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Friday, August 5, 2016

Return to New Zealand - The Coromandel Peninsula

Friday June 3, 2016

It's been exactly a decade since I last visited New Zealand.  I was a young student, freshly 21, doing my uni exchange in Brisbane, Australia.  My friend and I decide to fuck off for the Easter holiday and adventure throughout this land riddled in vibrant green hills, sheep and the occasional hobbit.  The trip stuck with me, ten years and 30+ countries later as one of the best trips of my life.

Quite the tale to live up to as I touched down in Auckland late on a Friday.  Exhausted I tumbled into bed eager to begin my short but action-packed camper van trip for the three day holiday weekend.

Saturday June 4, 2016

Saturday dawned sunny yet autumn crisp - soccer weather as I like to call it.  Starting out early to seize the day, we went to pick up our Spaceship.  Fully equipped with stove, bed, and 24 roadside assistance we could travel to the Moon!  The staff was extra friendly and the rental lobby even had an old school Space Invaders arcade game (extra points!)

We hit the road 86.9% sure of our destination....East-ish.  Within 30-45 minutes we'd left the quiet streets of Auckland and found ourselves driving the Coromandel coastline.  I can only describe it as driving along the edge of the world an unperturbed, mirrored ocean hugging the left of the tiny road that snaked along the beach.  Only thing better than driving a Spaceship would be high speed on a motorbike.

I was looking to get "chocolate wasted" by the time we reached Coromandel Town.  The bartender at the edge of town promised me blended ice cream just before the park.  A tiny gas station proved her right - a milkshake station near the back.

We took in the sunset sipping strawberries and vanilla which only whetted our growing appetite...and my mild lactose intolerance so we hopped back in the Spaceship.

Thank God for rear-view mirrors or we would've missed the stunning colors laying the coastline to rest as we crested the massive hills on our way to Kuaotunu. I wish my camera could've done it an ounce of justice but at least the view seared itself into my brain to mull over weeks later.

By the time we pulled up to Luke's Kitchen I could've eaten 1737845 pizzas but we settled for one.  I sated the rest of my hunger on live jazz and New Zealand craft beer.

The rules dictated we stay in a regulated campground for the night but our adventurer spirit could not be contained.  Into the darkness, we snuck our way to Otama and parked on a little hill overlooking a hidden beach.  Turns out the Milky Way is fucking bright!  Laying in the grass, staring up at the stars, it felt like the endless sky would eat you up.  A shooting stars competition ensued until the red wine put an end to consciousness.

Sunday June 5, 2016

No better way to start the day then running down at empty beach in American flag leggings...until you hit quicksand.

And no better way to shed the muddy sand then a freezing dip in the ocean.  Damn it was cold!!!  But what a way to work up your morning appetite.

The Spaceship was just as excited for the next leg of the trip, it's incessant beeping begging for the key to engage the engine.  We filled our bellies on cappuccinos and muffins and began our slow descent down the East coast of the Coromandel towards infamous Hot Water Beach.

Distraction caused us to stop at practically every beach along the way including one where I attempted to jump a sewage gutter only to lad right in the middle of it.

As a quick catchup for those who've never been, HWB is a beach (yes duh) that has natural hot springs under the sand.  During low tide you can shovel the sand away, creating man-made spas that you can lie around in.  It's mad!

We arrived shovel in hand (don't worry you can rent them there) and I passionately strode out to the center of the spa cluster.  Turns out Hot Water Beach isn't fucking around.  There is a reason the center had been left.  In a hot second (sorry too easy) the soles of my feet felt like they were burning off.  I bee-lined my way to the ocean and could've sworn I heard my toes sizzle as the cold water chilled my feet.

Wary, my second approach was much more calculated but in the meantime my travel partner had already cozied up to a bunch of foreigners and stolen half their spa.  Works for me! I'm shit at shoveling anyway! Man it was relaxing.  I wish we'd gotten later just a liiittle bit earlier.  By 2:30pm the ocean was nosing the edge of the spa, the sand slowly crumbling away as cold and hot water mixed.

In spa-coma (that's a thing right?) we zombied our way to Hahei for a burger and beers at Pour House.  Man their chips are tasty and they have an outdoor fire pit!  We didn't have much time to laze about because we wanted to get to Cathedral Cove in time for sunset.

Cathedral Cove is one of the most photographed places in all of New Zealand, all the more reason you don't want to see it in the dark.  So when we realized it's a FORTY FIVE MINUTE TREK from the car park we realized it was time to put our running shoes on.  Bad news is... I'd left mine in the car and instead was rocking UGGS.  UGH.

I don't think anyone has made as much noise running as I did that day... Flop flop flop flop.  I must have looked like such an idiot.  Not to mention the 388506 layers of clothing I kept shedding and stuffing in my too-small purse.

But man, was it worth it.  Wow.  You descend a staircase of wooden steps onto a small beach.  As you round the corner you see a huge hole in the rocks in front of you like the arched entry of a giant cathedral.  As you walk through the world around you darkens as the rock blocks the sun.  Once on the other side you edge between the rock and the incoming tide onto a thin stretch of beach.

It's a hidden world.  My favorite part was this massive rock towering out of the water like Thor's hammer thrown to Earth.  The water had eaten away at the base so it looked as if it was floating.  It was my favorite place on the trip.  I think I have about 838595 photos from the same angle.  Pretty sure I had to be dragged out of there before the tide engulfed the beach.

Still in awe, the ride to Pananaui was quiet, each of us pondering the impact nature can have.  I'd forgotten how inviting New Zealand's landscape can be.

Ignoring "no camping here" once again we pulled into a random parking lot shielded from view near the pier in Pananaui.  This town reminded me of one of those little ski communities in where everyone from a town retreats to their remote holiday home only to have their same neighbors own the one next door.

We smashed some beers and much needed steaks at the random little village restaurant and then wandered the beach finishing off a bottle of red.  At one point we walked down the pier which was covered in a low lying fog. I shivered as thoughts of men in raincoats with hooks for hands traced cold dread down my spine.  We retreated to the cozy warmth of the Spaceship.

Monday June 6, 2016

Wine sure makes for a late morning and a painful headache.  Luckily a chilly sea water bath washed some of the hangover away.  We'd wandered fairly far from Auckland and wanted to be back for dinner so we only had time for a quick stop in Whangamata for a casual beach stroll and a meat pie.

The red eye back to Sydney should've been filled with sleep but I couldn't stop the beautiful imagery of northern New Zealand playing like an old movie across my eyelids.  What a magical place...I totally see what Peter Jackson saw in it.  It truly is from another world.  I can't wait to go back.

Making sand
The whale and mermaid - I'm not a whale!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Sailing the Whitsundays in Australia

I've been to Australia four times in my life (and now live here) and the Whitsundays have always evaded me.  So when my two friends came to visit me and suggested a sailing trip I jumped at the chance.  It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited.  Here are the highlights and tips for your trip!

First off, you must SAIL the Whitsundays.  Think of Airlie Beach as a one day stopover on your way to the ocean.

Here are the most main things to know in planning:

  • The majority of boats are 2D/2N.
  • The largest number of them are Thursday to Saturday so plan for that if you want the most options.  The party boats especially fall into this timeframe. 
  • The boats leave as early as noon so plan to come in the night before your boat departs just to be safe.  
  • The boats usually come back around noon as well so you could fly out that night but it's tradition for your crew so all go out and party together in Airlie Beach so you might want to consider staying the night.
  • Make sure to print out the confirmation email and bring with you to check-in for your boat.
  • I booked through Sailing Whitsundays.  They had impeccable service and a great web chat option for those trying to book from overseas.  They also arranged airport transport for me.
  • We went on Wings.  It was a VERY nice catamaran with plenty of room.  It was clean, the staff was awesome and the food was delicious.  They definitely keep you fed.  It is primarily a snorkeling boat though not a party boat.  If you are looking for a party boat you will sacrifice cleanliness and space. Totally up to you.  The Atlantic Clipper seemed to be the party boat everyone talked about.  

  •  You can only bring a tiny squishy bag so be prepared.  All the rest of your stuff I suggest checking at the place you booked the boat.
  • Can't bring glass on the boat and it is BYOB so make sure you have time to stop at the bottle shop to get liquor.  There is ice on the boat but it doesn't keep things very cold so be aware.
  • Nomads Airlie Beach - For a night or two this place was great value, clean, safe, etc.  It's on the main strip close enough to the action but far enough on the end to retreat from the party.  I was there during low season so wasn't really an issue.  If you have the option try and stay in a 6 or 8-man room near the pool.
  • They don't have lockers in the rooms so bring the least amount of valuables possible although it seemed really safe.  We had great people in our room so you just have to read the situation for yourself.  You can always keep valuables at the front desk worse case.

Photo Credit:

Then once you arrive in Airlie Beach here are some suggestions/recommendations (you definitely don't need more than one full day in Airlie):

  • Beaches Backpackers bar has an awesome $15 special for a solid plate of delicious food (burgers, chicken curry, etc) and a beer.  Good atmosphere as well and gets pretty packed.

Photo Credit:

  • Beaches was good for a beer as well but starts to empty eventually.
  • Mama Africa - I wasn't terribly impressed with the nightlife although again it was a Thursday night and the off season so maybe that had something to do with it.  The only place that was going off was this place with some great house and hip hop.  And they had jello shots.  Take me back to uni... I'm sold.

Photo Credit:
  • Phoenix bar was also really fun.  The music could be a little better but the crowd was having a ball which totally gets you in the mood to dance.  I'd hit this up and then go to Mama Africa late night.

Photo Credit: Phoenix Facebook page

  • Beachworx - I highly recommend.  It had great quality clothes for reasonable prices and a steal of a sales rack.  Everywhere else in Airlie is super cheap quality stuff that looks tacky.

And lastly... be prepared for some of the best snorkeling, diving and scenery of your life.  

 Airlie Beach Lagoon

 Airlie Beach Lagoon

 Walk to Abell Point Marina from downtown Airlie Beach

 Sailing Whitsundays