I hate to try to sum up a day in one generalizing comment, but this was maybe the best travel day we’ve ever had. So, we check out of our Auckland apartment at 10am and get picked up by the rental car company (Go! Rentals). Just like every Kiwi we’ve met so far, the rental girl is friendly and nice and the pick-up is a breeze. We joke with her about how we might have some trouble getting used to driving on the other side of the road, and she chuckles a bit. Then we get in the car—oh my god. Mark was our designated driver for the first day, and he gets in on the right side of the car. I hop in on the left and keep looking for my missing steering wheel. Can’t tell you how disconcerting that feels! Then we pull out of the parking lot. Mark quickly guides the car to the right side of the road in about two seconds. I remind him, “Left side, honey!” and he says, “Oh yeah!” Then we get to the actual road. We have to make a right turn on a four lane road with lots of colorful, but to us meaningless, lines drawn across it. Mark waits for awhile to get his bearings, but they don’t really come. Finally he goes for it, and crosses traffic and makes it! We are giggling and nervous and quickly come upon the sign for the freeway we need. The sign must have been designed by aliens. It has lots of circles and lines and arrows but nothing that tells us where to go. Mark yells, “Navigator?!” and I yell, “Abort!” We just pass the sign and keep going, not knowing how to even pull off the road. I tell Mark to keep driving, who cares where we are going, just don’t get off the road. Finally we figure out that a left turn is easier, and we make four left turns to turn around. We are both nearly hysterical laughing, and it is a minor miracle when we finally find ourselves on the 1 south!
Once on the freeway it’s a lot easier, except that whenever Mark changes lanes he uses his left hand instead of his right, which turns on the windshield wipers. He probably does this 15 times today, and each time it’s still funny. As we travel further south, things get easier because it becomes more rural. We find ourselves on the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula, and both of us are surprised by the landscape. It’s hard to describe. It has a very Hawaiian island feel to it in that it is covered with lush lawns and tropical palms and ferns. And yet there are also huge groves of pine trees and rugged mountains.
We reach the coast and it is lovely. Practically deserted and noticeably warmer than Auckland, which is nice. We get to Hahei, and check out a few hotels, and pick the Tatahi Lodge, which is a little more expensive but seems to have better internet. Plus the room is really cute—it looks like a little mountain lodge and there is even a backyard with a picnic table and bird feeder. We throw on our swim suits and grab the complimentary “spade” (shovel) and head to Hot Water Beach, the local tourist spot.
The beach again is lovely, but what’s really cool is the hot thermal water that comes from under the sand. If you arrive at low tide, which we did, you dig yourself a little hot tub near where the tide is coming. The hot water comes from below and the cool water comes from the tide, and you mix it until the temperature is just right.
There were loads of people doing it, so it was pretty easy to follow suit. Of course Mark had fun irrigating and building a dam to protect our tub, but as the tide changed he had to remodel a couple of times.
It was a great way to enjoy the beach, and we both really marveled at the novelty.
Then we headed back to our lodge and went off for a run. Ok, this was one of the top runs either of us have ever had. We ran from Hahei Bay to Cathedral Cove, and the entire run was on a trail along the cliffs between these two bays. It was reminiscent of Torrey Pines State Park, except a lot more lush and beautiful islands right along the coast.
The views kept getting better and better and when we got to Cathedral Cove, we enjoyed a deserted beach with amazing rock islands right in the low tide. Even though it was a hilly run, we both had runners’ highs the whole way. Hard to explain how great it was! For me it is especially awesome because the two of us haven’t run together in so long (since Mark’s injuries, and also due to my general laziness), so rediscovering this great way to see new sights on our travels is really special.
Ok, by now we are exhausted, so we quickly shower and head out to find some food. There are only three restaurants in Hahei. We discover two are closed and the only one open is a ridiculously expensive fancy place with very odd things on the menu. Now we are starving, and we are on the fence of eating Denver roast (what is that anyway?) or driving out of town. We decide to keep looking and start driving and driving. A friendly sheepherder with his dog on the back of his 4wd 3-wheeler directs us towards Ferry Landing, but all the restaurants there are closed, too. (It might have been that every restaurant takes Mondays off…who knows?) Anyway, we get all the way to the ferry landing, and there is not one place open. But then we see a little man coming across in a ferry. He promises there are restaurants open on the other side of the water, which is Whitianga. The ride takes two minutes and we find a place to eat! We are both starving and have a great dinner of bangers and mash, chicken sandwiches, and lots of beer and wine. We catch the ferry back to our car and make it back to our lodge late and exhausted, but thrilled with the full day. I don’t know quite what it was that made the day so magical, but I suppose a lot of it was being on the road with so much unknown adventure just around the corner. It’s been awhile since I felt so free and adventurous…the world truly is our oyster right now, and I’m so glad we are taking advantage of it.