I joined a motley crew of walkers to head up the Coromandel Peninsula to talk the Coastal Walk from Stony Bay to Fletcher Bay.
Our driver and guide, Gavin from Coromandel Discovery ensured that the two hour drive from Coromandel Town to the start of the walk was far from ‘just a drive’.
As the minibus headed up the gravel roads he told us about the history of the area and some of the challenges in keeping these roads open. Land slips can can affect the roads high up the hillsides as well as those closer to the water – they also have to contend with erosion from the stormy seas.
After the rain, these narrow twisty roads are often closed.
Hire cars often are not insured for the roads beyond Colville making a tour a good way to do this walk.
Gavin’s commentary was also highly entertaining as he commented on the power of positive thinking in the creation of the New Zealand Gold Company though no gold had yet been found in the Coromandel Peninsula.
They announced a reward for the first find and the first claimant discovered that he hadn’t read the fine print about it having to be a commercially viable find.
His other error was being recently off a boat from Tasmania and being open to accusations of bringing the gold over in his pockets.
Leaving town, the minibus drove up the steep winding hills through the forest. Seeing the giant tree ferns is like passing through Jurassic Park.
This forest is what has returned since logging and clearing ended 100-150 years ago.
The Coromandel Peninsula was originally covered in huge trees. Excellent logging material, the British decided and if the forests are cleared the land could be used for farming.
The forests were cleared and without the trees to protect the land from erosion, the top soil was washed off the mountains into the sea.
Kauri trees take 600 years to mature. The tree ferns are coming through but this is a young forest.
At several points along the drive we passed brightly coloured bee hives. The manuka season is coming to an end and the keepers will soon be out to collect the honey before the bees start gathering pollen and nectar from other flowers, diluting the manuka honey.
The road took us down to Kennedy Bay which was named for a local timber merchant, John Kennedy.
He made a substantial profit and, deciding his money would be better in a bank, he set sail to arrange this. Unfortunately, his wealth was noticed by the sailors and he was robbed, murdered and his body thrown over board.
The Bay which bears his name remains a peaceful spot, without a hint of such a violent story.
From the beach you can see Great Mercury Island, named by Captain Cook as a result of it being the nearest island when he observed the transit of Mercury.
Further stops included…
We also stopped at an observation point to look out over the Port Charles Kiwi Sanctuary.
At the observation deck, Gavin told us about some of the methods being used to protect kiwis (the birds, not the New Zealanders) who are an endangered species.
One aspect is protecting them from dogs used for hunting. Once a year, the dogs have to undergo avoidance treatment (rather like an aversion therapy).
The dogs are confronted with a stuffed kiwi. If they ignore it, fine. If they don’t, the collar on their neck is triggered to give them a small electric shock.
The possums are the other aspect and a major problem – not only for the kiwis and other native wild animals but also for the trees and plants.
How to eradicate them – they were introduced from Australia – is a source of controversy. Trapping is used but so is poison.
Gavin said we’d probably notice Ban 1080 (the poison used) stickers in cars as the campaign against the poison has a lot of supporters on the Peninsula.
The observation point had been vandalised as a protest at the Sanctuary’s use of poison.
We left and it was time for a coffee stop and we called in at the Tangiaro Kiwi Retreat. It’s a beautiful building surrounded by stunning countryside and I can highly recommend the banana bread.
Now… it was time for the hike.
Starting at Stony Bay, we set off in glorious sunshine to follow the 10km Coromandel Coastal Walkway.
The trail is clearly marked and almost as soon as you leave the sheltered bay, you’re walking uphill through beautiful green forest.
The path levelled out and the walk through the forest continued to feature the fern trees which, Gavin had explained earlier to us, are a key feature in Maori traditional art. Silver ferns are prevalent design.
After an hour’s walk, we reached the turn off for the lookout point which was only a five minute walk off the track. We climbed the slope, yes another one, and were greeted with possibly the best picnic view on the planet.
Sandwiches eaten, we rejoined the trail through the forest, glad of the shade and continued walking.
Another steep climb, this time DOWN to the rocky Poley Bay but the track that goes down is inevitably going to go up again… and it did, with a vengeance (though not Tongariro Crossing style).
Once we reached the top of the zigzagging path, it led us across fields and the change from the forest to what looked like a path through the English Lake District was remarkable – it was like walking into another country.
A further 1.5hours later and we met up with Gavin at Fletcher Bay.
Did we want to do the extension walk to Port Jackson? Reader, we definitely did.
By the time we reached the seashore at Port Jackson, we were hot and sticky so the obvious solution was to finish the final stretch barefoot walking through the sea to the picnic tables…
…where Gavin was waiting for us with cups of tea, chocolate brownies and Anzac biscuits.
From here it was another two hour drive back to Coromandel Town and Gavin continued the commentary on the way back to town, more stories about the area and its history and taking us past the stunning pohutukawa trees which are just starting to turn red in time for Christmas.
These are old trees and this was another glance at what New Zealand would have looked like when Captain Cook first arrived here.
Scientists took samples to test the age of this tree… it’s a thousand years old.
These trees survived the voracious logging because of their gnarled and twisted trunks. They seem to be practically indestructible – cut one down and they just keep growing. However, the timber isn’t very strong so they survived the cull.
This was a superb day’s walking. The weather was kind to us and the route covers some of the most beautiful land and seascape that I’ve ever seen.
With a knowledgeable and entertaining guide making the long drive up (and back) to the Walkway highly enjoyable, this was great value at 140 NZD for a full day out.
Reminder: Tour with Coromandel Discovery