Mt Maungatautari is a volcano which has been enclosed by a 47km pest proof fence, creating Maungatautari Ecological Island. The aim is to eradicate invasive predators and promote native species. The tramp to the summit sounded like exactly the type of thing we should do. The peak was covered in cloud as we started our walk through beautiful farmland but fortunately there were fantastic views behind us.As we approached the fence, James observed that it looked like Jurassic Park and Caro that it was like District 13, so, whatever your particular popular culture preference is, there is something for everyone.We walked along a steep and undulating gravel track for about 20 minutes and were just questioning whether or not this was in fact the walk for us when we approached a sign post that pointed straight up a steep narrow track through dense forest, much better.The climb was hard work, scrambling over roots and slipping on the leaves carpeting the forest floor whilst also tackling the steep ascent, but after an hour and a half we reached a boardwalk which ran along a ridge to the peak. The boardwalk seemed a bit out of place after the scramble that we had just completed, but we followed it to the similarly disappointing peak. The views were mainly obscured by trees and a communication tower but we were able to get one good shot and the climb had been a lot of fun, so definitely worth the effort.We retraced our steps back down the hill and enjoyed a brew and lunch in yet another carpark. We had booked to do a black water rafting tour the next day so made our way west towards Waitomo. Our walk hadn’t taken us as long as we had anticipated so we had a little time to spare before setting up camp and decided to take in some of the other sights around the area. We wound our way up through the mountains, Caro cursing another tourist doing 30km per hour in front of us and refusing to pull over, and we finally arrived, a little frustrated, at Mangapohue Natural Bridge Scenic Reserve. Caro made more tea to take with her on the walk and we set off. (Side note; a thermos has been the best travelling purchase that we have made so far and we cannot recommend it enough for fellow tent dwellers.) The little gorge is absolutely stunning and the short walk culminates in the natural bridge which is also very cool, especially when accompanied by a cup of tea.Also, the reserve has the freshest smelling long drop that we have come across. Honestly it was as though someone had put a dozen air fresheners in there, it smelled like a florist, this is no mean feat as they can be absolutely repulsive.
Once Caro had stopped admiring the toilet we ventured to our final stop of the day at Marokopa Falls. These are probably the largest that we have seen and they kick up a huge amount of spray meaning that you do get a little wet but, again, it’s worth it for the views.We made camp in nearby Te Kuiti, which is the shearing capital of the world and, for the rugby buffs amongst you, it is also the home rugby club of Colin Meads. Our campsite was Mangokewa Scenic Reserve and we really thought that we had secured ourselves a prime spot by the river. We were all set up and feeling very smug when the wind got up, taking our shelter and very nearly our tent with it. So, we dismantled the shelter and hid the tent behind the shit car and some rocks, which helped a bit but we were in for a very blustery night.The next morning, we packed up camp and headed out eagerly for our black water rafting experience. We’d had no idea in advance that we were going to look so damn sexy.The area around Waitomo has over 300 surveyed caves and we were heading in to Te Anaroa or Footwhistle Cave. The climb down in to the caves was stunning, the caves themselves were stunning, floating through them in the dark on a tube admiring the millions of glowworms was a stunning, and even the climb out was stunning. So an average day out, we would highly recommend Tube It for your glowworm adventuring. We had seen some glowworms at Waipu but not in such abundance as here and we are both glad we made the effort, particularly as we went whizzing down a slide at the end.After hot showers and hot chocolate, we hit the road again with a long drive ahead. It was long for New Zealand in any case and we were heading north east to the Coromandel Peninsual. The drive took us through mainly agricultural areas fringed by mountains, and reinforced just how beautiful the country really is. We have been told that everything is pretty dry at the moment and that rain is desperately needed but everything looked amazingly green to us. We may of course be biased by our 10 weeks surrounded by red dust.
The towns we passed through all looked active and prosperous and were nicely decked out with Christmas decorations and summer flowers. Most of the towns we passed through appeared to service the wider rural community which, in this area, looks to be largely made up of dairy farms. In Morrinsville, James was very taken with this particular statue.As we reached Thames, the landscape became increasingly mountainous and we began to wind our way across the mountains and along the coastal road to the west coast. Due to the epic scale of the landscape and our thus far limited photography skills, we can’t do it justice but please take our word for it, the Coromandel Peninsular is a truly beautiful place and we would recommend visiting to anyone and everyone.We stopped for the night at Earl’s Paradise. Earl is a bit of a hero, his campsite has an amazing view and his two dogs, Monster and Hades, love cuddles. The showers and toilets were rather interesting experiences but on balance we though the campsite was great. It has been pretty windy throughout our trip so far and this evening was no exception, James was driven to sitting huddled over our little cooker to protect it from the wind and achieve dinner.The wind had died by the following morning and Caro enjoyed the view from the tent with a cup of tea and Monster keeping watch at the tent door.Once Caro had emerged from her nest, it was time to set off for famous New Chums Beach, which is only accessible by a 40-minute walk, scrambling along the headland rocks and then up over a hill. The walk itself is lovely, and fun if you like clambering over rocks like we do.A track cuts over the hill and takes you directly to the beach but there is also a fork up to the right that allows you to clamber up to the peak for phenomenal panoramic views across New Chums and the sea. Be warned that it is near vertical in parts but we managed it, somewhat inelegantly, in flip flops.We were at the beach fairly early and there were only a couple of other people around as we strolled along the forest-backed golden sand admiring the crystal-clear water. We both deeply regretted not bring our swimming gear, as water looked very inviting, and joked that, as there was no one around, we may as well just go skinny dipping. As we reached the furthest end of the beach we found ourselves entirely alone and decided to just go for it. The water was very cold but we have now ticked an unintended item off our trip to do list!
We definitely timed our visit well for generally enjoying the beach, and not just for our impromptu dip, as on the walk back we met loads of people on route to the beach. You are probably thinking that something is missing from this post and you would be right… beach jumping photos!