Mount Maunganui, Auckland, and my road trip through the Coromandel peninsula
10.02.2016 - 29.02.2016
Before I get started, a quick blog update. I added a map at the top of the page. This will be on every blog entry from now on. For those who enjoy looking at maps as much as I do, you can now physically look at where I've been. Enjoy.
On to business. Last time I told you guys I would be based in Mt. Maunganui for a few months working the kiwifruit season. Turns out the fruit wasn't cooperating, something about the sugar levels not being right. I had about a month of time to kill, so, here we go!
Mt. Maunganui is a holiday beach town located in the Bay of Plenty region of NZ. There isn't much except cafe's, restaurants, and obviously, a lot of nice beaches. There are a number of nice walks to do in the area. You can summit the Mount, walk around it, walk along the beach on either side of town, or even stroll onto an island or two while you're at it.
One of a million beach access points. The beach stretches on for ages. It feels like there's an access point every 10 meters.
My view sitting on a bench snacking while walking around the Mount.
Took a couple shots enjoying the sunset behind the Mount on the boardwalk.
Awesome view from the top of the Mount.
You can see here how thin the town is, flanked by water on both sides.
Went for a swim on the beach with two couchsurfers I met. Efrain, the Mexican who finally received his NZ citizenship a few days before I met him (he likes to call himself a Mexiwi, ie Mexican + Kiwi), and Stephanie, a Swiss who loves wine and chocolate (surprise...?).
Before I continue, let me introduce couchsurfing for those who are unfamiliar. Couchsurfing is a hospitality exchange and social networking site. Travelers can use it find people with similar plans and maybe get a group together to meet up. They can also find locals who host guests, or if not, are often available to meet up and show people around their hometown. When I tell people back home about it their reaction is always to fear for my safety. "How can you trust a stranger? They might stab you in your sleep!" etc etc. Well, couchsurfing has a function where you can leave references for people you've interacted with. Kind of like how you can leave reviews on yelp or tripadvisor to name a few examples. It's pretty easy to tell when a business sucks by reading online reviews. Same idea, just with people. And if someone has no references? You can read their profile to get an idea of what they're like. If that still makes you uncomfortable, don't stay with a host without references.
I met Stephanie through couchsurfing when she posted a discussion asking for a ride from Auckland to Tauranga. I didn't have a ride for her, but I said if she's available at all, we should meet up (Tauranga and Mount Maunganui are right next to each other). Efrain ended up being Stephanie's couchsurfing host, which is how I met him. And all of us are still alive. See guys? Couchsurfing is safe, I promise.
After a week in Mt. Maunganui I headed back north to Auckland for three days because I thought I would travel through the Northland region. I didn't, but more on that in a bit.
I met two more couchsurfers in Auckland, again by a discussion thread posted online. Travelers looking to share their travels with other travelers.
Meet Eva, a German who hates beer (yeah you read that right) and Sebastian, a German who (somewhat less surprisingly) loves beer.
Cool tree from Albert Park. Eva and I walked around the park and grabbed lunch while Sebastian was busy getting told by 10 different hostels that they were fully booked. What a day.
We spent our first day walking around the harbor and downtown, as well as getting told "sorry, we're fully booked," by every single car rental agency in the entire city. Jucy Rentals was the most entertaining. They told us they had one car remaining, and then after discussing among ourselves for a whopping 30 seconds, we told them we'd like to book the car, to which they said "sorry, we're fully booked." Um, go f*ck yourself Jucy. But anyway, despite the opinion of literally every single traveler I've met so far, Auckland isn't that bad.
My favorite part of the city is actually this free book exchange in a shipping container by the harbor. I'm not trying to say that Auckland sucks, I just really love to read. The books in there were so so, but I love the idea of this place.
After all that fully booked nonsense we sat by the harbor and just enjoyed the views.
A giant rainbow appeared over the harbor.
The next day we went to Waiheke Island, about 35 minutes east of Auckland by ferry. The island has loads of nice beaches, some nice walking tracks, and a ton of wineries.
Someone's incredibly long driveway... that we walked up even though it was private property. Oops.
Rocky Bay. Lovely right? We just sat there skipping rocks for an hour enjoying ourselves. Some old dude on the bus tried to convince us for a solid 15 minutes that Rocky Bay is the ugliest thing you've ever seen. I'm not entirely sure we even went to the same bay. He's either blind or a bitter old man.
Remember how I said that I thought I would travel to Northland but didn't? Well, the beauty of solo travel is that you get to do whatever you want. My plans have changed dozens of times in the span of an hour. It's quite thrilling. Instead of taking the bus to Northland, I took the ferry over to the Coromandel peninsula to meet Stephanie, the couchsurfer I met in Mount Maunganui. Turns out we got along so well we spontaneously decided to buy a car and road trip through the Coromandel together.
Meet Millie, my 1991 Toyota Corsa.
A quick swim in one of a thousand different bays. I can't even tell you which one this is because we went to so many.
After meeting in Coromandel town we drove north and stayed at the Papa Aroha campsite in Amodeo Bay.
Amodeo Bay sunset.
Stephanie, beer, and sunset.
Opened the tent in the morning to be greeted by the ocean.
Good morning, Coromandel.
I know what you're thinking. That tent is way too small to fit two people. Well you're right, it was quite cramped. Thankfully when I'm tired, which I always seem to by while traveling, I sleep like a dead person laid to rest in their coffin, motionless with my arms crossed over my chest. Ask my siblings, they've taken tons of pictures of me doing that.
What a way to wake up.
The next day we continued north, this time to Port Jackson. The farther north you travel in the Coromandel, the more deserted it gets. After a certain point, every beach you go on is a private beach. Go on any walking trail. All you'll hear is the sound of waves crashing ashore, leaves rustling in the wind, and depending on what trail, the overpowering sound of cicadas singing. It's pretty wild. If you don't want to see another soul for a week, you don't have to.
Fantail Bay. A quick rest stop to admire the views.
Hills around Port Jackson campsite.
Sunset at Port Jackson campsite.
Sunrise at Pork Jackson campsite. I am never going to get tired of New Zealand sunrises and sunsets.
Third day of our road trip we were supposed to drive 5 minutes north to Fletcher bay to do the Coromandel Coastal Walkway. A stunning 10 km (one way) coastal hike across the wildest part of the Coromandel. Unfortunately, the road was flooded out, so we had to drive 2 hours all the way around to the other end of the track at Stony Bay. (It actually took us 3 hours because we got distracted by an awesome cafe in Colville, a hippie town of alternative lifestylers.)
Here are some pictures of the walkway. For my California readers, it kind of reminds me of California's rugged coast. Think Big Sur/Point Reyes, but throw in tropical trees.
We didn't get back from the hike until near sunset, so we camped at Stony Bay.
Another morning tent view.
Our next door neighbors.
The last part of the road trip we went to Coromandel's east coast. Haihe beach and Cathedral cove. You're supposed to go in the morning or evening for nice photos without other tourists. We were supposed to go in the morning, but... sleep is nice too? And besides, it's too cold to swim in the morning. Maybe I didn't get any awesome photos, but I got an awesomely refreshing midday swim out of it.
And now we're at the part of the trip where I actually couchsurfed. From the east coast we drove back across to Thames, on the west coast of Coromandel. Stephanie and I stayed with a lovely family of three. There was Carmel, a lady with MS, her elderly parents, Mary, who has cancer, and Bill, who has some sort of dietary issues going on. The joke was that they're a disabled household. Stephanie and I helped them out with their garden, and in exchange we got a place to sleep and awesome food. Every night we had wine, chocolate and had engaging discussions from topics ranging from climate change, politics (everybody loves to talk to the only American in a thousand mile radius about Donald Trump) and advances in science to Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. I really enjoyed my time with them, and might even have a green thumb now from helping out in the garden. Working outside is already extremely satisfying, and being able to help out their sweet family with things they weren't physically able to do on their own made it all the more rewarding. Sadly I don't have any pictures with them. Let's just say we were too busy enjoying their company to think about it.
Travel is beautiful. People are so open and trusting. I bought a car, went on a road trip and camped in a tiny tent with a Swiss lady I'd known for a whole five days. A family opened up their home to two strangers. And that whole camping thing wouldn't have even happened without a British girl I met named Stacy, who let me borrow her tent for two weeks without even knowing if I'd come back.