Camping in Port Jackson is beautiful, peaceful, picturesque, and terrifying. Oh wait…the terrifying part isn’t the camping. It’s the road to get there!
Located at the northern tip of the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand, Port Jackson is a somewhat isolated Department of Conservation (DOC) campsite with amazing views. It is approximately 58 kilometers north of the nearest town, Coromandel town. From Colville, a small town, the road is approximately 28 kilometers of narrow, twisty gravel roads with a steep drop off on one side. Recommended speed for these roads is about 30km/hr unless you feel like terrifying your passengers.
While driving, we did encounter a New Zealand traffic jam in the form of a farmer moving his cows from one pasture to the next. It only took around about fifteen minutes, which wasn’t too bad.
We also encountered a few roadsigns indicating a ‘dip’ in the road. At high tide, after strong rainfalls, or, in some cases, just because, these dips involve using your vehicle to ford a small stream. Not difficult, but if you aren’t certain it’s safest to walk across and check the depth and road condition prior to driving across.
In short, leave plenty of time if you are planning in driving up to Port Jackson.
Once you arrive, however, prepare to sit back, relax, and enjoy some peaceful bliss. Many of the sites are located on a grassy are overlooking the beach. Five steps from our front door and we were strolling down a soft sand beach. There wasn’t much for current either, making the ocean fairly safe for swimming.
Services are limited with a kitchen shelter, BBQ facilities, long drop toilets, and cold showers provided. It is recommended to boil the provided water prior to drinking, although when we were there a small kettle was provided for this purpose at the cooking shelter.
Many of our neighbors were avid fishers and seemed to come back most days with more than enough fish for dinner. We were fortunate one afternoon when one of our neighbors had a bit too much for their own dinner and kindly offered to share some fresh-caught snapper with us for our dinner. It was absolutely fantastic!
Like most of New Zealand, there are walking trails galore, offering stunning views and a good fitness regime with plentiful hills and stairs.
From the end of the campground, the coastal Muriwai Walk winds its way up the coast, following a ridge towards the Wharekaiatua Pa site. It’s about a 6 kilometer loop, although there is the option of extending the walk nearly indefinitely. The turn around point is located at the Fletcher’s bay carpark, which happens to be the starting point for the Coromandel Walkway, a 10km coastal walk between Fletcher Bay and Stony Bay. The walks offer views of Great Barrier Island, the Pinnacles, and Cuvier Island. Andrew and I quite enjoyed our walks along the beach and the coastal walkways, which were relatively easy. Port Jackson was a great place to get away for the ANZAC day long weekend and enjoy some restful relaxation.
Cathedral Cove is a ‘must-see’ of the Coromandel Peninsula. It is located near Hahei, close to hot water beach. It is only accessible by walking path or by kayak.
Cathedral cove is one of the film locations used in Narnia: Prince Caspian. When Lucy and the other children first arrive in Narnia, they exit through an archway, going to play in the ocean on white sand beaches. That is Cathedral Cove!
The walk to get there climbs through some beautiful forest and past two other stunning bays that are also great for swimming and snorkeling: Gemstone Bay and Stingray Bay. Andrew and I stopped for a quick snorkel in the warm waters of the ocean. There wasn’t much to see when we were there, but considering that the entire area is a marine reserve, there is usually a fair bit.
The walk is relatively short and easy, although there are a fair few stairs. The path is easy to follow and we saw a few parents with strollers (although I’m not sure how they managed the stairs).
The cove was absolutely beautiful. The archway is absolutely massive…much larger than I expected. The cove will eventually collapse onto the beach due to water erosion, but for now it is a wonderful place to visit.
We were there at high tide, which made it difficult to walk past the end of the cave. At low tide it would be possible to walk to the white sand beach beyond the cove, but either way it is a beautiful place to visit.
For our first foray into the Coromandel Peninsula, Andrew and I picked a holiday park that had good access to two of our desired activities: Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove. We picked a holiday park that offered a discount to NZMCA members and seemed to have everything: wifi, laundry, kitchen, hot free showers, and even an on-site restaurant! We were not disappointed.
After our first two nights and some nice conversations with the owners, Scott and Rose, we found ourselves wanting to stay and relax for a bit longer. So we added one more night. And then one more night again.
The brewery is only open Thursday through Sunday in the off-peak season, so of course we had to stay until at least Thursday. The last time we went to extend our room, Scott and Rose told us that they could use some help cleaning a couple of the cabins if we didn’t want to pay for our campsite. Seemed like a good deal to me! One to three hours of relatively simple work and we didn’t have to pay for our accommodations.
Well, a day turned into a week. We were offered use of one of the backpacker cabins, which gave us a nice place to stay for the couple of rainy days. Rose was kind enough to let us get our mail forwarded from Auckland and Scott offered us his bike pump so that we could fix my bicycle. Very kind people.
The on-site brewery was also a plus. We decided that we didn’t feel like making dinner one night so over to the pub it was! They have giant Connect Four, cards, and a few other games.
All of their beers are brewed on-site, mainly using local ingredients. The food is also delicious and, as much as possible, uses local and in-season ingredients. Definitely a nice addition to the holiday park!
While staying in the Coromandel Peninsula at the Seabreeze Holiday Park, Andrew and I explored the activities in the area, including taking a visit to Hot Water Beach. Hot water beach is an interesting location, although quite crowded!
Within two hours of low tide, it is possible to dig a pool in the sand, allowing the hot water from the natural hot spring to seep up through the sand and fill the pool. Since it is right by the ocean as well, digging at the right point allows the cold Pacific ocean to mix with the hot water, creating a spa pool that is the perfect temperature!
When Andrew and I went, low tide was also close to sunset, making it a beautiful place to be. It was extremely crowded and was a little bit hard to find a spot to dig. I had been under the impression that the entire beach was the hot springs, but it is a relatively small section. We decided to park at the surf beach (free parking!) and walk the 10 minutes to get to the hot spring section of the beach.
While there, we noticed that nobody had dug any pools in the central section. We quickly discovered why: some caution is required, because the water can reach temperatures as high as 64C, scalding the feet of anyone silly enough to walk through the middle. I quickly jumped to a nearby sand pile, created by some kind people who had watched a number of people discover the hot spot that I had.
Most accommodations in the area will have shovels and other items to rent to make it possible to dig a pool of your own. We wished we had a slightly larger shovel, as the sand kept sliding into our pool from the ones above, but ours was sufficient.
The other nice thing about hot water beach, for those who don’t enjoy hot pools or who get too warm…the ocean is right there to cool off in! I think I spent more time in the ocean than the hot pool, but it was certainly a fun experience to dig our own spa in the beach.
The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is rated as one of the best single-day hikes in the world and I can’t say I disagree. Situated in the Tongariro National Park, which is both the oldest national park in New Zealand and a World Heritage Site to boot, the Alpine Crossing is 19.4 kilometers of beautiful and varied terrain. The trek includes the volcanic peaks of Ngauruhoe, Tongariro, and Ruapehu, all active volcanoes.
Like all hikes, it is important to be prepared. The 19.4km is a one way trip, so it is advisable to arrange transport from one end. Many companies in the area offer shuttle service, dropping you off at the starting point around 8am and offering pickups at 3:30pm or 5pm for around $35 per person.
The weather can be extremely varied, so a rain jacket and adequate layers are a must. Sunscreen and a hat are also necessary for all hikes in New Zealand. Like most hikes, adequate food, water, and a basic first aid kit are also essential.
Since the hike involves crossing three active volcanoes, it is also advisable to check the volcanic alert level prior to starting the trek. Mount Tongariro last erupted in 2012 and Mount Ruapehu last erupted in 2007. Geonet
offers some of the most useful alert bulletins in New Zealand. In the event of an eruption, being familiar with the risks and what to do to stay safe is essential. Information can be found here, but to summarize:
Watch for burning ash clouds and flying rocks; run out of the way or find shelter behind banks or ridges
Cover your head with your pack
Move out of the bottom of the valley
Evacuate the hazard zone, staying on ridges if possible
We started the track at the the Mangatepopo car park and climbed from the park to Soda Springs, which was relatively easy. We had beautiful views of Mount Ngauruhoe most of the time.
This mountain was also known as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings films. Several areas visible from the trek were used to film different portions of Mordor, including Mordor itself and Emyn Muil. Of course, while
hiking past Mount doom, everything became the “___” of doom: the hike of doom, the waterbottle of doom, the lunch of doom, etc. It helped us get through the long climb from Soda Springs to the south crater, which has aptly been named the Devil’s staircase.
South crater then climbed up to red crater, which was absolutely stunning. A brilliant red colour and an active volcanic vent, the area also offered stunning views of the surrounding landscape. It also served as the perfect location to have lunch since it was situated at the highest point along
the trek (an elevation of around 1900m). We were fortunate to have excellent weather the entire way along the trek, although it did get a little bit blustery at the top of Red Crater.
From Red Crater we started the long climb down to the end. First we stopped by the Emerald lakes, a set of brilliantly coloured lakes as a result of the mineral deposits found in them. We decided to take a detour past some steam vents and visit the third lake, which was a nice walk.
The trail then climbed up again to Blue lake and then followed the Mount Tongariro around to offer us some amazing views of Lake Taupo and the surrounding landscape. At first we thought that we were seeing the ocean, but knew that to be impossible; Lake Taupo is huge! The trail continued down with good views of the Tongariro steam vents all
the way to Ketetahi Hut. The hut is a preserved area after the Mount Ruapehu eruption, which sent a rock flying far enough to crash through the hut.
The trail then descended even further into a beautiful forest, which is also unfortunately an active Lahar danger
zone should Mount Ruapehu ever erupt again. The forest was such a dramatic difference from the barren landscapes that we had hiked previously that it was almost shocking to see so much greenery.
We were getting quite tired towards the end, but we made it just in time to catch the shuttle! I think, after nearly 20km hiked in a day, we earned our steak dinner and hot tub time for the night!
Although challenging, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the best hikes that I have ever done. I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in hiking.
While visiting Tongariro, we had the amazing opportunity to join John of HorseMTrails on a 26km trek through the beautiful countryside of New Zealand.
We chose to take the Fishers Track option, which was a full day experience. For advanced riders it can take as little as four hours as there are plenty of places to canter and gallop. For those who are less experienced the track takes five to six hours. We were a little bit closer to the six hour mark, and it was well worth every single minute of it.
John picked us up at the National Park service station and drove us to the start point where we met our horses and prepared to go. I was on Diesel (a beautiful bay horse), Andrew was riding Duffy, and Jen was on Mana. All of his horses are extremely well trained and he did a fantastic job of matching the horses to our body types and riding abilities. John used some of his horses to help train the actors who rode in both the Hobbit and The Last Samurai.
The trail started on a nice wide gravel rode and slowly climbed up to some beautiful views. I was very grateful for my lessons from Stephanie as I felt a lot calmer and was able to enjoy the ride a lot more instead of panicking every time Diesel decided she wanted to trot and catch up. John’s dog, Manaiti, started out running and kept up with us the entire trek! Nothing like taking a dog on a 26km walk to keep the pup fit.
At one point we rode past a herd of goats. None of us really paid much attention to them since we had ridden past a few farms. I heard a bleating behind me and looked back to suddenly realize that we were leading an entire herd of goats along the trail! We had to pull over a few times to let sheep past as well. It was rather entertaining.
The trail climbed up to a high plateau and some absolutely fantastic views before crossing a small plateau and dropping down into the next valley. We crossed a small stream (which Diesel decided to trot across) and then settled down for a nice picnic lunch. John was fantastic at accommodating my food allergy and had made some gluten free falafel’s and a delicious salad. Every else had some really yummy looking sandwiches, granola bars, and fruit.
After lunch everyone was feeling a little bit more comfortable on horseback so John encouraged us to try cantering if we felt up to it. He suggested that we aim for an uphill canter, which makes it easier to slow the horses down and prevents them from getting quite as fast to start with. He warned me to keep Diesel pulled into a canter and not let her gallop since apparently she would easily outrun every other horse there.
It was such an amazing feeling! I was slightly terrified, but once I got settled into the rhythm of it it was fantastic. We had a few opportunities to canter, one of which was around a corner and also slightly terrifying. I am also not a huge fan of trotting downhill either. Jen wanted to try being in front during a canter, but Mana was a fair bit slower than both Duffy and Diesel.
Diesel was beautifully responsive, although not for a beginner rider. It only took a very slight touch of my heels to move from a walk to a trot to a canter, but it was an incredible feeling. I let Diesel out in front of the other horses and didn’t rein her in as hard at one point and she hit a full gallop, which was another experience altogether. Duffy tried hard to keep up and I reined Diesel in before she got too far ahead.
We finished the track by riding through town and stopping at Eivins cafe, where John introduced us to owners Bryce and Marie. Three of the kindest and most genuine people I have ever met. John is very knowledgeable, approachable, and friendly and I would definitely love to do another ride with him.
At Eivin’s Cafe, Marie and Bryce did a fantastic job of making us feel welcome, like family. We enjoyed some whiskey shots, dinner, and relaxed while transferring pictures between people. When we mentioned needing to go and find somewhere to camp for the night, Marie and Bryce generously offered to let us stay behind the building, even filling our hot water bottles to ward off the night time chill.
I would highly recommend anyone even remotely near the area and interested in an enjoyable evening or a horseback ride to check out John and HorseMTrails and Bryce and Marie at Eivin’s cafe, bar, and bistro.
On the road between Rotorua and Tongariro are two of New Zealand’s better kept secrets: Huka falls and Kerosene Creek.
Both are worth a detour on the drive and both are impressive in their own way.
Huka falls is where the Waikato, New Zealand’s longest river, is suddenly compressed into a narrow chasm, dropping 10m at the end into a surging pool.
The flow increases dramatically several times a day when a dam upstream dumps its water to create an even more impressive flow of water. On average, approximately 200 000 litres of water flow over the falls each second.
Huka falls was used to film part of the Dwarf barrel scene in the Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. They timed the release of barrels with brightly painted spots along with the surge of water from the dam. Due to the dangerous undertow making the chasm un raftable, no actors were in the barrels, but thanks to movie magic the scene was made to feel much more treacherous by interspersing the barrels in the Huka falls with the actors in barrels on a much more peaceful river in the south island.
The falls have an incredibly impressive ice-blue colour due to the masses of tumbling air bubbles picked up in the tumultuous flow. The name Huka is the Maori word for ‘foam’, which is what gives the falls their blue-white colour.
The flow is so strong that it prevents upstream migration of both eels and trout, which is why there are no eels to be found in Lake Taupo despite their strong presence in downstream lakes.
Given its name for its bubbling, frothy, and warm nature, Kerosene creek is worth a visit.
The streams in the Canadian Rockies, which are the streams that I am accustomed to with being from Canada, are mostly glacial fed. This makes most of them a nice frigid 4C to 6C. Cold enough that you don’t really want to stick your feet in for too long except for on the hottest of summer days.
It was quite a surprise to me, even knowing that Kerosene creek is spring fed, to walk by the stream and see steam emanating from it. It was even more pleasant to step into the creek and feel a nice bit of warmth.
There are some nice pools to sit in if you remember to bring your togs! We saw very few people on the trails, which made it quite relaxing to sit and dangle our feet in the pools before continuing our drive south to Tongariro. There is some local bird life in the area as well, so keep your eyes out for Pukeko and Paradise Ducks!
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Being geothermally active as New Zealand is, it is no surprise that the Maori people managed to find a way to make use of the steam vents for all areas of life. While in Rotorua, an area known for being extremely active in the centre of the North Island, we had the opportunity to take part in a hangi, or steam cooked meal.
We had our first hangi experience at the Whakarewarewa Maori Village. During the tour, our guide showed us several wooden boxes, each over a geothermal vent in the ground. She explained how they use the vents for cooking a majority of their meals. Why use a gas or electric stove and waste resources when the ground is always warm? Since it is steam cooked, the food doesn’t dry out and doesn’t burn, merely cooking to the appropriate temperature and then staying warm.
She told us how her family would sometimes stop at the grocery store, pick up a chicken, and then just toss the entire thing, styrofoam, wrapping and all, into the hangi cooker. They would then come back four or five hours later and the chicken would have spent the day steaming in its own juices. They also make corn, stews, and bread pudding in the cooker. The ones we saw in the village had bread pudding cooking in them.
While visiting the village we decided to try their hangi meal, which consisted of roast beef, chicken, sweetcorn, kumara, and potato, all cooked in the Hangi vents. Dessert was a bread pudding served with fresh cream and some papaya. Absolutely delicious!
We had noticed a hangi cooking area at our campground, so on the way home we decided to stop at the Pak n’ Save and pick up some ingredients to cook our own hangi. We picked up potato, corn, lamb, and kamo kamo (kinda like a zucchini).
We borrowed a roasting pan from the reception area, picked some fresh mint and rosemary from the garden, and tossed all of our ingredients in the pan together.
We then spent an hour soaking in the hot mineral pools while our supper cooked itself. Such a hard life! Supper turned out surprisingly well! It usually takes a few attempts at a new cooking style for things to turn out, but cooking a hangi was surprisingly simple and tasty.
You can’t get much more kiwi than lamb, kumara, and corn cooked in a hangi!
Whakarewarewa Thermal Village is a living Maori Village in Rotorua. There are several Maori cultural experiences in the Rotorua area, which has been held sacred in Maori tradition for generations due to the geothermal activity and sacred waters of the area.
Today nearly 35% of the population of the area is Maori. We chose Whakarewarewa as opposed to the other villages since it is the tangata whenua (locals) of the Tuhourangi Ngati Wahiao tribe that still live in the village as their ancestors did and it is these people who conduct the tours. Whakarewarewa is the only Maori village to still be built entirely upon the hot pools.
TeWhakarewarewatangaoteopetauawahiao, the full name of the village, translates to The Gathering Place of the Army of Wahiao. It is named thus to honour a warrior chief named Wahaio, who gathered an army to avenge the killing of his father. To enter the village, we passed below a memorial archway to commemorate the fallen soldiers and tribal members who served in the first world war.
Crossing the bridge into the village, we had the opportunity to throw coins to local children, or penny divers, a tradition that started before the first bridge was erected in 1885. Prior to the existence of the bridge, visitors were carried across the river on the backs of the local villagers and they would give coins in gratitude and throw coins to the children who would frequently be swimming in the river.
Walking further into the village, we could see that all of the houses are built upon thermal events to take advantage of the heating and cooking abilities offered by the geothermal energy.
The village offers two cultural performances each day, one at 11:15 and one at 2pm, which includes the Haka (war dance), the Waiata a Ringa (love song), poi dancing, long stick games, and short stick games. It also included some audience participation, where we were taught some Maori words and invited to sing and dance along.
The haka is meant to intimidate the opposing tribe and, I have to say if it was me, it would have worked! I also learned that the haka is specific to each tribe, with each tribe having its own words and actions. They also explained that the enlarged eyes and the sticking out tongue were meant as intimidation and that the moving hands brought life to the words that were being sung since movement is life in the Maori culture. I thoroughly enjoyed the performance. At the end, we were invited to pose with the performers. Andrew and Jen were both fantastic at doing the correct facial impressions. I, on the other hand, was fantastic at not laughing. That’s about as close as I could get though. An actor I am definitely not!
Following the performance we opted for the guided tour. It’s possible to do a self-guided tour as well, but we had the time to enjoy the guided tour and we wanted to learn more about what it was like to live in the village, as opposed to just the written facts about the village.
The only way to live in the village is to be born there or to marry into it. Maori tradition also states that the inheritance goes to the children. So if the mother passes away and the father is still living, the house would belong to the children, who would then choose whether to allow the father to still reside in the house.
We were shown the Hangi cookers and enjoyed a nice hangi lunch while in the village. We were also shown ‘The Pool of Murderous Ripples’, or Parekohuru, which has an estimated temperature of around 95C. Every forty five minutes or so fresh hot water pulsates up from below the earth, raising the temperature above boiling and making the pool bubble. The pool is made for cooking leaf and root vegetables, including the delicious corn that we got to snack on.
We were then led past Waipuru, which was used to sterilize linens and nappies, and then on to the hot baths. The town bathes communally twice daily, with the mineral deposits leaving the skin soft and the heat helping with arthritis and rheumatism. The water and the ground around it was so warm! We got to enjoy similar hot pools in the campground, which was absolute heaven.
The tour then led us to the butterfly pool, Purerehua, whose water level changes based upon the atmospheric pressure. When the water level drops, the temperature is going to change!
Korotiotio was slightly ominous to look at. It is the only place where the water is actually exploding out of the ground in a constant bubbling mass. The water has a temperature that averages 120C. While geothermal activity is useful, I’m not sure I would want to build a village around such a volatile vent. I suppose though, that as long as it is bubbling away, it is relieving the pressure beneath the earth, making an actual eruption less likely.
The tour then led us to the Whare Tipuna, the ancestral meeting house. Our guide told us the story of how Christians came to the village after the Tarewera eruption of 1886 and introduced Christianity to the Maori people of the village. The chief had to make a decision for the good of the tribe so he gathered all of the people together, divided them in half, and decreed that the one half would be Anglican and the other half would be Catholic. Later, people were encouraged to follow the Maori traditions as well. Our guide also showed us the local preschool, where only the Maori language is spoken. This ensures that all children speak Maori fluently before they enter school so that the native language can never be lost.
We then walked past the Earth sciences facility, where the geothermal environment around the village is studied extensively. To end the tour, we walked to the geyser viewing platform, where we could see two of New Zealand’s most active geysers, Prince of Wales and Pohutu. Prince of Wales is the most active geyser and was spurting water when we arrived. Pohutu is larger though and sprays water between 10 and 40 meters into the air. We waited for awhile and were rewarded with a nice show! It was a little bit hard to see the geyser through the steam, but was still fascinating to watch.