|Our destination is the coromandel penisular the last piece in our zigzag tour of the upper north island, it is the place the locals all rave about the don’t miss part, we had intially planned to go here just after christmas but were warned against this as the entire population of Auckland would probably be spending the christmas break here too. We are excited and as we have no tent to pack we are away early stocking up on fuel and food as we go.
We take the coastal back roads rather than the main road and arrive in Thames an old gold mining town at 11.30am. It has some old picturesque parts so we stop and have a look around and take some pictures, it’s almost a mix of colonial and wild west styles with most of the older buildings being made of wood. Stopping again at Waimou otherwise known as Gemstone beach Karen is disapointed to discover the tide is in, so there is not much to find.
Pressing on the road really hugs the coast and there is plenty of evidence of landslips and damage from the recent Cyclone Wilma which hit this area really hard closing roads and leaving people stranded for a few days. It’s a great biking road, windy and challenging to ride with sea views, the kind of road where the adrenalin starts pumping and you find yourself really getting into the ride. Care is needed however as most of it is narrow with lots of blind bends and you never know when a logging truck is going to appear around the corner. Snaking around the coast we arrive in Coromandel town at about 3.30pm, after a cruise around town we turn into the i site. The couple in front of us are booking places for Driving Creek Railway, we thought we would be too late today but it appears not so we decide to go for it as it is a beautiful day and the views will be good. Rhondda and a few others recomended this to us so we are keen to give it a go. It took Barry Brickell 26 years to build in total mostly on his own in the early days, it has taken on a life of it’s own in recent years and there are now several full time staff that help run it. Barry is a bit of a renaisance man, part artist part engineer, he has always been a railway enthusiast and he built the early stages to bring clay down from the hill to satisfy demand for his other passion pottery. Over the years the track got longer and climbed further up the hill until he decided to open it to the public for rides mainly to keep his bank manager off his back. It proved very popular and with a few more extensions grew into what it is today. The bank manager has long since been tamed and the railway is still very popular. Barry is a shy retiring man and generally flits from shed to shed and doesn’t get so involved with the public anymore. We parked the bike in the car park and Barry saw it, he really liked it so we were very fortunate that he sought us out and wanted to talk to us. He enthused about it and we were equally enthusiastic about his railway so we got on well, we even got a picture together.
The railway uses rails from old quarries and mines. All the bridges, tunnels, minature engines and carriages were built by Barry and his team. It’s an interesting route up the hill, the gradient is too steep for a train to climb in places so they have built a zig zag track up the hill with points at each intersection. The train halts at a seemingly dead end the points are thrown over and then we are off again sometimes fowards sometimes backwards. We pass through 3 or 4 tunnels each only just wide enough for the train and a couple of bridges one of which is a double decker which allows the trains to pass each other on different levels. There is one spectacular bridge to nowhere which runs out on stilts giving us the sensation we are floating in space and offering amazing views. The journey up is all through the bush in which Barry and his team have planted thousands of native Kauri trees to re introduce them. The originals were all cut down in the 1800′s to satisfy the demand for timber. At the top is the piece de resistance, Barry christened it the Eyefull tower and what a view it is. We have 15 mins at the top to savour it and then it’s all the way down again.
The station is a treat, deliciously higgledy piggledy (boy google translate is going to struggle with that) and looks like it has been there since the 1800′s. There is also a pottery display of Barry’s work and a bush walk we thoroughly enjoy all of it. There is only one problem it’s now 6pm and we need somewhere to stay, the campsites around Coromandel town are expensive as it’s touristy. The original plan was to head up to Fletcher’s Bay, this is at the very far tip and can only be accessed by a gravel road. Cooking dinner on the picnic tables in the car park of DCR we decide to go for it. We woefully underestimate how long its going to take due to stopping for numerous photos as the sun is setting on the bays and end up riding the last 20kms or so in the dark. We try not to do this but sometimes you just get caught out. We reach Fantail bay one of the lower Doc camps and decide to call it a night as we are both tired. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself up to this point having negotiated some rough roads and several fords in the dark. Karen said she was just about to congratulate me for my good riding right up to the point where I pullled into the campsite and stopped to decide where to pitch up. Unfortunately right where I stopped the camber fell away to the right slightly. Added to this my boot slipped on the loose gravel and over we went. Talk about how to make an entrance, fortunately a few other campers took pity on us and helped right everything and made sure we were okay. I then fired the bike up and rode the remaining 20 feet, gutting or what !
Next day we find them in the morning and say thank you, Karen has a nasty scrape and what will be a huge bruise on her calf and the roof has a small tear in the back but other than that only our pride is damaged. We decide to have an easy morning so we explore fantail bay and it’s surroundings I have a snorkel whilst Karen swims in the bay then we both have a quick cold shower back at the camp and we’re ready for lunch having worked up an appetite. After a salad lunch we ride up to Fletcher’s bay to have a look, it is a crescent shaped sandy bay surrounded by hills and is a nice spot so we spend an hour or two chilling on the beach under the shade of a Pohutakawa tree before riding back down the gravel track to our camp. Back at the campground we cook ourselves some dinner and then decide to try our luck fishing off the rocks. I bought a cheap kiddies telescopic rod a while ago as I fancied having a go as I haven’t fished since I was a kid. It ends in frustration and lots of lost tackle sadly as things get caught up in the rocks but heyho we tried and it kept us amused for an hour or two. We sleep soundly that night and next day head back down the gravel road to Coromandel town and civilisation again. On the way back we pass a Buddhist retreat with a shrine out the front, we walk round it three times clockwise like we used to in Mongolia, it’s kind of a ‘nod’ to the Buddhist gods who kept us safe through Asia. One of the people there see’s us and comes to say hello, he offers to take our picture next to the bike with the Temple in the background which we accept gratefully.
In the daylight we see more evidence of the damage caused by cyclone wilma, up here they just bulldozed all the trees and landslips to the side of the road. It’s a wild spot but it’s worth the ride it’s been a great few days.