Feijoa Liquer, Gin, Rum, Wine, and a little bit of familiarity.
It’s been a little while since I played table tennis, but I was still quietly confident that my skills would be serviceable. Little did I know that two of my new travel buddies were world championship level table tennis pros. It was like I was across the table from Forrest Gump.
After waking up right on the beach in the back of the car, and after a quick morning dip, we drove a little further along the gravel road to Fletcher Bay, where the Coromandel Coastal Walkway begins, a mid-level hike that snakes its way along the coastline and takes in some jaw-droppingly beautiful views along the way. It was a good four hour hike up at the lookout point and back, by which point we were a gasping, sweaty mess and a swim in the sea has never been more welcome.
We had a fairly long drive down to Hot Water Beach, where we were planning to spend the night last night, so after some gargantuan sandwiches for lunch we hit the road, winding back along the narrow gravel road, taking in the eye-poppingly good views along the way.
As we neared out desitination, we realised that there were no campsites on offer near Hot Water Beach, save for a fully fledged holiday park, for $20 per person. After paying just $10 per person or less for the last week or so, this sounded less than appealing, and so we reverted to Wikicamps.*
*If you’re reading this in New Zealand or are planning on travelling here anytime soon, do yourself a favour and download wikicamps. It is a comprehensive list of all campsites, supermarkets, petrol stations and points of interest, including listing lots of free campsites that seem to not be listed anywhere else.
With a little help from Wikicamps we found a hidden gem, and my favourite place I have stayed so far – Purangi Winery. Having already undertaken a couple of wine tastings over the last few weeks, I was not prepared for what greeted us at Purangi. The deal was this, spend $20 on wine, beer or food and you get to camp for free in the grounds of the winery. Challenge accepted.
The cellar door was a well-stocked if slightly ramshackle room to the right of the main building, but the welcome waiting inside was pretty special. The bartender Danny was a font of information on the local area, the massive assortment of wines and spirits produced on the premises, and a heartfelt advocate of something called Feijoa. Its not often that at the ripe old age of thirty you get to try a new fruit, let alone one that is as refreshing and delicious as Feijoa. Resembling something inbetween a lime and a kiwi fruit, the Feijoa is a versatile little bastard too, something the good people at Purangi have taken advantage of with the production of their Feijoa Liqueur.
Next door to the tasting area was a pizzeria. After eating pretty healthily since I got here, and needing to spend $20 for the free camping, we ordered some pizzas, which turned out to be pretty good. The ‘Supreme’ featured anchovies, and in another first for me this week, mussels. I was dubious and curious in equal measures, but it turns out I need not have worried. Mussels on a pizza are a stroke of delicious seafood genius.
After eating outside we headed indoors for look around and discovered that the pizzeria comes complete with a bar and a ping pong (table tennis?) table, where I soon discovered that Clara and Carole were pretty gifted at table tennis. After some discussion with Danny from the tasting room on whether it was called Ping Pong or Table Tennis, we moved back outside for more beers, and bumped into something unexpected.
When you travel literally halfway around the world, the last thing you expect to hear is a familiar sounding voice. Outside of the bar, we were kindly invited to join a table of three girls (So, to recap, at this point it’s now me and six girls) who had a distinctly familiar twang to their accents. All this way and I bump into two girls from Nottingham. Emma and Briony to be precise, travelling with a swiss girl called Steph, who they had met in Thailand and kidnapped, taking her with them to Australia and now New Zealand.
It was a fun night, helped along with copious amounts of wine and beer, and we were the last people there. Before going to bed we agreed to meet up in the morning and head off to Hot Water Beach together. Hot Water Beach is exactly what it sounds like. For a few hours either side of low tide, you can turn up with a spade, dig yourself a little hole in the sand at a certain spot, and it fills with amazingly hot water from geothermal springs deep underground. At least in theory.
We arrived in plenty of time to stake out a spot, but the beach filled up pretty quickly, and soon we were in the midst of a large crowd of people of all nationalities, stood around holding spades, poised ready for some kind of event that might spontaeneously happen. Everyone was eyeing each other, trying to work out where the best spot might be to hit hot water, in something reminiscent of a weird, sandy, semi naked gold rush. We waited for a few hours, until low tide, but even at low tide the sea was coming in too far and obliterating any holes that were dug almost immediately. After a few failed attempts, we decided to call it a day and head over to another nearby tourist magnet – Cathedral Cove.
This time the physical location lived up to the expectations. The 35 minute hike down to the beach ended in a spectacular sandy beach, with steep, impassable cliffs on almost all sides, and a natural tunnel right through the cliff to Cathedral Cove itself. The cove was stunning, and less busy than expected judging by the number of cars in the car park. If you are short on time and have to choose, I’d definitely ditch Hot Water Beach in favour of Cathedral Cove. One of the highlights of the east coast so far.