Day one: Getting there
By Friday, 19th May I had 15 club members on my list for the 3 day weekend. We would be arriving at our destination at different times but all intended to be at the Long Bay Motor Camp in time for happy hour on Friday. To my surprise, with one exception, this indeed happened. Unfortunately, the Newcomb’s vehicle, perhaps dreading the hilly, narrow and winding Coromandel roads, chose the preceding week to suffer an attack of the vapours and refused to tow their caravan anywhere, so they had to stay home.
Situated a few kms up the Tapu-Coroglen road, the Rapaura Water Gardens at Tapu featured 64 acres of regenerating bush and farmland. They were purchased in the early 1960’s by Fritz and Josephine Loennig with the vision of creating a unique garden, believing that ‘The best Garden is a well-kept wilderness’. In keeping with that vision, the present owner, Sally Sank, has continued to develop a garden that attracts visitors from around the world. Quirky water features and sculptures, interspersed with native bush and an extensive collection of rare and unusual plants combine to provide a visual feast. And all the time, the sound of running water everywhere.
Because we are trampers, a walk up to a small waterfall at the back of the garden was essential to end our visit. This modest exercise worked up an appetite, and the garden cafe being closed for the winter, we continued on to the ‘Mussel Kitchen’ at Coromandel, highly recommended by Steve. After eating far too much (the mussel fritters were delicious) we pushed on to the Long Bay Motor Camp, and checked in. As befitting a leader of the club’s weekend’s activities, I’d bagged the only self contained cabin, but our smugness was short lived when we discovered that the term ‘Self Contained’ is open to interpretation, and our kitchen, at the far end of an open deck, required full wet weather gear if it was raining just make a cuppa. Not only that, we also had to cart everything to the far end of the camp in order join the others for happy hour and combined meals. Tasteless jokes from the proletariat about honeymoon suites etc we chose to ignore.
After settling in, it being far too early for a respectable happy hour, I suggested a short stroll along the Kauri Track behind the camp. The proposal was greeted favourably, possibly because I’d omitted to mention the wee hill climb involved. However everyone managed the 45 minute walk, and if there were any grumbles I didn’t hear them – I’d forgotten to put in my hearing aid. Anyway, the kauri grove was worth seeing, with some being quite large and there was one monster. All were impressed, and in fact Muriel was quite overcome, and embraced a modest sized trunk in a hug.
Steve and Marie kindly made their cabin available for happy hour and our meal, and all 13 of us managed to cram in. As always, Katikati Tramping Club pot luck meals are a wonder to behold, and the many and varied dishes were more than enough to keep everyone quiet for a while.
Day two: Waiau Kauri grove, Waiau Falls and the waterworks
On our only full day, grey skies and wind were good persuasion to stay in the shelter of the Wairau Valley. Route 309 is known for its diverse attractions, and sure enough the day began entertainingly as we drove past patchy grass, gorse and rusty metal where motley pigs roamed across the road and battered signs saying ‘Pig crossing’ and ‘Feed the pigs’.
Waiau Kauri Grove, administered by DOC, entailed a short walk of 500m along the old coach road that crossed the pensinsula. A gap in the bush revealed giant Kauri specimens in the middle distance standing in the sun, as they had for perhaps the past six hundred years. Something as spiritual as cathedral spires caused us to linger long. Following the track and board walk to the trees themselves and beyond to a fused twin Kauri, we read that Kauri are hardy enough to grow on ridges in their own slow time, but not in protected valleys where fast-growing plants crowd them out. We also learned that these particular giants were spared the axe as being of no interest to mine owners, but that in WWII the government intended contributing them to the war effort, provoking passionate response from the local people, which was speedily backed by people all over the country. Spared for posterity, let’s hope they escape the die-back now creeping into the Coromandel. DOC had certainly provided brushes, a spray hose and spongy foot baths at the track entrance.
Only a minute’s drive away, the Waiau Falls were a charming sight, swollen by rain and falling six metres into a large pool. Here a couple was busy reeling in an eel which they stuffed into a bag, pleased with their success having only just arrived themselves. As we left they prepared to cast for another catch to complete their outing.
Mid morning saw us descend on Waterworks for coffee, entertainment and a peppering of wisdom along the way. Those of us new to the theme park were intrigued by the technical ingenuity behind the contraptions that were powered in so many ways by water. Bursts of laughter marked groups sauntering round the grounds directing water spouts, initiating water fights and sounding watery musical pipes. There were jokes at every turn; we peddalled a bike which made the merry-go-round spin, zoomed down the flying fox and ‘peeked inside’ the door on the ‘weirdo’ and his newspaper in the dunny…
The child in everyone had fun, such that a couple of our staid members had to be almost dragged away from racing toy ducks down the water race, otherwise we might never have got away.
Back at Long Bay the sun appeared, turning the sea silver and prompting a walk in the late afternoon through the ‘Kauri Block’ above Coromandel town. A car-swap allowed for a forty five minute walk to a pa with a view, climbing through pines and scrub where six hundred young Kauri had been planted on steep slopes and dedicated to those lost in the Christchurch earthquakes. Along the way there were many vermin traps of note, decorated and signed by children, including a box bearing the ferocious words ‘Angry Kiwi’. That evening saw Steve and Marie host another gathering around the considerable leftovers from the pot luck dinner.
Day three: Matamataharakeke Loop Walk
“Ummm … where exactly are we?” I asked. Peter produced his topo map printout and showed us that we were at the DoC camp at Waikawau Bay, about an hour’s drive from our base at Long Bay. The morning was bright and sunny, although with a chilly breeze which had us keen to get moving and warm ourselves through.
We began up a good, well-maintained track with a lot of gradual climbing. There were some steeper bits however, which had a few puffing and needing a bit of a rest at the top. The bush is still regenerating but growth was quite lush. Lunch time saw us on the top with stunning views out to Great Barrier and Great Mercury Islands, but we had to rug up a bit to ward off the very cool breeze.
The walk down (well it’s never quite all downhill) was via a different route which looped round and to fairly close to our start point. The homeward track was a bit steeper in parts and rather slippery, although the surface was pretty dry. Then it was back through the “customs post” to clean our boots – this elaborate structure had scrapers and brushes as well as a walk-through pad containing some sort of solution to assist visitors prevent the spread of Kauri dieback.
This track has a special significance for Peter and his wife Helen; the track that we followed along the Matamataharakeke stream and up to the open tops is the first part of the ‘Kauri Run’, an annual 32km race from Waikawau Bay to Coromandel town, run by Adventure Racing Coromandel (ARC). At age 62 Peter competed in the 2004 inaugural event and the following three, before the consequences of running over one too many hills forced a reluctant retirement from adventure racing. Helen also did the race as a walker one year, ending up as Peter’s support crew when things didn’t go so well for him.
A feature of this race has been the planting of a Kauri for each competitor along the course every year. 13 years later, Peter was delighted to see the young Kauri saplings doing well; a testament to ARC’s vision. They intend to plant another 10,000 trees over the next ten years and to create an avenue of Kauri all the way from Waikawau Bay to Coromandel.
This article is an excerpt from the full trip report from the Katikati Tramping Club, the report was written by three of the trip members; Peter Lee-Johnson, Maddy Pyle and Laraine Huges. Photos were all taken by Peter Lee-Johnson.