Of course, you are fairly quickly reminded that you are not in the UK when you drive through somewhere like Tirua, the next town along, where a local obsession with corrugated iron is highly apparent, with everything from school signs to a giant corrugated dog being rendered in the material.
Anyway, I promised you mountains and gorges, so here we go. Our drive from Rotorua took us past the rather impressive 952m high peak of Te Aroha, soaring above the town of the same name. At the foot of the mountain is a park, with New Zealand’s only known Soda geyser. This was inconveniently not erupting when we visited. Still, it was also the start point for the walk, which I took off up. In the meantime Vera concluded that the Op shops in the town of Te Aroha looked more interesting, so she went off in search of bargains.
Both of us certainly found something. Well, I found staggering views, from the top I could see the Coromandel peninsula stretching out before me in one direction, with a great part of the southern half of the North island stretching out the other way. A map optimistically laid out the entire North island for my viewing pleasure, unfortunately the weather was a little hazy for seeing more than about 100km, but that seemed like far enough.
Back at the base of Te Aroha, thoroughly impressed with the climb (and the op shops!), we headed on. Our next stop was the town of Paeroa, birthplace of a drink which could only have been invented by Kiwis. Called Lemon & Paeroa, (L&P), it is self-proclaimed as being world famous in New Zealand. The whole town of Paeroa is very excited about this drink product, even though it is now owned by Coca Cola and entirely produced in Auckland. This minor inconvenience in facts has not changed the towns obsession, which has resulted in a giant L&P bottle taking up the towns centre stage. Clearly we had to stop and take a photo of this piece of Kiwi memorabilia. So we did.
From Paeroa, the road winds to Waihi (a town which is essentially a giant open cast gold mine), via the seriously scenic Karangahake Gorge. This drive is billed as one of New Zealand’s most scenic, and it’s not difficult to see why. Giant rocky walls go up on either side, to the almost 600m high peak of Mt Karangahake. The Ohinemuri river wends it’s way through this gorge, and all along the sides are evidence of the gold rush that occurred here back at the turn of the century. This was New Zealand’s premiere gold mining location, with gold practically oozing out of the ground, and it was certainly the industry of choice to be in in this area for nearly fifty years. All around are the remnants of this time, from mine holes to train lines to large rusting cogs.
Naturally, such a gorge needed further exploration than just a quick drive through. We hiked first of all to the top of the Karangahake Mountain, which afforded lovely views of the gorge and surrounds, before taking the 3.5km loop walk around the gorge proper. This wound it’s way first around the river bank, and then somewhat spookily, led for a kilometre through an old railway tunnel. Luckily this was entirely straight, so light could be seen filtering through at the other end, but the tunnel lighting system wasn’t entirely operational, which combined with the ever dripping water made for an interesting ramble.
Our base for the two nights was the stunningly located Bowentown Beach holiday park, set at the end of a 10km long stretch of white sandy beach, which Vera thoroughly combed for shells. Again, being part of the Family Parks group, we were given free camping for the two nights, many thanks going out to them for that.
So that was mountains, gorges, and hobbits. Oh wait, I promised hobbits. Ok. We did stop off at Hobbiton, or at least, the film set for Hobbiton, near the town of Matamata, on our way up from Rotorua. Here we took in a coffee, peered at the film memorabilia and photos of the set. We didn’t actually do the tour – we had just missed the last one of the day when we arrived, and neither of us really felt that enthused about spending a fairly substantial sum of money to wander around some hillocks, particularly having already climbed Mount Doom. But still. We got pretty close and that was enough for me.
Our last few days of roaming this area are to be spent exploring the top end of the Coromandel peninsula. This has beaches, coves, caves and more to explore. Unfortunately it is currently pouring down with rain, but being British, visiting the seaside in the rain is practically a national pasttime anyway. More photos of the trip are also available on the site’s Facebook page!