I have a confession to make. I am starting to grow fond of my campervan. Despite my strong belief that nothing built by Toyota (4wds excepted) should ever elicit an emotional attachment, Hogan is doing his best to find a place in my heart. To be fair, Hogan is more than just a Toyota. Thanks to a comfortable, if simple, camper fit-out he has become my transient home of the last seven days. And despite his (predictable) shortcomings, he has also carried me reliably around New Zealand, serving as my ticket to travel wherever I please, doing so at my own convenience.
Leaving Matakohe on Saturday morning to head through Auckland to Thames, I was blissfully unaware of the difficulties I would encounter on my journey. Thanks to Friday night's heavy rain, many roads were closed due to either flooding of landslides, and many more were blocked in one direction. At Wellsford I discovered that SH1 was under about a metre of water at Dome Valley and I would have to take a longer route along SH16, which is also a slower and more twisty road to take. However, SH16 was not immune to the effects of extreme weather, and I soon found myself in a long queue of traffic. Flood waters had forced traffic down to only one direction, and with all traffic in and out of Auckland forced to take this route this provided the recipe for a long delay.
|Gridlock in the middle of nowhere|
After about twenty minutes of waiting, I was eventually able to proceed. From there I had a reasonably smooth run until just the other side of Auckland, where a sign instructed me that my route to Thames along SH2 was closed. Rather than take SH1 as advised (which would take me nowhere near Thames) I boldly turned down a side road and sought my own route. Thankfully, this was quite successful. The backroads in this area seemed surprisingly well maintained bitumen, and weren't much slower than if I'd taken my planned route, and I was able to make my way to Thames without any obstacles.
On Sunday I had planned to loop the Coromandel Peninsula, heading north from Thames, however due to landslides that had still not been cleared, I was forced to make alternative plans. Instead of heading around the Coromandel Peninsula I drove along SH25A, taking me across the base of the peninsula, and then headed north along the peninsula's west coast to Hot Water Beach. The journey took me along a mix of straight and windy highway, culminating with a glimpse of the ocean before arriving at Hot Water Beach, where a hot spring runs underneath the sand. It seemed that on Sunday, half of new Zealand and just as many foreigners had come here to dig themselves a hot pool in the sand. After briefly dipping (and scalding) my toes in the hot water, I retreated from the crowds to a cafe a short walk up the road where I was surprised to find the best coffee I have tasted so far in my travels.
I have always wanted to pick up a hitchhiker, and for some reason I feel safer doing so here than back home. So, when a spotted a lone hitchhiker on the main road near the turnoff to Hot Water Beach, I pulled over to see where he wanted to go. It turned out he wanted to go to Thames, in the hope that he could hitch on to Auckland from there. As I was planning to retrace my steps as far as Thames and then head south towards Rotorua, I offered him a ride. A young German farmer, my hitchhiker had spent thirteen weeks in New Zealand, and was about to return home via a visit to his brother in Australia. If nothing else, I was refreshing to have some conversation and company on my journey. He was about to head to Melbourne, and I was able to tell him of the relatively lively nightlife and bar scene in Melbourne that he had been missing while in NZ.
Having saved time from my planned journey around the Coromandel Peninsula, I needed to find something else to do for the afternoon on my way to Rotorua. I had read about the stunning scenery and remarkable mining history of Kharangahake Gorge, but thought I wouldn't have time to visit. Thanks to my changed plans I now had the time, am I am so glad I went, as what had been a bit of an afterthought turned out to be one of the highlights of my journey so far. However, much like Hot Water Beach, every New Zealander, traveller and their dog (ok, I only saw one dog) was here, and as a result parking was atrocious. After circling a few times, I decided to hover in the middle of the car park, ready to pounce on the first vacant spot. This soon paid off, except that the spot was a tight squeeze for Hogan's chubby figure. It was only thanks to a little skill, a lot of luck and some assistance from Hogan's reversing sensors that I squeezed into the spot. I was so proud, I even took a photo!
|This single lane road bridge at Kharangahake once carried trains on its upper level, now replaced by a pedestrian walkway leading to a long rail tunnel through the hill|
Kharangahake Gorge offers walks along both disused train lines and mining tramways, and gives access to some ruins of the substantial quartz mining infrastructure that once dominated the region, as well as the stunning natural beauty of the area.
From Kharangahake Gorge I headed to Rotorua, where I spent the last two nights. This section of the journey was unremarkable, except that after driving 85km with Hogan's fuel light on without passing a single fuel stop along the back roads I had been directed along I can both remind myself (and others) not to trust Google Maps for directions, and also be quite thankfully certain that Hogan's fuel guage is perfectly functioning and accurate.
After spending this afternoon sailing on Lake Taupo, I am now in Tongariro National Park, staying in the ski village of Whakapapa, from where I hope to do some walks surrounded by the eerily spectacular volcanic mountains in the park.
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