Saturday, June 11, I take the bus to go to Whitianga. My destination is located on the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, one of the largest peninsula in New Zealand and consists of covered reliefs of primary forests and hilly grasslands.
I leave Auckland at 7am, the sun barely risen, with Nakedbus, discount transport company. No complaints about the ride to Hamilton (two hours later), except that the person who is controlling the tickets is really not friendly. Half asleep, I see, scrolling through the windows of the bus, landscapes filled with green meadows bathed in the morning mist. I have the impression to dive into another world. Two hours later the bus drops me in Hamilton where I wait for 30 minutes for the next bus to take me to Whitianga.
A small shuttle of barely ten seats finally arrived and we meet Ritchie, our driver. Nice fellow, who is very friendly. The atmosphere is much more fun and everyone discusses. I met a young German woman sitting next to me and the shuttle leaves for three hours of road. Ritchie tells us lots of anecdotes (Hahei Beach (the hometown before Whitianga) is not called Hahei beach according to him but Ritchie’s beach and since he has no right to drink since he’s the driver, it is for r us to go and have a drink in his honor on the beach) and informs us of the things not to miss (Hokey Pokey ice cream, vanilla ice cream with pieces of caramel, almost a national symbol!). I sometimes have trouble understanding Ritchie but this is the opportunity to familiarize myself with the Kiwi accent.
Despite the beautiful scenery and the relaxed atmosphere, the 3-hour trip through the hills along the road that turns continuously eventually weigh on my stomach and it was with relief that I finally lands ashore in Whitianga, last stop of the journey.
Whitianga, pronounced Fitianga (the “wh” in the Maori alphabet is pronounced “f”, which is good to know because when someone say “Oh, you go to Fitianga” and you answer “Uh not I go to Whitianga, “it can cause confusion), is a small resort located in the Mercury Bay and the biggest town in the area (there is even a New World (a decent sized supermarket). Whitianga is also one of the places of Aotearoa (New Zealand) to have attracted many explorers, including Kupe, the first Maori explorer who named the place Whitianga o Kupe (“Kupe’s crossing place”) and explorers Tupaia and James Cook in 1769 that by observing in sky the passage of the planet Mercury gave its name to the bay.
I drop my stuff to my hostel and I go explore the village. Not much to see except the New World and the main street with a few shops but the beach and the bay with its small islands are magnificent. I take the ferry to cross the Whitianga Harbour and go to the other side to go for the stroll of 2 hours through the bush leading to Shakespeare Cliff. It is already 3pm and night fell in two hours, better not to drag! I make a small detour to see a “pa” (old Maori fortified village) at the end of a rocky outcrop. The trail is tiny and I have barely 1m of land before the cliffs on both sides. Better not slip. I continue my journey through the bush rising quite strongly to the assault of the hill to finally get to the top with as a reward a great view of the Whitianga Harbour.
The path continues quietly along the Maramaratotara bay and the Flaxmill bay. Apparently one can see there dolphins but they decided not to show today. I get on the Shakespeare cliff for a nice view of the sea but the time I got up there t’s already almost dark. I return to the ferry dock, the dusk with me. The lights of the town mingled with the pink colors of the sky make beautiful reflections on the bay.
In the land of Narnia
The next day, Ritchie picks me up at 6am (the only available time and which makes me miss the free breakfast at the hostel) to drop me 30min later into the night in Hahei. I have decided to go see Cathedral Cove, a natural arch linking the beach Mare’s Leg Cove to the Cathedral Cove beach and renowned for its beauty. Cathedral Cove has even served as a filming location in the beginning of Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.
I climb to the car park, twenty minutes later, awaiting for the sunrise. But the sky was a bit cloudy, so it was less impressive than expected but the first rays of sunshine on the cliffs are worth to be there. I then attack the ride on the trail that plunges through grasslands and rain forests (humid forests with lots of absolutely beautiful giants ferns).
45min later I arrive at Mare’s Leg Cove. A lot of people, despite the early hour had the same idea as me, which spoils the tranquility but does not take away the beauty. I turn my face and the ark faces me. Its Maori name is Te Whanganui A Hei ( “The large bay of Hei”). It is very impressive. I cross with the impression of stepping into another world (as in the Chronicles of Narnia) to go wandering on the beach of Cathedral Cove. Down the beach is Te Hoho (the “powerful” in Maori) which seems to watch for the tranquility of the place. I take breakfast on the beach and spend a long time to appreciate the beauty of the landscape. Alas, the clouds are becoming increasingly important and it is under an overcast sky that I take the way back. I go see Hahei beach (or Ritchie’s beach) where rain shortens my ideas for walks. Ritchie picks me up in early afternoon to get back to Whitianga where I spend a quiet afternoon at the inn watching the drops fall.