This land, where it is never too hot nor ever too cold, proves a most perfect Eden. The way flowers and trees grow here looks as though they have all been planted with intention. This is probably due to the heavy forestry industry and that fact that trees are replanted in groves. It's as if there are waves of trees - ;the pines preceded by the eucalyptus, followed by the Pohutakawa, embellished by a break of sycamores and adorned with a fringe of 10 foot tall New Zealand Flax plants, backdropped by a stand of cottonwood trees. The hedge rows grow to what looks like 25 feet high and is a mixture of juniper and other vertical trees, intermixed with agapanthes, fox glove, wild roses and hydrangea. Speaking of the latter, the colors of them here are the most intense I've ever seen and some are unequivocally purple! Flowers and flowers everywhere the eye wanders and we are never very far from the ocean! No wonder The Hobbit was filmed here. Speaking of Hobbit Land, here is a scuplture of one of its likely denizens, the Wetta. Looks to be akin to our Texas katydids, only they are much larger and have a nasty bite.

 

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Road to Coromandel
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Coromandel
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Coromandel meadow

 

We've had really good food, both in the home of our hosts and at restaurants. Everything is fresh and wholesome and plentiful. I'm looking forward to the peak fruit season in Australia. A whole case of mangos for $4.00 - How does that sound??? Today puts us a little closer to our departure to Australia. We are leaving Rotorua and driving north to the Coromandel Peninsula to explore and spend the night. On Friday, we drive back to Auckland and spend our last night at Debs' house and our flight leaves mid afternoon that day.  

Along our meanderings today, we encountered a detour. We dutifully followed the signs only to be led back to where we had begun! The traffic director completely understood when we told him our plight and realized that someone had misplaced some of the detour signage. After explaining to us why we had been detoured, he hopped in his truck and led us on the correct path toward our destination. The town wherein we encountered the detour was built upon an old underground gold mine. The earth had subsided beneath a home and created 15 meter (nearly 50 feet) crater beneath it. All inhabitants had gotten out safely, but there was a big crack in the road and thus the detour. And the cave-in was expected to worsen.

 

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Colenso_door
 

After much mountain and valley scenery driving, we stopped for lunch in Whangamata (pronounced fan-ga-ma-ta). Colenso Cafe is a New Zealand version of an English garden with an organic garden from which all meals are prepared, as well as a lovely gift shop.

 

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kauri bower
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homestay_stream
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birdhouse
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Kauri
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Hot_Water_Beach
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Kauri Tree

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Auntie Dawn's

Then we turned down an even smaller road to explore Hot Water Beach. This is a place where, at low tide, you can dig holes in the beach and they fill with hot, geothermal water. We wandered into a lovely homestay (bed and breakfast) called "Auntie Dawn's", which has huge trees and a vast array of flowers and fruit growing. Our timing was perfect, as we snapped up the last place she had for the evening. There are plenty such places in the area, but this one is especially convenient for us as we plan to go out at low tide (around midnight) and catch some hot water beach bathing.

 

I'm on the patio now with Simon beside me. We are surrounded by singing birds and enjoying a cup of tea to the tune of the tides turning below. Tom is inside, catching up on the news. I could spend many more days here and be quite happy. On our way home from dinner, we caught a hedge hog in the web of our head lights and Simon stopped for me to have a close inspection. I was too enamored of the tactile experience of its spiny back and sides to take a picture. It had a cute black snout and bright, beady eyes and was very happy when we released it to go on its merry way. Some Kiwis drove past while we were inspecting it and seemed perplexed that we would find it so interesting. I'm sure they would feel the same way about our hill country armadillos.

 

Well, we didn't make it to the midnight low tide. Tom and Simon explored and found the stream too high to cross. The next morning, before checking out of Auntie Dawn's, I met Dawn's husband, Joe. He was clad in the usual Kiwi fashion of shorts, bush hat and Wellies (rubber boots) with a little Jack Russell terrier following his every move. Joe proudly showed me his turnaround in the garage (to keep from having to back out of his steep driveway), his orchid collection, his 'barbie' (outdoor grill), his grape arbor, his home brew set up and invited me to take a short drive with him up the hill. I think he secretly wanted to be seen with a blonde American - good for his local image, I'm sure.

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sandcastle
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S & T - Hot Water Beach
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Hot Water Beach Rocks
 

After that adventure, the three of us walked down the hill to the beach and waited for the tide to recede enough to access the hot springs. Tom and Simon built a sandcastle while we waited and entertained the whole beach while they were at it. When low tide arrived, we all moved into position over the hot water bubbling from the sand. Contrasted with the coldness of the Pacific, even the tiniest warm stream felt wonderful and many of the areas were absolutely too hot to remain in contact with. The rocks on this beach were incredible in hue. I wanted to transport an entire boulder field home with me to Austin.

 

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309_mailboxes
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bridge_309
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view_309
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water garden house
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water garden chair
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water wheel
 

Lunch was in order after the beach, so we returned to Colenso and enjoyed yet another stupendous meal. Following Joe's directions, we headed inland, across the Coromandel Peninsula via a route called 309. It led us through some very hilly, almost mountainous terrain and was unsealed (unpaved) for most of the way. We stopped to see a grove of kauri trees. They are the largest tree in the world and quite ancient in origin. The only reason these trees were not harvested along with the rest of New Zealand's first growth was due to their position on the steep slopes and to a later outcry by the citizenry. It was allegedly New Zealand's first ecological protest. After that we continued toward the town of Coromandel and also stopped off at the Water Gardens, where a man whose family once owned 600 acres there and farmed cattle had converted about 5 acres of it into an aquatic fantasy. It was much like the Exploratorium in San Francisco in its interactivity and science bent, only out of doors, surrounded by giant flowers.

 

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Sunset_Ponsonby Street

 The day was growing short and we still had 2+ hours drive back to Auckland, so we made our stop in Coromandel a short one. Just took time for another fab meal and then we were off on a winding, barely-two-lane coastal road. On our left was a vertical cliff and on our right was the bay. Upon our return to Auckland, we gathered with our friends on Norfolk Street and spent our last evening readying our selves for the change of pace to Australia. We said our good-byes the next day and headed to the airport. Easy flight to Sydney and we were met at the airport by Charlie Baker's husband, Brian. He led us back to their house on Livingstone Road and we have been enjoying the warmth of their colorful home and back garden. Simon and I visited one of his old neighborhood haunts (New Town) and had a late supper. We shall see what tomorrow shall bring to us in this city.

 

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