The Coromandel and Whitianga

Posted on February 26, 2008
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Pics from left to right, top to bottom: (click on pic to enlarge)
1) View from the road to Coromandel 2) No room for utility poles on road to Coromandel 3) Farm and fishery property on Coromandel peninsual 4) Participant in UK Bristol owners New Zealand tour 5) Giant Flightless Pipi Picker 6) Oyster Catcher? 7) Last of the Pipis 8) Hahei Beach with mermaid on right 9) Cathedral Cove 10) Inside cave 11) Cave near Whitianga

We aren’t used to thinking of the Pacific Ocean as being on the east side of the country. In New Zealand it is.
To the east of Auckland is the Firth of Thames. From Helensville, we return to Auckland, pick up a rental car, and continue south down and around and back up the other side to the Coromandel Peninsula.
The drive up the firth side was the most tense and exhilarating of the trip. In addition to driving on the left for the very first time with a steering wheel on the right, the Coromandel roads are a series of hair pins, switch backs, safety pins and slinkies all rolled into one. The roads are also very narrow.
I got through it all right with the help of my conscientious navigator, Michelle, who reminded me every half kilometer or so that I was far too close to her side of the road. She did, and still does, courteously remind me, with prompt screams, when I drift to the wrong side of the road during or after a 90 degree turn.
It was an intense introduction to mirror driving. Still the views along the way were breathtaking and exhilarating. There were enough places to pull off that I could actually see what was along the road besides cliffs on both sides.
Locals found ways to get at tiny coves to fish and picnic. From some mountainous high points, we looked down on remote, massive farm areas running down to large farm houses and fishing wharves, all seeming part of the same property.
The land, forests and waters of New Zealand are very generous.
Coromandel itself is a delightful little community with a fish shop that sells four different flavours of smoked mussels. They offered regular, garlic, barbecued and Cajun. They smoke every kind of fish available.
We had fish and chips in a little shop where the sales slip bore the McCains logo. Fish and chips in New Zealand seem truly excellent everywhere. Having fresh available everywhere every day probably helps. Having a jillion tourists in every community may help too.
From Coromandel we worked our way down the other side of the peninsula to Whitianga. That is pronounced Fittyanga, by the way. For some reason, the missionaries gave the Maori language only 13 letters.
On the way we were again struck by the emptiness of the beaches.
Like Paihia, Whitianga is a Miramichier’s dream. It is on a spectacular bay. By February, with the children back in school, many of the local beach front mansions and resort facilities are empty. It was like PEI in July with half the tourists.
Because of the wealth of high priced real estate and the huge tourist traffic, the community of 5,000 population has as many first rate restaurants as New Brunswick. Imagine what our local restaurants could do with that kind of wealthy traffic.
Innovative cuisine
I have to say that I have found a consistently higher standard of restaurant innovation and quality in New Zealand than anywhere else I have ever been. Part of it is that haute cuisine, like everything else, is newer here. Part of it is the sheer plentitude of seafood, meat and produce. Part of it is that New Zealand is more multicultural than, for example, France or Italy. Part of it is that people seem generally better off here. The gap between rich and poor has not widened as much. There seems to be a very large middle class. A large part of it, of course is the huge volume of business provided by tourism which is a much larger part of the total economy than in many countries, especially ours.
Another reason I fell in love with Whitianga is that Vicky Lancaster, a manager at Oceans Resort where we stayed taught me how to gather Pipis clams. She directed me to the proper sand bar and told me to do the twist so my feet would sink down into the sand and feel the clams. It worked. Anyone is allowed 50 Pipis per day and they are easy to gather.
Locals like them steamed and dunked in vinegar. I found them delicious simply steamed. They are tidy, like mussels so it would be easy to use them in linguini with clam sauce.
Oceans Resort, by the way, keeps its own pool at 76 degrees, includes a complete kitchen in the room and provides broad band internet service included in the room rate. Because we wound up staying four nights, our rate dropped to $140 including GST. That’s about $110 Canadian.
We took a water tour to a place called Cathedral Cove and Hotwater Beach among other points. Cathedral Cove is a rock formation with an opening to yet another gorgeous, uncrowded beach. Hotwater Beach is a place where you scoop a hole in the sand as the tide goes and the hole becomes a hot tub heated from below.
I took Michelle to The Fireplace for dinner on Valentines Day. The meal was so imaginative, I cannot begin to tell you what was in it. It was wonderful.
A tapas place, Tua Tuas on the main street served amazing meals and coffee at very good prices. Their seafood chowder was as good as the best I’ve ever had. Their lamb loin salad lunch menu item was so good I’m going to attempt it at home.
New Zealanders, to our surprise, given their strong links to the U.K., are very, very dedicated to excellent coffee. That is probably because they are closer to some of the finest coffee producing nations in the world.
They also serve an actual cup of coffee, not a medicinal dose, as we found in Europe.
They do all the normal espressos, capucinos, and lattes but they have their own favourites. One is called the long black and is just a cup of very strong, very good, black coffee. The other is called the flat white and is the same coffee with frothed milk.
They don’t go in for all the candy and dessert items Starbucks puts in coffee in North America. That’s just fine with me.
Traveling to and from Whitianga, I came up with a guess as to why Kiwis don’t drive tiny cars and do drive a lot of mid-size SUVs. The trailer hitches are the clue.
Most vehicles seem to be pulling a boat. Others, although not as many, are pulling camper trailers.
The country is also full of camper vans and motor homes. At of the motor homes are Mercedes or Nissan and other makes. They look like intercity buses except that they are, in size, somewhere between a North American van and a North American motor home. People park them on the streets. It seems the perfect size to me.
In Whitianga, on the weekend, a young man with a tractor kept himself busy all day putting boats into the water and taking them out. At dusk, we saw him going up the main street pulling a largish cabin cruiser that was obviously going to the boat yard.
The sight of marinas and sail boats everywhere made me think it would make more sense for Johnny and Juanita McKendrick to live in Whitianga. The diving and snorkeling and kayaking made me think John and Joyce LeBlanc belong there too.
I thought of my Woodstock buddy, Lloyd
Bragdon, who plays sax with The Downtown Blues Band when I saw a Valentine card that said something to the effect that “I love it when sheep play the sax because I know they REALLY have chops!”
An odd thing happened in Whitianga. I was at the hotel reception desk when an English fellow came in looking for a bucket to wash his car. Oddly enough, they didn’t have one so I offered him the $1 bucket I’d bought for clam gathering. I was puzzled to see him using it to wash what looked like an old Studebaker. I couldn’t figure out what a tourist would be doing in that. I speculated that perhaps he was visiting relatives in New Zealand and they had lent him one of theirs for a trip.
Later, the bucket reappeared, upside down, at our door with a campaign button on it saying UK Bristol Owners NZ Tour.
Apparently a sizable number of British people who own Bristol autos shipped them to New Zealand for a tour. I’ve had cars I really liked but that seems a tad eccentric to me. I have to admit I like people who are that kind of eccentric.
The next report will be about volcano territory. Michelle says I am going to condense these reports to get caught up. It is hard. There is so much different and interesting here.


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