When I woke up on the morning of December 22nd I was determined to cover some ground. First stop: The 309 Rd, an unsealed alternative to the faster and far less exciting SH25 to Whitianga. The 309 Rd has a lot of interesting attractions along the way – not to mention some spectacular scenery – but there was one thing in particular that I wanted to see (and more importantly, experience): The Waterworks.
The Waterworks is a park full of quirky water-powered sculptures and gadgets, all constructed by the Ogilvie family between 1989 and 1993 (I think). It’s basically a giant playground with water cannons, water-powered music boxes and clocks, and all sorts of fountains and other odd sculptures made from ‘found materials’ (aka junk). The levers, pulleys, and gears on every contraption encourage participation, but watch out: pulling on a lever might end up spraying you instead! If that isn’t quirky enough, the pathway through the park is dotted with jokes and strange and random trivia, only some of which is water-related. For example, I learned that:
- 1 gallon of petrol can contaminate approximately 750,000 gallons of water.
- If all the world’s water were fit into a gallon jug, the fresh water available for us to use would equal only about one tablespoon.
- There is the same amount of water on earth as there was when the earth was formed – the water that you drank today could contain molecules that a dinosaur bathed in or that Jesus drank. (!)
The owners have also built two sets of playgrounds (one each for kids big and small), which include flying foxes (zip lines), rotating swings, and even a giant-sized hamster wheel. I went to the park alone, but ended up leaving with new friends when two little girls spent a good 45 minutes chasing me around the playground – quite a testament to the fun, happy vibe the owners have created!
I even took a few videos for you! (Or, alternatively, you can also check out this one, by The Hub.)
Giddy from a couple of hours of playing like I was 5 years old, I left The Waterworks and headed back down the 309 only to turn off again a few seconds later. Why? I wanted to climb Castle Rock, a popular trek and lookout point. I made it all the way there on a terribly-maintained gravel forestry road, and didn’t even end up climbing to the summit (the walk takes an hour one-way, and it was raining, and I was suddenly feeling gloomy), but I did take a picture of it! Woohoo!
Instead I ended the day in Hahei, where I intended to visit two ultra-famous touristy attractions (Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach). I pushed those off until the morning however, and took advantage of some all-too-brief sunlight by heading to the beach instead. Traveling alone has its perks!
The next morning (December 23d), I started early – I had to see everything and get home to Gisborne for Christmas! So I left the hostel at 8am and made my way to Cathedral Cove, a huge natural stone arch at the base of Te Whanganui-A-Hei (Cathedral Cove Marine Reserve). A 20-minute walkway along the cliffs leads from the carpark, gradually heading down towards the beach. At one point you can decide to take a route that passes through Stingray Bay or a kauri grove, and I highly recommend choosing the latter – a rugged path leads you over boulders and through a quiet, dripping grove of kauri trees (a natural cathedral of its own). Once I got to Cathedral Cove I could see why it earned its name: the massive arch stretches up into the heights, and the sound of waves fills the chasm and echoes in the air. It was a good idea that I went early too, since the tourists hadn’t emerged yet and I was mercifully alone. It would have felt wrong to be there among a huge group of flashing cameras and chattering people.
My trip to the tourist-free Cathedral Cove was short-lived, however – they started showing up just a few minutes after I tried my series of failed, tripod-aided jump shots (whew!). So instead I quickly moved on to Hot Water Beach, just a short 15-minute drive down the road between Hahei and Whenuakite. Hot Water Beach is a famous stretch where, for two hours either side of low tide, you can dig yourself a hole in the sand and find yourself in your own thermally-heated spa pool on the beach. The holes have to be dug pretty deep to reach warm water (around 2 feet or so), so small businesses have sprung up along the shoreline that rent spades to tourists for $5 a pop. Even when I arrived at 10:00am (the earliest I possibly could have, considering low tide was at noon that day), the beach was already swarming with tourists and flying sand. I didn’t feel like renting a spade – paying for hostels for a couple of weeks had started to wear on my bank account – but I did take some pictures, and even jumped in a couple of holes while people weren’t looking!
I beat a quick getaway after my beach-hole encroachment and headed on towards Gisborne via SH25, but not before making a couple of quick stops along the way in Waihi, Katikati, and Paeroa. In Waihi I jumped out of my car for a quick look at the gaping maw of the historic Martha Gold Mine, though it left me more with a sense of sadness than awe. I also enjoyed the view of Katikati (‘Mural Town’)'s many famous wall murals as I passed through on the main road. (The next time I go through there I’m going to have to stop and walk the Haiku Pathway, a collection of engraved boulders along the Uretara Stream!)
The best one of the three towns was Paeroa, where I notched another touristy attraction off my list by getting a photo taken with their giant L&P bottle. Paeroa is the home of L&P (short for Lemon and Paeroa), a famous Kiwi soft drink that tastes like a surprisingly delicious combination of lemon-lime soda and ginger ale with a little something extra inside. A nice foreign man took a rather eccentric shot of me with the bottle (he crouched on the ground and took a series of upward-facing shots like it was a magazine photo shoot), and then I got back in my car and drove onwards to Tauranga and Gizzy. And with that, the Coromandel = complete!