After having done the two main things we had wanted to do on the Coromandel, we decided to stay in one place for the next four nights and use that as our base to explore the rest. That place was Whitianga, pronounced by the locals as ‘Fiddyanga’.
Whitianga is the main settlement of Mercury Bay, on the eastern side of the Coromandel. It has a nice beach (Buffalo Beach), and a busy little harbour and marina. It also has a canal development, with houses being located along canals allowing marine access from the estuary.
The night of Friday 4th December was horrendous. A severe weather warning had been issued – and it rained big time! We were woken regularly by not only the winds and rain, but also a siren going off regularly. Luckly I had read in Waihi that a tsunami alarm is a constant pitch, so we were (fairly) certain it wasn’t that! By Saturday, most of it had blown over, although there was a lot of localised flooding – including Hot Water Beach, where we had been on Thursday, being completely cut-off for the day.
As the weather was still a little damp (but brightening), we decided to drive the ‘famous’ 309 road (not so famous that I’d heard of it). The 309 road is a narrow winding gravel road between Whitianga and Coromandel Town. It is very scenic; it follows the Mahakirau stream up from State Highway 25, going through farmland, scrub, and native bush. Once over the summit (306 metres) it meanders down the Waiau Valley, through more bush and pine forest.
Along the way we stopped at Waiau Falls. It is a beautiful bush glade where the Waiau crashes over a rock face, and into a pool below. Following the storm, we decided the water was a little too murky for a swim, though!
Towards the end of the 309, we visited Waiau Waterworks. This was fantastic fun (for both the kids and adults). The Waterworks describes itself as “A totally unique experience where you can delight in playing with our interactive contraptions, mostly made from commonplace bits and pieces. Try pumping water by bike power, listen to a water powered music box, and figure out how things like the giant water-powered clock works!” There was also a big adventure playground (with huge flying-fox – that’s zip-wire to you and me), flying bicycles, adult sized hamster wheel, and loads more (mainly water based).
The following day we headed back to Coromandel Town, with a trip planned on the Driving Creek Railway. The railway was initially set up in 1975 by owner and potter, Barry Brickell, on his 22 hectare property to transport clay and wood fuel to his kiln. Built as a narrow gauge (15-inch) bush/mountain railway, it was slowly expanded over the next 25 years to become one of the very few railway lines in New Zealand to completely designed from the ground up in recent years. The line required serious civil engineering works due to the natural terrain that the train operates in. Some of the more significant engineering works include a double-deck rail bridge, five major viaducts and inclines as steep as 1 in 14. At the top of the line is a building, known as the Eye Full Tower and around the building itself, native Kauri are being planted to replace trees removed by land clearing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The view from the tower was fab, and included Waiheke Island, across the bay, where we would be visiting in a few days.
On Monday, we took a boat trip down the coast on the Cave Cruzer. This included visiting Shakespeare’s Cliff, Lonely Bay, Cook’s Blowhole, Cathedral Cove & Islands, Orua Cave, the Marine Reserve and Gemstone Bay, where we did a little snorkelling (and I say little, as the sea was bloomin’ cold!). Unfortunately we didn’t see any dolphins or killer whales (orcas), but we did see blue penguins in the wild – the previous week there had been a pod of killer whales swimming up the Estuary at Whitianga, chasing stingrays!
On Tuesday, we left Whitianga and the Coromandel, and headed for Waiheke Island, just off the coast of Auckland in the Hauraki Gulf.