Saturday, January 14th, 2023

Distance travelled 500 kilometres

I sometimes think that I have two wives ! They are, seemingly, identical twins – but their behavioural characteristics are diametrically opposite. The one that I have at home in Prague is impossible to talk to first thing in the morning and cannot put so much as a foot out from under the quilt without a minimum of two (and usually more) cups of espresso. The twin sister that comes on holiday with me, however, is always raring to go and, in this case, was wide awake and moving at around 4:30 in the morning and quite prepared to go for breakfast by 6:30 when they started serving it.

What is a day, for me at least, that does not start with some odd form of self-injury ? Not a day, I suppose. That could be the reason why I unaccountably put my hand in the hotel toaster to retrieve a recalcitrant slice of bread – and burned my left hand, quite nastily in two places ….

Out, from Lucie’s rapidly depleting medical kit came an analgesic plaster, to go with the corticoids and analgesic pills that were working on my knee. Lucie said it would be nice if we could have at least one day without any further injuries.

Even after all the drama, we were on the road just before 8:00. As I mentioned, because we had gained an extra day with the Harley, we had decided on a one-day trip to the Coromandel Peninsula, which would save us a considerable detour on future day.

We followed the advice from Baz and so, a little south of Auckland, we turned off of the SH1 Highway, which leads from the north of the North Island to the very south of the South Island. We initially drove east towards Clevedon, where we got slightly confused, because the orientation according to the sun, in the southern hemisphere, was still confusing.

We then continued along a small, but well surfaced road that hugged the coast until we came to Kawakawa Bay. It was our first sight of a “real” beach and was very picturesque. Lucie was intrigued by a prominent sign that stated that it was permitted to collect only 50 shells, including the coquilles (as in St Jacques), per day. I suppose I should be glad we did not have a bucket in the pannier !

It was a wonderful morning, warm without being too hot and with a gentle breeze off of the sea. A noticeable number of old American cars had passed on the road, including a stunningly original Chevrolet Bel-Air, and another, similar, one burbled past as we stood there. Then a small, more modern, saloon pulled up driven by a somewhat elderly local gentleman. He complimented me on the distance from home we were (he had read my HOG vest) and the lovely condition of the Harley. Then he asked if we, too, were on our way to the drag strip, where there was a classic car “meet”, there would be a few “burnouts” and where he would be marshalling events. I told him that, unfortunately, our plans would preclude that so, after recommending a good café, he continued upon his way west – and we hit the road to the east.

Many local people talked to us all through the day. Some were prompted by the HOG vest, we were, after all, about 25,000 kilometres from home, but the shiny Harley was a big talking point too. It reminded us a bit of Australia, although the New Zealanders are more talkative.

From Kawakawa Bay we headed around the coast towards Thames, another small town on the coast.

We searched for a café advised to us by Baz, which was a lot further on than we expected, We found it in Waiomu, the Waiomu Beach Café (622 Thames Coast Road, Waiomu). We were especially excited about the delicious, homemade cinnamon “snail”, which we could not resist and the hot chocolate with chilli certainly woke up my taste-buds !

On the beach across the road, my favourite botanist found a tree with additional aerial roots, which she had never seen before. It made her morning !

The journey continued further around the coast towards the town of Coromandel, which gives its name to the whole peninsula. We passed more “picture postcard” beaches where diving birds dried their feathers on rocks in the shallows, strangely at odds with the wooden poles carrying the electric lines that also ran just offshore.

Because of the terrain, the road, although fairly well surfaced, is infinitely twisty, left, right, left again in and endless series of corners as it rose and dropped again. At Coromandel Town, we did not drive in, but climbed high above the town.

The view was spectacular and we could see the islands in the bay, the far shore and the tropical greenery dropping down to the blue water far below. I once worked with a Kiwi who, although born in Invercargill in the furthest south, spent his formative years in Coromandel. He claimed that it is the most beautiful place in the world and, while the jury might be out on that, it really is a wonderful sight.

We left Coromandel and rode around the tip of the coastline to the other side of the peninsula where we reached the tiny town of Kuaotunu. There, we had lunch at Luke’s Kitchen (20 Black Jack Road, Kūaotunu), which was yet another recommendation from Baz. It was quite crowded, perhaps because it was the only decent pub anywhere around and we had a short wait for a table. We both had Fish and Chips which was very well done. The proprietor (presumably “Luke”) was quite amazed that we were visiting from Prague !

After lunch we continued on our merry way down the east coast of the peninsular. This had a softer “profile” and the way south led through a seemingly endless recreation area full, due to it being the weekend, with day trippers and families. Much of this could have been any beach resort in any country anywhere. If you want to see the peninsula, the western, Coromandel, side is by far the superior !

As I have already said, the whole journey around the peninsula was winding and my hand was getting fairly stiff from operating what was a brand-new clutch. Nevertheless, when we reached Tairua and we had the opportunity to turn westwards towards home, I still went even further south. We rode to Waihi before going west, in order to see the peninsula in its entirety.

For that reason, it was quite late when we finally arrived back to Auckland. After a few misunderstandings, principally caused by fatigue on my part – and a failure (again by me) to recognise our own street when I saw it, we had only a few minutes to refresh ourselves before we set off for the Auckland Sky Tower. We managed to park right next door, just like the day before, but wasted valuable time with a seeming inability to lock our helmets. Thanks to that we almost missed the last elevator. The previous evening we had been told that the last elevator would go up at eight. We rushed in at 19:35 and, right behind us, they pulled across a tape and closed the hallway. Even then, the cashier still tried to deter us from making the ascent, telling us there was a large group of young people upstairs and there was such chaos that we would not have much time on the highest floor, which closed at 19:45. The fact that they would not leave us there until sunset, as promised by the Loonie, was obvious. Some of the queue gave up after being given this information, but we dare not postpone it for an uncertain evening immediately before our final departure from New Zealand.

We had already worked out that, even though I AM a pensioner, it would be cheaper to get the two adult tickets as the discount for that was greater, Maybe Lucie looked really tired, I cannot (or dare not) say, but the lady on the till charged us both as pensioners and did the Sky Tower out of NZ$4 ! I was about (for the sake of Lucie’s honour, you understand !) to point out this error but she looked me in the eye and said, significantly and strongly in Czech, “Don’t !“. So I did not.

We shot up in the lift – and I do mean shot – to the lower viewing floor. We deftly weaved our way through the milling teenagers (wisdom and guile really do beat youth, strength and a general unawareness of what is happening around you) and managed to get into what was probably the last lift of the day to the upper viewing floor. The view from the 61st floor of Sky Tower was much better than either of the two similar experiences we had in Sydney and Melbourne – and we did have enough time for it. This was mainly because, it took quite a long time for the unfortunate attendants to herd all the teenagers to the lift.

After a quick look around the lower floor (same views – but nearer the ground) we descended to the street, having ticked another box.

We wanted to go to the harbour, which we had passed several times, in the hope that we could find a normal restaurant. The previous evening had taught us that there was no point in looking for one of those somewhere in the centre.

Because we did not know where we were going, the SatNav was no use – so I had to rely on dead reckoning. Dead was an accurate description because, hindered by tiredness and the fact that so many streets in the centre are one (and,usually, the wrong) way, our disorientation led us astray. In the end, we did find the port, but arrived there one pier further along than we had intended.

This was actually lucky as we quickly found a nice place for dinner. Good Luck Coconut (39 Jellicoe Street, Auckland CBD), got the prize.

We very much enjoyed two smallish, but satisfying, meals of fried shrimp and shrimp dumplings.

Even the alcohol free beer was a Japanese Asahi instead of, what seemed to be, the “normal” Heineken 0. Lucie said it was the best food she had eaten, up to that point, in New Zealand.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped briefly at a lookout point to photograph the night time skyline and then drove home.

We were both asleep in about ten seconds.