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Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand
"Where life doesn't travel at 1000km an hour. . . "
If you've a hankering to escape to a place where life doesn't travel at 1000km/hr, allocate a day or two to the Coromandel Peninsula.
But don't expect swept up, touristy faculties. This is very much a place where Kiwis themselves go for their own summer holidays and everything therefore is uncomplicated and down-to-earth. If your taste runs to never leaving the air conditioned comfort of the local Hilton/Hyatt/Regent or whatever, best give rough-and-ready Coromandel a miss. Unless, maybe, you opt for plushy Puka Park Lodge.
Now, for those of you I haven't frightened off, let me let you into a real secret. the Coromandel Peninsula is a visitor's dream if you like just fossicking around without too much attention to clocks or calendars.
There are bays and beaches here where one wants for no more than the opportunity to sit and stare. "What world is this is full of care, we have no time to stop and stare . . . ". Wordsworth could have been talking about any one of dozens of bays along this coast.
Apart from just blobbing out, Coromandel is also good for two things in particular - gems and crafts.
Thames was stricken with gold fever in 1867. Word spread worldwide and in no time fortune seekers from Australia and the US poured in to make it the third biggest town in the country.
At the height of the gold boom in the town, when millions of dollars worth of the yellow metal was won, the rhythmic thumping of 693 stamper batteries crushing the gold-bearing quartz was a constant counterpoint to life. Visitors couldn't sleep for the noise of them, locals couldn't sleep without it.
The peninsular has the widest variety of gems in the country - and all squeezed into a relatively small space. Not only is it fun to fossick, but the surroundings are so beautiful as well.
An ardent gem hunter will turn up finds of jasper, agate, carnelian, petrified wood and chalcedony, clear quartz, chert, psuedomorphs and sinter. If you know which river to prospect, the riverbed will produce banded chert, onyx and plasma while opal has been found in small quantities.
On the Way There
On your road from Auckland to Thames (or v.v.) you could take the slower option around the Kaiaua-Miranda coastline. Biggest attraction is the Seabird Coast, home to thousands of seabirds. The shallow tidal waters are a favourite habitat of over 60 species of bird. In March, especially, migrant species mob up into the huge flocks that will make the long slog to the northern summer.
At Whitianga, in Mercury Bay, deep sea fishing is popular. Mercury Bay itself is an especially lovely place - a match probably for the Bay of Islands . . . one of the locals says they have 3 more islands than the Bay of Islands, but I've not counted 'em. They also say there are 43 beaches with sand in a choice of colours - pink, white, black and yellow.
A 40 minute stroll from Hahei along pink-tinged sand and over the bluff brings you to Cathedral Cave, a huge sea-formed cavern, which featured in the opening sequence of one of the Narnia films.
A little further along the coast, at Hotwater Beach, you can scoop a pool in the sand and lie back in an instant seaside spa pool. The hot water will just bubble up out of the sand.
* The headline photos:
Cathedral Cove, bushwalking, typical Coromandel beach, Waiau Waterworks,
Driving Creek Railway and Pottery
A New Zealand Travel Guide is written by David Morris and published by
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10 March 2012