New Zealand: Cathedral Cove

The rain in Waihi signalled the beginning of the end, only the end of the good weather though. I was now on a mission, to see as much as I could while staying as dry as possible. As the days progressed the incoming storm was upgraded. First I received a yellow warning, the next day it had been upgraded to amber. As I drove up the East coast of the Coromandel Peninsula I was getting concerned, I was about two days away from Cathedral Cove. Things were due to go from bad to worse tomorrow. I could afford to wait a couple of days, but the black cloud with blue rain was stretching across the next 10 days. I spent the night in Whangamata Motor Camp. For the first time I had to pay for hot water in addition to the camp fee. All I desperately need from a camp site is to get clean, what else am I paying for? Five or six minutes for a dollar would have to be enough. When I opened the tap, the water pressure didn’t just take the dirt off but the top layer of skin too. If the shower is going to be that good, I’ll pay an extra dollar every time. 

I sleep uninterrupted for almost 8 hours. For the first time in I don’t know how long I wake up because I am hungry. Even this is a problem. The morning marks a pleasant anniversary, I have now lived as many consecutive nights in the van as I spent in lockdown. The problem with being hungry is my plan for a celebratory brunch in town. An inside, out of the imminent rain activity. I dress in my civilian clothes of jeans and a jumper in an attempt to blend in. The main strip of Whangamata goes no further than four blocks. There are a lot of cafes, a few takeaways, a couple of surf shops, a vintage furniture store and an art gallery. I step into Port Road Project, order a tiny coffee and the Turkish eggs. I was expecting this to be a shakshuka. It was not. What was delivered to my table consisted of poached eggs in a herby, spiced oil and yoghurt combo, a handful of cherry tomatoes, with a side of toasted flat bread. It was delicious. Happy van life as long as lockdown day to me! Stepping back outside the sky remained grey but nothing was falling from above so far. I took a short walk along the beach. I’d holiday here, I thought to myself. And I have, if only for 24 hours. 

I get back on the road. Hairpins and switchbacks lead to my first real glimpse of the Coromandel Forest State Park. Shark teeth peaks rise above the green. Those must be The Pinnacles. I hope to get a closer look at them when I reach the other side. The sweeping vista is phenomenal. A brown sign indicates there’s a picnic area around the next corner. I pull in to find the view obscured by trees. Never mind, at least I’ve seen it and keep on seeing it. I continue my drive into Tairua. The rain still hasn’t arrived. There’s blue skies above. I change out of my civilian clothes, pull on my hiking gear and get out while I still can. I go up Mount Paku for glorious views of the shimmering, sapphire blue bay and the topped with black cloud, dark green forest covered mountains beyond. I come back down and walk along the estuary. The power lines following the shore are dotted with pairs of kingfisher. The New Zealand kingfisher is bigger than the British one but their feathers are more reserved, muted blues and sandy yellows. When the sun catches them in flight they still shine bright. I walk past the varying qualities of holiday homes.  You can see how the bach has evolved over time. Start with an empty plot of land. Start by putting a caravan on it. Need more space? Erect a permanent awning. In time this might get replaced with a portacabin. You might want to put a deck on it. Running out of room again? Why not add a second storey. Put a deck on that too. Suddenly you’ve got a glass fronted mega shed the whole family could stay in. I cast my envious eyes away from the fridges, the bathrooms, the light switches and return to my carpark with a toilet block at one end. 

While I was making dinner I turned around to find a small child looking at me. One of my neighbours. “Hello”, he said. This is unusual. Children normally stare for a second trying to figure out exactly what’s wrong with me before walking off. “Hello”, I reply. This, it turns out is all the invitation Levi needs to make me his new best friend. He proceeds to tell me all about his cats, his mad cousin, and the song he and his sister made up about driving along in a big white campervan. I asked him if he can sing the song for me, so I can sing it when I’m driving along in my not so big white campervan. He responds with the childhood classic. “I don’t remember.” Levi’s mum then pops round to apologise, hoping I’m not being disturbed. “Have you been to the top?, she asks. I tell her it’s steep, maybe too much for a five year old but you can drive most of the way. We talk about our plans, what a difference the weather makes. The forecast has changed again. There might be one more dry day ahead. Tomorrow then, I’m going to Cathedral Cove.

I make my breakfast while Levi tells me how many seagulls he can see. I say goodbye to my new friend. “I’m off on an adventure”, I tell him. I’m sining Moving by Supergrass as I drive away. At least, I’m singing the words I remember. Someone else might not call it singing. Another step closer to becoming my father. I’m on the road at 8:30am. A new personal best. I hope to get to Cathedral Cove before the light gets too harsh. I pull in to the top car park, one van and two cars. Ideal. The pay meter wants $15 for four hours. Not ideal. I drive back down into the village of Hahei where there’s free parking and a longer walk. I’ve come to realise why I like New Zealand so much. The land is tall land the sky is broad. Mountains by the sea. You don’t need to choose when you can have both. I climb back up to the unreasonably priced car park to join the trail. The entire length of the path is paved, it’s better quality than most of the roads I’ve driven down. I guess that’s what you get when people willingly pay silly amounts of money to avoid walking up one hill. I head straight to the end, to Cathedral Cove. I walk through the archway, a single sea stack stands in the shallows. The sun hits the water, turning it mouthwash mint green before returning to grey. At first I’m not sure which bit looks like a cathedral but if there’s one thing I am sure this place is real nice. Maybe it’s the way the limestone cliffs have been carved by the wind and the rain. I can sort of see a resemblance to La Sagrada Familia in that it isn’t finished yet. As more people file down on to the beach I make my return. 

I walk through bracken, gorse and pine. Whenever this happens I feel as though maybe I haven’t gone as far away from home as I possibly could. The view point doesn’t quite sit far enough out over the cliff edge to see the cove in all it’s glory. I stop at Stingray Bay. The dark shapes moving beneath the surface are nothing more than rocks in the waves. I step down to Gemstone Bay. The smooth round boulders in the shallows look more like the painted shells of quails eggs than gemstones but I didn’t get here first. I move back towards the start of the trail, the overpriced car park where I spot a small, familiar figure. He’s seen me too. “Where is your van?” Levi asks me. “It isn’t in the car park.”  “You’re right,” I tell him, “I parked in a different car park, further away.” His mum says they changed their plans. The bad weather is on the way, so she thought they’d follow me and see Cathedral Cove in the dry. I say goodbye again. Moving, keep on moving. 

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