Weekend Wanderings: Coromandel In Landscape Mode

Coromandel is a small peninsula on New Zealand’s Northern Island. It’s a popular weekend destination for Aucklanders, especially during the summer months.

We went there in winter!

Coromandel in winter = empty beaches, peaceful walks, silent sunsets, pure tranquility. Have a look!

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Getting Lost: Rarotonga Cross Island Walk

Being avid hiking fans, our Cook Islands trip wouldn’t have been complete without a trekking experience. The most popular hiking track on Rarotonga is the Cross Island Walk, leading from one side of the island to the other.

Despite of the heat, 10 kilometres sounded like a reasonable distance; after all we knew we would spend most of our time in the shadow of the lush forest, and we were going to end up right at the beach, ready to jump straight into the turquoise lagoon if needed.

rarotonga-island-crossing

On the first kilometre of the island crossing in South-North direction.

On an almost cloudfree morning we therefore took the clockwise bus – yep, only two bus directions exist on Rarotonga; clockwise and anti-clockwise – and asked the bus driver to drop us at the beach where the track for the island crossing starts.

As we decided to cross the island from the South to the North, the official starting point of the hike was at Wigmore’s Waterfall, which we reached after a 15 minutes walk along a small road for cars leading in-land.

Till now, we had deliberately ignored all travel guides mentioning that it would be easier to do the crossing in the North-South direction since the way would be better marked. Can’t be that difficult, we thought; and so we shrugged once more our shoulders as we passed a warning sign that it’s strongly recommended to begin the hike on the other side.

The first kilometre went fine.

rarotonga-island-crossing

Crazy rock and tree formation along the path. This could almost be out of a movie scene, don’t you agree?

Then we reached a point where many people before us must have gotten confused and formed tracks in all possible directions. Even the stream that we had followed seemed confused and separated into two rills.

We decided to follow one of the “caved paths” and regularly turned around watching out for the little orange triangle marking the track from the North-South direction.

Spotting no triangle after 200 metres we thought we took the wrong junction; but how to be sure? Mr ae.i headed forward in the hope he would find the treasured plastic marker signaling that we were on the right track.

He told me he would be back in 5 minutes. He wasn’t.

I followed his path before I had the brilliant idea to call his name. No feedback.

I followed his path a little longer, but when the track became dodgy I tried calling him again. There he was, yelling he is on his way down.

Yay! Not!!

He must have made a wrong turn. At the end of my tether I started calling him again 4 or 5 times before I realized I had lost him again. I honestly started to panic a bit. And my imagination ran wild.

What if he had slipped and needed help?, I thought just the moment when I heard someone screaming my name from far behind me. Well, how did he do that? He clearly left in the other direction.

It didn’t matter. I was surely relieved when we were finally reunited a couple of minutes later and I made the Mister promise not to explore any path without me anymore (!).

After returning to the point where path and stream seamed to separate in all directions we finally spotted an orange triangle that we hadn’t passed yet. After crossing the stream and climbing a steep slope we were back on track. Only 30 minutes lost.

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Back on track, which became so steep that it would have been tough to climb uphill without a rope. See the little orange triangle on the photo? These markers exlsuively indicate the correct path in North-South direction; there are no markers at all the other way around.

We didn’t lose sight of the track markers for a second time that day, although there would have been more occasions. Not everyone was as lucky that day though; more later.

We reached The Needle – the highest point of the hike (413m) – during  a sunny moment and enjoyed the view over the surrounding green mountains of dense forest down towards the lagoon, reef, Pacific Ocean

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View towards The Needle, the highest point during the island crossing.

While descenting on the Northern side we met a bigger hiking group led by Pa, a local tramping guide who knows these mountains like the back of his hand. There is surely no way getting lost with him.

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Steep descent over big roots and rocks.

After 2.5 kilometres we reached a narrow road, the official starting point of the track when doing the hike in North-South direction. Another 2.5 kilometres along that road – and many taro fields and papaya orchards later – we were back in town, jumping right into… no, not the lagoon… the clockwise bus, bringing us back to our guesthouse and a well deserved nap after our 4 hours adventure.

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Sunbeams made visible by a small (controlled) fire in the woods.

As mentioned earlier, not everyone got that fortunate that day!

As luck would have it, the same evening we met 3 tourists who started the South-North island crossing two hours after us. After having a chat, we believe they got confused at the very same spot like us a bit earlier that day, but they didn’t remember where they had gotten off track or seen the last orange marker.

So they continued and probably created a new path through the forest which might confuse more people in the future. Oups! Eventually they reached the top of a mountain, but they couldn’t tell which one. All they could tell for sure was they were clearly off track.

Instead of trying to find a way down to finish the crossing they simply walked the same way back. It took them 8 hours – twice as much as what we needed for the complete crossing. Their worried host had called the police in the meantime.

Each year, several hiking groups face the same problem. They need to be guided out of that tree maze by local guides or police men.

Now we – and you – know why it’s strongly recommended to do the Cross Island Walk in a North-South direction.

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Rarotonga island crossing profile from my GPS watch. We needed 4 hours for 10 kilometres, including an involuntary 30 minutes detour through the wilderness.

I honestly find it a pity that this popular track causes so much trouble and requires local search groups when it would be an easy thing to simply add more track markers in the South-North direction.

And here is the thing: If I would ever do that walk again, I would chose South-North over North-South, simply because the Southern side of the mountains is so wet and slippery that it’s easier to find grip climbing uphill than sliding downhill. Remember, the sun moves from East to North to West in the Southern Hemisphere, which makes the Northern side of the Rarotongan mountain chain much drier and perfect for a non-slippery descent.

For a description of the track conditions and quality please read all image captions. Click any photo to see it in big and better quality. Enjoy – and don’t get lost!

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A Glimpse Of Tolkien’s Shire

It doesn’t require a long drive through the picturesque farmland surrounding Matamata to understand why Sir Peter Jackson thought of it as ideal setting for his adaption of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic work: rolling green hills flanked by old trees and the view over the Kaimai Range in the distance. A perfect location to dig out 44 Hobbit holes representing Hobbiton, a village in the Western part of The Shire.

Hobbiton in Matamata

View over Hobbiton village towards The Green Dragon, the local meeting place for all the residents of Hobbiton. Tourist groups get served a free drink in that pub. I loved the Apple Cider!

I must admit I was a bit afraid that visiting the film set of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit would take away some of the movies’ magic. I was worried for nothing.

Hobbiton has been fully integrated into a private sheep farm. Each hill represents one hobbit hole with its own chimney, garden and view over the village. All building materials are permanent since 2011 (no longer polystyrene like for the set of The Lord of the Rings) and have undergone a special treatment to make them look rustic and authentic. The fields surrounding Hobbiton have been kept untouched which greatly supports the natural look of the scenery and left me at no time under the impression I was just visiting another movie set.

[Please click on the photos to see them bigger and in better quality.]

Hobbiton near Matamata

Hobbit holes dug into green rolling hills. What a peaceful place. I can’t imagine that a film crew of 400 people walked right through here. Can you?

Our tour guide did a fantastic job as she led us over various paths and orchards towards Bag End, home of Bilbo Baggins and his orphaned nephew Frodo, while explaining how some visual effects have been achieved in the movie (for example the size difference between Bilbo and Gandalf), and how Peter Jackson is driven by an urge to deliver 110% perfection at any time.

Bag End in Hobbiton

Bag End, the home of Bilbo and Frodo. This is the hobbit hole where most movie scenes in Hobbiton have been shot.

My favourite story was the one about the oak tree that overlooks Bag End: It’s been cut down and transported in from near Matamata. Artificial leaves were brought in from Taiwan and individually wired onto the tree. Once the job of wiring thousands of leaves was done after several days Peter Jackson came along and agreed that the tree looked great, but he didn’t like the green of the leaves. So after wiring all these leaves manually, Jackson’s helpers had to repaint each leaf manually in a different shade of green. We’ve been reassured they received a good compensation for this nerve-wracking job though.

Hobbiton, New Zealand

Another view towards the artificial oak tree on top of Bag End.

If you are a fan of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy or The Hobbit Trilogy you will definitely enjoy this place and the tales about the making of the set and the movies, the joys and mishaps of some actors and the story of the Alexanders – the family owning this beautyful piece of land.

The Green Dragon, Hobbiton

We’ve been served a sweet and refreshing Sackville™ Cider by that happy waiter at The Green Dragon. Cheers!

The movie set tour will take around 2 hours. If you are looking for something additional to do to perfect your little Shire adventure I can recommend to have a closer look at the Kaimai Range which you can see in the distance while visiting Hobbiton.

The top of the Wairere Falls can be hiked in 60 to 90 minutes (one way) and you will be rewarded with a stunning view over the Waikato plains around Matamata while being just 5 metres away from where the falls drop over the Okauia Fault in two stages.

Wairere Falls near Matamata

The Wairere Falls drop 153 m over the steep escarpment, which is part of the Okauia fault line. The view is stunning, even on a rainy day.

Wairere Falls, New Zealand

The falls drop 153 m over two stages (here as seen from lookout 1).

If you’re not out of breath yet leave the falls lookout behind and explore the Wairere Track further upriver before returning to the car park. Only 1 more kilometre is already enough to give you a taste of the beautiful, dense and very diverse forest of the Kaimai Range.

I can totally imagine hobbits, elves, and dwarves passing through here!

The diverse forest of the Kaimai Range in Waikato, New Zealand.

The diverse forest of the Kaimai Range in Waikato, New Zealand.

Wairere Track, Kaimai Range

Rain forest impression from the Wairere Track.

Wairere Track

This is not off track – it’s fun!!

The Wairere Track winds up a few stairways and is known to be covered in water puddles; make sure to take appropriate clothing (read: no jandals or shoes you can’t afford to get muddy) as well as sandfly protection! I wish someone would have told me, but 19 bites later I’m a bit wiser and happy to share that detail with you.

Wairere Track near Matamata

Puddles on the track can slow you down quite a bit. Plan in 3 hours for the walk.

I recorded that walk with my GPS watch for runners, but I only got a signal when pausing at the first falls lookout. All in all we did a bit more than 8 km in 3 hours (including all the photo breaks). On a map it looks like this in case you’re curious to see where the track will lead you.

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Wairere Track from above. The second falls lookout is at the left side path between kilometre 1 and 3.

The falls can be seen from quite a distance. This is how they look like from the car park on Goodwin Road off Te Aroha-Okauia road (south of Te Aroha), where the Wairere Falls Track starts. I took the photo after the walk when the gray clouds finally disappeared and the rain stopped pouring down. Don’t let rain prevent you from doing the hike if you’re eager to see the forest. Since most of the track winds through tall trees and bushes you have quite a good protection. Enjoy!

Wairere Falls, New Zealand

A popular spot in the Kaimai Range: The Wairere Falls.

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