

The swans kept chasing me thinking I was going to feed them. 

After going into town and finding the information centre we decided to do the Rotorua Duck Tour. This 1.5 hr tour in a WWII Amphibious Landing Craft (army duck) took us from the city to Lake Okareka where we drove out and floated on the lake. We drove past Tikitapui Lake (Blue Lake) and Lake Rotokakahi (Green Lake) to Lake Tarawera. The tour normally visits Lake Okareka & Tikitapui Lake only, however we could not visit Tikitapui as there was a canoeing event. The tour was extended to include Lake Tarawere, where again we drove onto and floated around the lake. The tour guide provided a great Maori history lesson on the areas we visited.

Tour guide and Duck mascot
The tour guide was very entertaining and provided a running commentary during the whole trip. We were given duck whistles as part of the safety equipment, to be blown in the event of falling into the water. These were also used to entertain us, or the passing pedestrian, as we travelled out of town. You can imagine a windowless truck with all the passengers blowing duck whistles and waving frantically. Got some waves back and some very amusing looks, also saw a couple of Japanese tourists taking a photo or movie, can you imagine their home movie!

Our first water entry, Lake Okareka, felt quite strange just driving off the road into the lake.

Some of the houses around Lake Okareka, apparently the white house was the first on the lake back in the 1920s. Very expensive to buy in this area.

This is as close as we got to Lake Tikitapui (Blue Lake)

Lake Tarawera

Our tour amphibious vehicle, now you must be wondering about our mouth pieces - they are duck whistles in the shape of a ducks beek provided on tour.

After the tour we walked around the Government Gardens, looking at various sculptures and getting a good dose of the sulphuric odours every now and then!  The gardens were developed in 1881 where the scrub covered geothermal area was transformed into an oasis of Edwardian charm.  The museum was the original bathhouse which was built in 1908, closing in 1966, then extensively renovated in 1995 and converted into the museum. A second bathhouse (the blue baths) was opened in 1933 under much controversy as mixed bathing was accommodated. These baths were closed in 1982 but restored in 1999 and are opened to the public.

Rotorua Museum, unfortunately closed for renovations. 

Waitukei Sculptures - Bronze sculptures in Government Gardens - the two figures, one male, one female, were inspired by the mixing of Maori and European cultures in Rotorua 
Whilst in Rotorua we gathered informaion on cultural experiences and thermal areas to visit, so will be back to see more of what this town has to offer.

24 March, 2017

McLaren Falls and Mount Maunganui

Drove to McLaren Falls park which is 190 hectares of pastoral and horticultural parkland just 10 minutes drive from Tauranga set alongside Lake McLaren. The park is popular for camping, trout fishing, kayaking, picnics, bush walks etc.  One of the highlights of the park is the Waterfall Track which we walked and were rewarded with great scenery.  Apparently glow worms can be seen along the track at dusk, but we decided that we would not wait until then as we hadn't had lunch!

Had a great morning in the park as were able to drive around stopping every now and then to walk around the lake sighting many ducks and swans.  Intend to come back again for a picnic.

On the track to the waterfall - amazed with the palms and moss, looking very tropical

Waterfall in McLaren Falls Park

Beautiful setting around Lake McLaren

McLaren Falls (Wairoa River) just on the access road to McLaren Falls Park

Another day we drove to Mt Maunganui or "The Mount" which is a mountain standing 232m above sea level on the other side of Tauranga Harbour from the city and offers spectacular views out to sea and back across to the harbour.  We walked the base track and thoroughly enjoyed it - even managing to sight a seal.  The Mount is a very popular holiday hotspot with heaps of accommodation including caravan park, high rise appartments with sea views, baches (holiday homes) and local motels. It also has a sophisticated cafe culture with many eateries across the road from the beach, plus bars, restaurants and high-end fashion boutiques - quite the place to be!!!!!

View of Mt Maunganui across Pilot Bay

A rest stop on the 3km base track

Fisherman waiting for his catch at Stoney Point - the bronze sculpture represents Tangaroa, maori god of the sea whose role it was to protect the sea. It faces out towards the sea from the shipping channel.

Spotted this seal sunning itself amoungst the rocks

20 March, 2017

Karangahake Gorge

On our drive from Auckland to Tauranga when Glenne & Col picked us up, we stopped off at Karangahake Gorge and they advised us of a number of good walks around the gorge, so we dedicated a day to check it out.  Once again the weather was warm and sunny which added to a top day.

Some old gear wheels stand on the hill overlooking the remains of the cyanide tank footings.
First stop was the Victoria Battery Site which the Waihi Gold Mining Company erected in 1897 to process ore from the Waihi Martha Mine. The site was considered the largest and most advanced facility of its type in the country with 200 stampers being used to crush the gold-bearing quartz. The operation continued until 1952 when the Victoria Battery was gradually demolished. Was interesting walking around the area seeing some of the concrete footings where the large processing equipment was installed giving you an idea of the complexities of the plant. A particular interesting structure was the footings for the cyanide tanks - a complex design of archways and walkways.

The large bolts and concrete plinths used to secure the processing plant.

Hels is lost in amongst the cyanide tank footings.

The rail was used to transport around the processing site.

From the Victoria Battery we drove to Karangahake Gorge where we chose to do the Windows Walk which started at the junction of the Ohinemuri River and Waitawheta River.  The walk takes you high above the Waitawheta River, through railway tunnels with various windows which overlook the river.  After decending a staircase, we crossed the walkbridge and followed the track adjacent to the river back to where the car was parked. Amazing how they managed to build the railway plus various Batteries back in early 1900's in inaccessible steep terrain.

Karangahake Gorge carpark overlooks the swing bridge at the start of the walks.

A number of swinging bridges are used to cross the river on the various walks.

A water wheel high up on the side of the hill. 

One of the windows which looks down over the Ohinemuri River and the walking track.

You do need to carry a tourch to see as you walk through the tunnels.

The well constructed staircase used to get down to the river from the tunnels

I think Hels was hoping to find some gold left in the ore truck!

Another swinging bridge.

The walkway cut into the side of the mountain, made for easy access today.

After our walk we drove into Katikati where we enjoyed lunch and a walk down the main street discovering the many murals on various buildings.

Lunch at Katikati

One of the many wall murals that Katikati is known for.
Was easy to find a friend - street statue Katikai

Had to take a photo of the old bikes, a Royal Enfield and Triumph Tiger
Beach Hop, a Rock and Roll festival at Whangamata which attracted lots of classic cars and bikes.