Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Day 3 - Whitianga

This must be the only day in my whole trip on which I’m not going from place to place but staying put in Whitianga. I’ve decided to give myself a rest from driving and my car a rest from being driven. Dawn is early as usual because it’s summer here but much too early for my liking, so I just lie in bed and allow my body to rest. Finally, I rouse my self from bed and go outside and get introduced to my neighbouring room-mates. The mother and son duo are called Diana and Malcolm and they are from Scotland.

I strike up a conversation with Diana while I’m making my breakfast and she says that they are planning to drive around and see the local places. I express my reluctance to drive today and she offers a lift. Wow! That was providence. So off I go with them. It feels good to just sit in the back of the car and just watch the scenery :) after all the long driving I’ve been doing. It is a much relaxed pace and I’m finally beginning to settle down and relax into my holiday. I notice that a lot of people tend to rush around on their holidays making a list of things they want to do and going around at break-neck speed ticking off items from the list. They end up stressed out even from a holiday and tend to need a break from even from holidaying. Looks like modern man has lost the knack of just sitting by and watching the world go by :)

Our first stop is Hot Water Beach. So called because a fault line lies under it and the underground thermal activity causes the water in a small area on the beach to get warmed up. So people dig holes in the sand and lie in the warm water like in a spa. Because the area is so small and numbers are large, it is a bit crowded. I stand back and take pictures. Diana, however, tries her luck, she goes from hole to hole dipping her feet in them until she finds one that is warm. She soaks her feet in it for a while, decides it’s enough and so we get into the car and drive on.

The town of Hahei is where we go next which is a tiny little town now crowded with tourists. On the top of a hill there is a lookout point with wonderful views of the bay area with the rock formations in the sea and jutting out into the aquamarine sea. Jetboats crisscross the placid waters and occasional sailboat passes languidly by.

This point is also the starting point for a 45 min walk to Cathedral Cove. As we start walking we quickly realise that it’s hard work, as the bush path winds up and down through the bush. Tall trees and graceful ferns rise around us as birds call and cicadas chirp among the dense foliage. Finally all our efforts are rewarded when we reach Cathedral Cove. This is a tiny cove whose main attraction is a rock formation that has a naturally made tunnel in it maybe by years of erosion by wind and water. It has a domed feel inside it and arches at the entrances, giving it its name.

Having hung around a bit we head back up and pass a wide variety of people. Among them a pregnant woman who is brave enough to do the climb, elderly folks and very young kids. But the most amazing one I find are a family with a pair of twin infants in a buggy being pushed by their father. Gosh, I think, they’ve got a hard climb to do. I'm impressed by their never-say-die attitude. The path back seems less arduous than it was the way up and boy, am I glad to see the car park :)

When we reach the car, however, we find that there is a hitch. The car’s battery is flat. Hmmm, I’m having another one of those adventurous days. It is interesting to watch Diana at this point. She didn’t flag for an instant, just took it in her stride like as if the car battery going flat on top of a hill in a strange place in a different country was a normal occurrence. Her manner changed to brisk businesslike and I could see her brain working thinking out various options. What we needed was a pair of jump start leads that needed to attach to a battery of another car and thus jump start this one. I suggest that we ask the cars coming down, maybe one of them might have a lead.

The first car we flag down has two women in the front and they stop only to tell us that they don’t have the leads, but they are very helpful. They suggest the town petrol station as the most likely place to look and so Malcolm goes down the hill to have a look. Meanwhile, we keep trying to flag down cars. Some stop and some don’t and I find it interesting that the cars with woman drivers are more likely to stop as also cars with young people. Men drive away without stopping as also older couples and more well-to-do, snobbish looking types. Finally an old ute (half-car, half small truck ) which looks like it’s going to come apart anytime stops even without asking and asks if we are okay. Diana says no, we are not, we need a pair of leads. They do have one and they are most willing to help. The couple turn their car around, attach the leads and our car starts up. Halleiluiah! I can’t help thinking that that just goes to show that wealthy need not be the most helpful or giving.

We arrive next at Cooks Beach. Which is really just a beach so we don’t stop but head straight for the Ferry Landing to catch the ferry service which will take us back to Whitianga. I suggest we have lunch because the walk has made me hungry, so Diana and I find a little cafe while Malcolm heads back to Whitianga by road where he is to meet us at the other side of the ferry landing.

Over lunch Diana tells me about herself. She is a widow, her husband having passed away 5 years ago. She used to be an analyst-programmer 20 years ago but when her son was born she stayed at home for 2 years and changed her career. She became a photographer of newborn babies. So used to go the hospitals or homes of these babies and photograph them and their families. Before digital photography became prevalent there was a demand for this sort of thing. She’s taken photographs of 10,000 babies and has a photograph of each one of them. Wow! She’s retired now mainly because she got on in years and also with the advent of digital photography, the demand for her kind of job fell. Now she is into sport. Badminton, bowling and curling. Wow! Not bad for someone over 60. But she misses holding and cuddling babies. Awww! I just sit there and admire her spirit for life.

Malcolm is on a working holiday, ie he goes to places he likes to live in and gets a job there, then he visits nearby places. He’s graduated in Engineering but wanted to do this for two years before he got an actual job. He’s been to the US, Canada and Australia. Diana is visiting him here but plans to tour the South Island by herself later on this month. It was nice how I got adopted for an afternoon by this mother-son duo and it warms my heart how she had opened up like that.

They drop me off at the hostel and drive off to their next destination. And I find that I’ve got new neighbours. This time it a mother-daughter pair. Indians. From Wellington. And she knows some of the people I know. It’s a small world indeed. Well, Devpriya is also a widow and is touring North Island solo with her daughter. She tells me there is a glass-bottomed boat ride she’s going to so I quickly go and book my ticket. At 6PM we arrive at the Ferry Landing and board our boat. The skipper is a young lad and his first mate is younger still and he proceeds to tell us about the places they’ll take us too.

So I visit he places I visited today once again, this time by boat and seeing them from a different vantage point. First stop the Ferry Landing on the other side where Will the first mate points out a stone wharf, the oldest in Australasia. I think it’s a bit of a fib, but so what? He proceeds to inform us about the kauri trees that used to grow in these parts and how they were cut down and the logs floated to the bay where they stacked on ships to be ported over to England. Some few million feet of timber was cut down and sent across, in short whole forests were wiped out. Now I believe these forests are being replanted. Thank goodness for that. Ships would arrive at Australia bringing convicts, then come over to NZ, load the timber and go back to England. One such ship was called Buffalo, but it sank in the bay and is still buried in the sand, hence the bay is called Buffalo Beach Bay.

Then we head out into the sea. Along the way Will shows us various interesting landmarks. There’s a rock outgrowth in the sea which looks like an overturned champagne glass, hence the bay is called Champagne Bay. There is a cliff face that looks like a man’s face with a hooked nose and sailor’s cap which someone thought looked like Shakespeare hence the cliff is called Shakespeare’s Cliff. We approach Cathedral Cove from the sea which looks peaceful now with the crowds gone and imposing from out in the sea.

Then they take us to the marine reserve. Here the fish are protected, ie. no fishing is allowed. This is to let the fish numbers to grow and get replenished. They take the lid off the glass bottom of the boat and the ocean floor comes into view. Fish are seen gracefully gliding in the green-blue waters. Sea plants sway gracefully to the current while a deep blue cod sleeps peacefully on the ocean floor. A couple of my fellow passengers jump off the boat for some snorkelling.

Finally, after all the sights we head back for the ferry landing. All in all a good trip with some great views of the Coromandel from the sea. Not to mention seeing the fish in their natural habitat, watching the spray rise in the wake of the boat, the wind on my face and just the feel of the ocean. Awesome!