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A Trip to Hamilton, the Coromandel and the Whangaparaoa Peninsular

A year after Andy took a trip with BJ up to Hamilton and the Coromandel, the trip was repeated. Only this time, the plan was to take in a few more places and also their respective partners came along. So, BJ's car was packed full with bags and Andy and Jenny slotted onto the back seats of the Subaru to accompany BJ and his partner Fiona on a journey to the Northern half of the North Island.

The original plan for the trip was to take in as many NPC (National Provincial Championship a.k.a. Air New Zealand Cup - the national club tournament for rugby) games as possible. As such, on our trip we were expecting to take in matches between Waikato and Taranaki, Counties Manukau and North Harbour and finally Auckland and Northland. A couple of local derbies were in the mix and it was the final week of the round robin league of the tournament with plenty at stake. Waikato, Taranaki, Auckland and Northland were all sitting around the number 8 position in the NPC table and were thus on the edge of making the quarter-finals which would start the following week. It would be a major shock if Waikato or Auckland failed to make the knockout stages have been the tournament winners in the previous couple of seasons.

Our tour started with the standard drive up from Wellington towards the Central Plateau and the now standard views of the three main mountains from the Desert Road. BJ was so distracted taking occasional glances at the snow-capped mountains that he took his eye briefly off his speedometer and got pulled over by a local policeman and copped a spot fine. Anyway, we pulled over and decided to take a more stationary look at the view.

A couple of views of Mount Ruapehu

After traversing the Central Plateau, the first stop on our tour was in Taupo where we attempted the Lake Taupo Hole In One Challenge. This is a raft out on the lake which has 3 or 4 golf holes on it. The raft is placed about 100 yards offshore. If you manage to hit the ball into the hole with one shot, then you win some cash. We failed. We then attempted a similar challenge at the Taupo Prawn Park. Once again, we all failed.

So we hit the road again, the short distance to Orakei Korako Thermal Park. This is an area located about 20-30 kilometres North-West of Taupo where you get to watch geothermal processes in action. You take a ferry for a short ride across a lake and you are dropped off at the foot of a geothermally warmed stream, coloured by mineral deposits. You can walk around for a few miles, ducking into caves and the like.

A couple of pictures from Orakei Korako. On the left, out on the main thermal cascades... Unfortunately obscured by Andy. The picture on the left shows Jen holed up in one of the caves on site.

We were soon on our way again. We stopped for lunch in a cafe in Tokoroa, before finishing the first driving leg at a motor lodge in Hamilton. Having arrived, we prepared ourselves for the first NPC game on tour; between Waikato and Taranaki. Waikato are the more 'fashionable' team of the pair, having won the NPC back in 2006 and their first team features a host of All Blacks - Stephen Donald, Liam Messam, Richard Kahui, Sione Lauaki, Mils Muliaina and Sitiveni Sivivatu as well as cult hero, Callum Bruce. Taranaki on the other hand could only call on the services of lock Jason Eaton for that international experience; their other All Black, Andrew Hore was injured. Taranaki's Loose Forward, Scott Waldrom had such a successful NPC season that he was later to gain an international call-up.

Despite the relative strength of the two teams, Taranaki found themselves in a more favourable position on the ladder at kick off whilst Waikato found themselves just outside the top eight and a bonus point win was desperately required.

The game itself was an absolute belter. Some frequently poor defense from both sides was regularly overwhelmed by some fantastic attacking endeavour. This meant tries galore was the order of the day; with the away team from the Taranaki surging into a decent lead.  Waikato switched things around in the 2nd half and came back to win 45 points to 41 despite Sione Lauaki being sin-binned with 5 minutes left on the clock (match report).

Two pictures from the Waikato vs. Taranaki match. The left shows Waikato (red, black and yellow) attempting to win the turnover by getting men into the ruck. The right hand picture shows BJ with his recently purchased Waikato Cowbell (the Waikato team's nickname is the Mooloos, their mascot is a cow and their fans all rattle cowbells). Jen and Fiona look amused.

We stayed overnight in the Waikato, but departed early the next morning on the next leg of our journey - to the top of the Coromandel Peninsular. On the way, we drove through the flat, green pastures of the Waikato up towards the tall stand-out hill at Te Aroha and past the big L&P bottle at Paeroa. Shortly after, we stopped at the Karangahake Gorge.

This is a short, loop walking track amongst old, derelict gold mine workings and along the long-since removed track bed of the former East Coast Trunk Railway. The track criss-crosses over the narrow Karangehake River and past abandoned stamping batteries and old concrete buildings. If you take a torch, you can go in some of the gold mine buildings which are still standing. Also on the walk is a tunnel that's over a kilometre long which the railway used to run through. The walls are soot lined from the past, and also covered with the more modern affliction of graffiti.

The left picture shows one of several bridges that cross the Karangehake Gorge on the walk. Jen, Fiona and BJ cross. The right hand picture shows Andy standing near the entrance to the kilometre long rail tunnel.

The walk took about an hour, and thereafter we were straight back on the road. A quick stop in Waihi followed, before we reached the Coromandel Peninsular. We drove up the scenic Route 25, through the seaside town of Whangamata before a quick stop for another walk at more abandoned mine workings at Broken Hills. This was the site of both the mine and of an abandoned village. This proved to be particularly interesting when we wandered into a cave marked "The Old Gaol" and found a 'fake' skeleton (see pictures below). The skeleton was made out of animal bones and had a coconut for a head. Whoever had made the skeleton had even gone to the trouble of providing it wear a pair of glasses and some worn out trainers.

The next stop on the journey was the Hot Water Beach that BJ and Andy had stopped at on their trip the previous year. This time, we stayed for a little while longer, even digging our own spa bath out of the beach.

It was all then set for the final driving leg of the day - the long windy road up to Port Jackson at the Northern tip of the Coromandel. A stop in Coromandel town for provisions was followed by the slow drive up the unsealed Port Jackson Road. The road was very narrow and provided a tough driving challenge for BJ. For the passengers in the car, however, the road provided a picturesque interlude on the trip as the road huddled along the coastline for the majority of its length.

Our accommodation in Port Jackson was a rented bach that had proved to be quite a bargain between the 4 of us. The fact that it could have taken more than double that number meant that we harboured the idea of a return visit at some point with a larger group. The village of Port Jackson was pretty much non-existent. One large farm house provided the only permanent residents, whilst the nearby Department of Conservation campsite was empty during our visit. We arrived at the bach just in time to see the sun start to set on the deserted, sheltered cove. The remoteness of the location meant that the night sky proved to be quite a stunning view after the sun finally set.

Some more views of the Coromandel Peninsular. Top Left: The 'skeleton' in the Old Gaol at Broken Hills. Top Right: Jen standing in our wonderfully well constructed spa at Hot Water Beach. Bottom Left: The sun setting on the deserted cove at Port Jackson. Bottom Right: The moon from Port Jackson as photographed by BJ.

It was an early start again the next day as we aimed to travel to Auckland in time to watch the International Indoor Cricket between New Zealand and Australia. Sadly, this meant that we had to leave Port Jackson before really getting to take advantage of the facilities. The drive, along the unsealed road and then down Route 25 from Coromandel Town towards Thames follows the coast the whole way and provided several great vantage points to stop and take photographs. Once having passed through Thames, we chose not to follow the main road to Auckland, but instead took the back roads to allow a quick stop at the scenic Hunua Falls (only about 10km from Papakura, South Auckland). The site was worth a visit, but was packed with Asian tourists who seemed intent on blocking the path with a game of 'skipping rope' and would not be shifted. Instead, we bowled through the rope to ensure that they understood that they were causing an obstruction. 

We made it to the Indoor Cricket Centre in Mount Roskill just after the start of the match. The centre was packed with fans hoping to see a close encounter. We stuck around to watch the Australian innings, but to be honest the International game of Indoor Cricket has too many pauses (the players get in a huddle after virtually every delivery) to keep the spectator interested. I reckon they need to bring in a time restriction, much like that which is used in 20:20 in order for the game to flow better.

Well, on we went to our second NPC game of our tour. This time, it was down to the New Zealand home of Rugby League - Mt. Smart Stadium - to see the unfancied Counties Manukau team take on North Harbour. At this stage of the season, neither team had a chance of reaching the knock out stages, but given the local rivalry, the fact it was the last game for Counties at Mt. Smart (before moving back to their own stadium in Pukekohe) and both sides having nothing to play for, we expected to see tries-a-plenty!

We weren't disappointed.

The early exchanges were cagey, and at half time the score was 14 - 14. The floodgates were smashed open in the 2nd half, however, as North Harbour - led by the exciting Anthony Tuitavake and the experienced Jimmy Gopperth rolled 3 tries over the line in a matter of minutes. Both teams threw caution to the find as North Harbour racked up a half-century of points. The final score? 57 - 28. (match report)

Once again, we walked away satisfied from an exciting game of provincial rugby; disappointed only by the extremely poor crowd turnout for the match.

Then it was time to hit the road again, the final stretch of the day taking us through Auckland and out the other side of the North Shore to the scenic Whangaparaoa Peninsular and another bargain bach! 

A couple of pictures from the Counties Manukau vs. North Harbour game. On the left, Counties win the ball from their own line out and on the right, the sun sets on the empty stand at Mt. Smart.

The next day dawned with the promise of a trip over to the spectacular Rangitoto Island in the Hauraki Gulf and also a 3rd game of provincial rugby. We drove down to Auckland city centre early and caught the ferry over to the iconic Rangitoto - almost a perfect volcanic cone sitting in the scenic Gulf. The weather was far from promising with thick grey clouds scudding rapidly across the sky.

On arrival at Rangitoto, we took the steep walk from the jetty towards the top of the island, stopping on the way up to rummage through the Lava Caves. Disappointingly, these were not caves filled with flowing lava, but instead were caves formed during the cooling stages from lava to rock.

The views of Auckland from the summit of Rangitoto were incredible.

Rangitoto Island. The left picture shows the jetty as we were about to dock. The right picture shows Auckland as viewed from the summit of the island. The overcast weather making it a pretty dark image.

Then it was time for another round of Provincial Rugby action, this time with plenty at stake. Auckland, one of the most successful provinces in New Zealand rugby were sitting outside the top eight and a loss at home to Northland would see them knocked out of the competition. Auckland were overwhelming favourites for the match, with a team rippling with All Black talent whilst all Northland could boast was the experienced kicking of David Holwell and some emerging youngsters.

At the end, David Holwell may well have proved the difference between the two teams, hitting a key drop goal at an important time to put Northland into the lead in the 2nd half. As Auckland pressured the Northland defense in search of a match winning try, the Northlanders broke free again and scored the decisive try to knock Auckland out of the 2008 Air New Zealand Cup. It was a fitting victory for the Northland team who were threatened with being thrown out of the tournament only weeks before and whose fans had turned up in larger numbers than the locals. The turnover was a disappointing 6,400 leaving the cavernous Eden Park looking very empty. (match report)

The Auckland vs. Northland game. A couple of pictures showing Northland challenging at both their own and at Auckland's line-outs. The pictures also show the both the poor crowd turnout and the ongoing redevelopment at the ground in preparation for the next Rugby World Cup.

The evening was spent back at Whangaparaoa. We ventured out of the bach for a short time to visit the local luge (not the winter sport, but basically you sit on a little cart at the top of a hill and use gravity to get you down to the bottom). A little conveyor belt was there to get the cart from the bottom of the hill back to the top, but went extremely slowly - so much so that it would take about 10 minutes to get to the top and only about a minute to get back down! Still great fun though!

The next day was the first stage of our journey back South to Wellington. We took the main road South through Auckland and passed the home of the Maori Queen in the small town of Ngaruawahia, just North of Hamilton before stopping at the Waitomo Caves in order to have a go at Black Water Rafting.

Black Water Rafting is very different to its White Water counterpart, and is really quite basic caving where you also get the opportunity to sit on a rubber ring and float through some underground tunnels. It can be pretty hard work scrambling over wet, slippery earth and holding on to anything with your hands submerged in extremely cold water. Still good fun though.

The remainder of the day was spent following Route 3 South towards New Plymouth, taking in the rural towns of Te Kuiti and Piopio as well as a quick stop at a micro-brewery just after crossing the provincial boundary into the Taranaki.

We stayed overnight at the house of BJ's grandparents in New Plymouth. The next day we made a stop at the Dawson Falls on the Southern side of Mount Taranaki. The weather was abysmal - absolutely bucketing down with rain, so we didn't linger for too long, but the weather made sure the falls looked spectacular. We found out later that evening, that only about 15 minutes walk away from where we were at the time, a middle-aged woman was washed away down that same river and drowned at pretty much the same time we were there.

Obviously, we were oblivious of this at the time.

We then hit the road again, making only one more stop on the way back to Wellington, stopping high on the hills above Wanganui to take in the panorama.

A view of Wanganui from above the City.