Saturday, February 23, 2008

Exploring the Coromandel Peninsula

The Coromandel is about 125 miles southeast of Auckland. It is a rugged mountainous peninsula pointing towards Auckland with beautiful beaches, twisty roads, and wonderful varied forests and trees. While in New Zealand we have been amazed at the variety of trees, bushes, ferns and palms. It makes you want to know a lot more about botany. As you leave the north-south highway 1 and head towards the base city of Thames, you cross rolling agricultural farming and herding. At Thames, which is the gateway onto the peninsula the wilds begin.

Up the west side there is a wonderful road which winds along the many bays of the Firth of Thames. I thought it was very quaint of them to name one of the bays, the “Small Vehicle Bay.” When we came across a couple more of these, I finally figured out that these were places to pull over and let faster vehicles pass. Language is a wonderful thing. Towards the top of the peninsula is Coromandel Town (}, which is a cute village with crafts, arts, and cafes’. The cafĂ©’s were featuring their locally grown mussels and oysters, and we enjoyed an excellent lunch at the Pepper Tree Restaurant & Bar. I don’t always agree with the assessments of Frommer, but he did say this was the best food in town and he got it right.

We then crossed through a rugged pass with spectacular views and proceeded down the east side of the peninsula through Whitianga and Pauanui and then back to Auckland. The motorway into Auckland was like driving Interstate 5 in the evening rush. Obviously Auckland is becoming a very big cosmopolitan city.

For our final full day in Auckland, we rode the free bus to the University of Auckland and explored the campus. I have a “thing” about buying logo apparel only when I have actually visited a university, which I love to do. I now have a very nice University of Auckland t-shirt. We then went on the bus to explore Skycity and the Sky Tower. Amongst several hotels there they have a full casino (Don’t they seem to look all the same the world over?) and of course the entry to the Sky Jump, the Sky Walk and the Sky Tower itself. For a fleeting moment we contemplated paying the $25 each to go up in the tower, and then decided once you had been up in Space Needle, the Sears Tower, and Empire State Building you really did not need to do it again.

Because of the good weather in the Southern Hemisphere this time of year, it seems all of the world’s cruise ships have been in port. Previously, I mentioned the Queen Victoria, but yesterday we spotted the Sun Princess, and today at the end of Albert Street was the Queen Elizabeth II on its final voyage before retirement this year. Two other smaller ships of unknown name have also been hanging around.

Quirky Driving Note: As we have been driving the rural roads (now over 1000 kilometers) we have seen a lot of little varmints who have met their maker on the highways. I saw a t-shirt in a souvenir store which explained what kind of animal they were: Possums-New Zealand’s Little Speed Bumps.

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