The next morning Dad and I left the comfort and familiarity of the hills and pastures of Matamata and exchanged them for the thick bush and beaches of the Coromandel Peninsula. Our plan was to do some snorkeling around Hahei beach and see Cathedral Cove. However, the weather wasn’t fully on our side. The day was quite gray and dreary, and as we drove the windshield was speckled with intermittent showers.
Things hadn’t improved when we reached the Cathedral Cove Dive and Snorkel shop. We parked along the side of the building and wandered around to the front. The shop was small, or at least the retail side was. There was diving and snorkel gear everywhere, making the already small place feel cramped. Beside the counter was a door leading into a large garage. There was no one inside so I called out. “Hello?” Nothing. We heard a noise just as we were stepping back outside and a man appeared from inside the garage.
We spent a few minutes talking with him about what we’d hoped to do. His response to us was, “Well it depends on what your expectations are.” Now, I at least didn’t have any expectations, having never snorkeled before (though usually when I imagined it, it was on some white sand beach with the sun shining in some tropical place like Hawaii). But what he was really saying, in fewer words, was probably something like, “Well, I think you’d be crazy to go out when it’s like this, but it’s your choice.” He suggested we walk down to the beach and test out the water, then decide.
So we did that. Hahei isn’t a very big place so the drive only took about a minute. There were a couple other cars in the car park, but one was about ready to leave. Dad and I rolled up our jeans, ditched shoes and socks, and descended the steps down to the beach. I gave a small shiver at the feel of soft cool sand between my toes. For all the wind and spray it wasn’t very cold outside. We moved closer and closer to the water. I don’t think I’ve ever come to a beach with bare feet and not gotten my toes a little wet. So even though I was sure the water was going to be cold, I marched straight down into the wet sand and let the foam splash up over my feet.
With the bottoms of my pant legs now soaked, Dad and I moved further down the beach towards a jagged outcropping of stone. We passed a small tide pool, stepped over numerous shells and bits of seaweed until we came to a swing. I say swing, but it was really just a small piece of driftwood tied to a thick rope and hung from a tree jutting out from the cliff (which by the most basic definition is a swing, I suppose). We noticed steps worn into the rock face, and we spent a few minutes trying to decide just how the swing was used. The rope wasn’t long enough to reach out over the water, but it could’ve been low tide. And it was just too short to take up the steps and allow you to get the swing between your legs, unless you got close enough to the tree roots.
Whatever the locals used it for, Dad and I had some fun pushing each other around on the thing in large circles and pulling each other into tight spins near the end of the ride. We hit a dead end after that, so we walked back the way we came and up to the car. Snorkeling was the furthest thing from our minds now. We were both just happy to enjoy the beach and the moody weather. Back in the car, we drove back down the road and took a right at the sign for Cathedral Cove.
A short drive down the winding road brought us to a long car park. I pulled in next to a big camper and the two of us stepped out, still barefoot. I gingerly walked across the rough car park to the sidewalk and down to the information placards. After examining the signs, Dad and I decided it would be good to put our shoes back on. It was a bit of a walk to Cathedral Cove, and I was already struggling with the car park.
With our appropriate footwear, we went down the staircase to the main footpath and began our trek down the coast to Cathedral Cove. I’d been meaning to get to the cove for a while. Several of my Hobbiton fellows had been, and the pictures looked amazing. Of course, they went in the summer, but Dad and I still had fun. It took about 30 minutes to reach the beach. It was at the bottom of a long line of stairs, which we grumbled about having to climb up later.
The sandy expanse at the bottom was mostly empty of people. There was a couple sitting about half way between the water and the cliff behind, and one guy hanging out in the trees at the bottom of the stairs. Dad and I removed our shoes and socks again and walked beneath the towering stone archway to the far side of the beach. This side was completely empty. In the distance was the large, sail-shaped slab of rock I had seen in so many photos. To our left, set far back from the water’s reach was a garden of cairns in all shapes and sizes.
We spent some time here, taking photos, enjoying the gentle crashing of waves on sand, and examining the many cairns. We began to wander down to the other end of the beach just as a few people wandered under the archway. At the far end was a small water fall dribbling into a pool. A few more minutes slipped away before we ventured back towards the dreaded stairs to retrieve our shoes.
With shoes back on our feet, we perched on the low-hanging branches of the trees and took one last look at the beach. Then we turned and began the arduous climb back to the car. The walk back from anywhere always seems shorter than the walk there, so we were soon back at the car park. A large, lime green bus at the end of the lot confirmed my suspicions that the large group of 20-somethings that arrived on the beach just as we left was indeed from Kiwi Experience. (A remnant from my days at Hobbiton. It wouldn’t be the last time I saw one of those buses.)
Both Dad and I were getting rather hungry so when we stopped for gas we picked up a few things in the shop to tide us over until we got to Tauranga. After that is was back in the car and down the winding coastal road. I’ve gotten used to Kiwi roads during my time in the country; many of them are like the canyon roads I’ve driven back home. But it can still be an exhausting thing to do, with the back and forth and the breaking and the shifting. The sun had disappeared by the time we made it into town. We found our host house easy enough though. There was a spot of trouble when we tried to drive up the preposterously steep drive. Major crisis was averted though and we just parked on the street.
Our host, Amelia, wasn’t actually home yet, so we just dropped off our things then went back into town for dinner at the Fly Burrito Brothers. Many months ago, my first month in the country actually, I had gone out on a date at the FBB. I’d been given a coupon when I paid the check, but of course it could only be used at the Tauranga location. It took a while, but I finally got to use it. Dad and I were starving by this point so there wasn’t a whole lot of talking once the food arrived. It was wonderfully delicious. Just what we needed.
Back home, we met Amelia and the rest of her family. They were all very nice and easy to talk to. We spent a bit of time chatting and taking some suggestions from Amelia of things to do during our stay, then we both grabbed a shower to clean the sand off of us, and went to sleep.
The next morning we slept in a bit. We grabbed breakfast and a cuppa in town before I drove us over to The Mount. The Mount is probably what most people think of when you mention Tauranga. It’s an extinct volcano right at the end of a narrow peninsula. It’s a singular peak that towers above the rest of the coastal town. There are a couple things you can do on The Mount. You can walk around it, which I’d done once before, and you can climb to the top of it, which everyone told me I had to do. I personally didn’t feel like climbing to the top, especially when I only felt I had to do it just because everyone told me I had to. Dad seemed happy to do either. The kibosh was put on our climb to the top when the path we had decided to take was closed. So we just scraped the whole idea and enjoyed the walk around.
We crawled out on a cluster of rocks being battered by the waves. I stood so close to some of the furrows that were I any closer the waves would’ve blasted forth and soaked my pants. We clambered back to the path and kept walking. Near the end of the walk, we came to a beach that was made completely of shells. Walking on it felt like walking on a mix of sand a pebbles. All the shells were cracked and broken, their former inhabitants pecked out by seabirds long ago. It was like walking on a bed of corpses. We poked around the rocks here, and at last Dad finally saw what he wanted. A small, brightly colored crab was clinging to the side of a rock we were standing on. He was gone a second later, but not before we had both caught a glimpse.
We checked The Mount off of our things-to-do list and walked back to the car to make some lunch. Peanut butter and jelly with a banana and some water. It’s basically a traveler’s bread and butter…when they aren’t eating bread and butter. It was a bit windy sitting there beside the beach, but it was good to put some food in my belly. When we’d both finished, we walked back down the road, back to the beach and up the narrow path to Moturiki Island. Now, when I first read about Moturiki Island, I thought it would be an actual island connected to the beach by a man-made bridge. This is incorrect. It is a teardrop-shaped bit of land connected to the beach by a narrow land bridge. Not quite as cool as I imagined but it was still fun to explore the place.
We walked all the way to the far end. The “island” ended in a bulbous, rocky cliff. Dad and I claimed the spot right at the top of the rocks and as far out as you could go. It was completely quiet here, if you don’t count the constant movement of the ocean as noise. It’s white noise, the kind of noise the helps unlock your brain a bit. It lets your thoughts drift off to things it might not have in absolute silence. Absolute silence can be stifling. I don’t know how long we sat there, it could’ve been 15 minutes, it could’ve been half an hour. A handful of people showed up after a while and we took that as our cue to move on. Before we drove back home, we stopped at the nearby New World and picked up something for dinner. It was pasta. Another staple of the traveler diet.
I got the pasta going once we were back home. Amelia was still out so Dad and I had a nice talk with her husband while I got dinner ready. Amelia showed up a little while later and the four of us talked while Dad and I had our dinner. We told stories of trips we’d taken and talked about things going on back in the States. Conversation moved from one topic to the other and soon we were out of pasta. We talked for a while longer until the events of the day started to pull me towards sleep. We said our goodnights and our thank yous (this was our last night) before walking down the hall and getting into bed.