When choosing where to go next following Rotorua, we had hoped to catch a bus straight to the Coromandel Peninsula, only a 4/5hr drive north. However, the only bus our company offered between the two areas required leaving Rotorua at 3am, reaching Auckland (not the way to CP) early morning and then catching another bus to the east coast. Having had enough of difficult bus journeys, we looked at alternatives and found the town of Tauranga roughly halfway between Rotorua and Coromandel. A stroke of luck meant I found a beautiful, cosy boutique hotel in the town centre for almost half its usual cost on Booking.com and we decided to have a mini luxury break for a day there. We left Rotorua early evening and arrived not long after in Tauranga. The hotel was stunning, a refurbished and renovated 19th century house by the bay in a quiet neighbourhood, which provided us with a electrically heated Queensize bed and little ensuite.
We slept extremely well that night and woke to a fantastic breakfast spread in the dining room by the family who runs it. We spent the morning dozing in our room and lazily running through a few bits of admin, before taking a short walk through the town. One shop owner insisted we go to Mt Manganui, as she suggested it was the most beautiful part of Manganui, but for one day we were not tourists, we were on a quiet, happy break. Perhaps another time! So we circled back to the hotel and spent the afternoon reading books and having tea and biscuits in the cosy sitting room.
In the evening we went to the local thai restaurant and reminisced about all the delicious thai food we missed so much from our first month travelling, which seems so long ago now! Another heavenly night in our huge, soft bed and we were up early again to catch our next bus to the Coromandel peninsula!!!
We chose Whitianga as our base town to explore this area, a quaint and very friendly town by the sea which connects to two famous places for both tourists and locals: Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove. On our first full day, however, both feeling a little drained for some reason, we stocked up on food, napped, and played pool on the hostel’s pool table. The next day, we were ready to see the beach and cove!
We had been told by our bus driver, hostel owner and a local shop keeper that the best way to visit these places was to scrap the shuttle and rental car idea and just to hitchhike, as it saved a lot of money and you were guaranteed to be picked up by the very friendly locals – everyone round here did it and it was so easy. So, with low tide ending at Hot Water Beach at 10am, we left the hostel at 7:30am to catch the ferry over and start hitchhiking. On the other side we stuck our thumbs out and began walking along the road side, lifting our arms whenever we heard a car coming. After an hour of walking and ten or so cars driving past, we thought maybe we were doing this hitchhiking thing wrong… but how else should we be doing it? After two hours of walking, we were worrying about how we looked – did we look dangerous, or smelly, and that’s why everyone just drove by? After three hours, we though maybe all locals had stayed inside for the bank holiday occurring that day and the tourists driving by us didn’t know the local tradition of picking up hikers. After four hours, I was fed up, and we had walked ourselves all the way to Hot Water Beach, sans lift. A couple finally stopped for us and drove us the last 3km to the beach, having seen us walking three hours previously as they drove the other way. We were grateful; I had blisters, Blake was hungry, and we had missed low tide by two hours, plonking ourselves on the sand at 12pm rather than 9am as we had hoped. We were too late to dig a hole in the sand and see it fill up with naturally hot water from underneath, but it was heaven to sit on the beach in the sun and watch the waves crash towards us, rather than still be trekking along roads and past fields.
After a short break I suggested we move on, in case no one picked us up again and we had to walk the two hours to Cathedral Cove. Blake insisted we stop for a newspaper of chips and an ice cream and I pretended we might see our hostel again before the end of the day. Walking once again back to the main road, and this time we were lucky! A couple stopped for us, and though not going in our direction, they drove us a short way to the intersection. Here, again, we were miraculously picked up after only a few hundred metres by another couple, who drove us all the way to Cathedral Cove – a drive of 15 minutes that would have taken us 1.5 hours otherwise to walk. I was giddy with gratitude, and torn between wondering why people would pick us up, and why they wouldn’t. I was also reevaluating my rehearsed speech to the hostel owner about “guaranteed” lifts in this area. Our third kind couple dropped us off and we hiked 45 minutes to the cove, following a coastal path up and down until some wooden steps led to a secluded beach and this wonderful consequence of wave erosion.
It was a bank holiday in NZ and lots of locals, as well as tourists, were making the most of this beautiful little beach with its waterfall and crashing waves. I finally relaxed and let myself sunbathe for a bit, as even if we had to walk all the way back to the ferry, maps.me promised it would only take four hours, and that was before the last ferry of the night.
Another 45 minute hike back to the top, and we began our walk/hitch-hike home. We walked for an hour, enjoying the attention of the cows – every herd we had passed today had stared at the two weirdos walking along the road and followed us for as long as they could. After about an hour of no luck hailing a car, another lovely couple stopped for us, and actually went out of their way to drop us off at the ferry landing, a 20 minute drive. It was great getting to talk to New Zealanders all four times we got a lift and I couldn’t believe their generosity and kindness in stopping to help two strangers. Because of them, we got back at 4pm, rather than 6:30pm (or even later), and even though I don’t ever think I will hitchhike again, I am so glad I got to try it and see just how kind people can be. Out of over 100 cars that passed us, 4 stopped, so it may not have been extremely successful (or as easy as we were lead to believe), but it was great fun and I have huge respect for anyone either hitching or picking up hikers. For the next two days we haven’t been able to walk properly without applying liberal amounts of tigerbalm all over our legs, but we have a great story to tell and a license to be lazy for a few more days!