Last year we visited the west coast of the Coromandel; we recently spent three days along the east coast. We left Waiheke Friday morning on the 9:00 ferry and drove south along State Highway 1, connecting to the main road to the Coromandel (SH2). This part of SH2 is infamous for its many bad road accidents. People say it’s the road design, but it doesn’t seem any worse than Route 3A in Cohasset. After turning onto SH25, we pass the flat, open Hauraki Plains, known for its wonderful birding, and turn onto SH25A to cross the Coromandel Range. By early afternoon, we pass Pauanui, a sleepy holiday town, and stop at Tairua for a picnic lunch. Continuing north along the coast road (back again to SH25), we enjoy wonderful views of the Aldermen Islands offshore and, at this time of year, not much traffic. Mercury Bay and the town of Whitianga is our destination. We had two campground options for the night, neither very good, but we chose the quieter spot out near the beach. The campground kitchen was poorly equipped and none too clean so we went back into Whitianga and found a good “red sauce” Italian restaurant.
At least, the campground was quiet at night and blessedly dark (no bright-as-day security lights here). We planned to make an early start, but the camp’s owner wanted to meet Sam and then there was a very talkative fellow camper from Germany. We finally got away, and after a stop at the Mill Kitchen for sandwiches, continued north along the coast road. The drive was beautiful and we wound our way over Black Jack Road to the spectacular beaches at Otama and Opito Bay. It’s now early fall in New Zealand and these tiny coastal hamlets are nearly deserted. Fall it may be but it’s still warm enough for swimming.
After spending the day exploring the beaches, we drove across the Coromandel Range again, heading to the west coast and our planned campground stop for the night. The road through the mountains (SH25) has been paved only within the past few years and the drive takes an hour or so. That’s if you don’t stop along the way to enjoy the views and take photos.
The road along the west coast hugs the shore and goes through several small towns. We were heading to the Tapu Motor Camp, as it was listed as dog-friendly and located right on the beach. As the camp came into view, Steve and I both gasped in horror. It was a classic old-style campground with caravans, boats, trailers, campervans, tents and all manner of shacks squashed onto a relatively small site. What’s more, it was right next to the very busy main roadway.
The talkative camper back at Whitianga had told us about another campground called Tapu Creek which was supposed to be nearby and we saw a sign for it saying it was only 2 kilometers inland. What did we have to lose? Off we went in search of Tapu Creek. The road quickly became quiet as it ran through areas of dense bush and along the valley floor. We found the campground and were greeted by the owner. He said park anywhere, of course dogs were welcome and pay him whenever we got around to it. Tapu Creek Campground is small but beautiful. It is located along Tapu Creek with open fields on one side and towering native trees on the other. The only sounds were bird song and the creek. It is a magical location.
One small problem was that Tapu Creek was a little short on amenities like a camp kitchen. The time had come to use the stove in the Bongo. We tried it when we bought the camper and had the gas canister filled, but we had never cooked with it, usually choosing to use campground kitchens instead. Luckily we had some basic provisions and we cobbled together a dinner of burritos filled with refried beans (no-fat version of course), avocado and cheese with salsa. What’s more we had a supply of tiny bottles of Passage Rock’s good red wine. Of course we had cookies and tea as well. (Some things you’ve just got to keep stocked.)
We spent a wonderfully quiet (and dark) night, waking at dawn to the sounds of Pukeko foraging along the stream. Sam took exception to the birds being so close to the Bongo. Our bird book describes the Pukeko’s call as a “loud unmusical screech”. Poor Sam, just doing her job and now tied to the Bongo. Our little stove worked great for coffee and we shared a single scone and some fruit. We were running low on food, but we planned to make it to the Clevedon Café in time for brunch.