I can’t tell you how nice it felt to be driving up the West Coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, with our Ipod plugged into the Subaru doing 50 kmh, with the windows down, the sea gulls swooping, and the sheep just eating lazily, and it was heavenly the way the sun shone on the scene so lovingly.
All the world’s worries and our worries felt as far away as they really were.
The road followed, like an unfolding mystery, the curves of the ocean north, actually the Hauraki Gulf, on the other side 100 kilometers or so sits awkward Auckland. We let cars pass us and took our time, engrossed with the story of Coromendal being told by the asphalt.
The pinnacle of the drive was cresting a green as the-dollar-in-your-pocket hill that spilled down into a meandering creek, spilling tenderly into a clam-shaped bay, swans hanging out down in the gully, cows mooing somewhere, out-of-sight, even a crashed and burned-down auto wreck didn’t do a thing to spoil the scenery.
Not just an excuse for my poor photograph but an absolute gospel truth: pictures don’t do it justice.
A storm was moving in, grayness moving in. Dog turd clouds moving in. Well not that bad, but pigeon sky poop-pellets might not be a stretch.
They didn’t do nothin’ to damper the mood though. So peaceful, so content and in-the-moment, I was near illiterate, see. Yada-da-mean!
As a Los Angeleno, driving comes naturally. Even on the opposite side of the car and road. To have the wheel in my hands and the beautiful countryside drifting by, a little rain would have even been enjoyable I might venture to say, say if I was feeling adventurous, and I was, so was my wife. My wife and I kept commenting, New Zealand is ridiculous.
We’d round a bend and a new landscape would paint itself on our windshield. “Fucking ridiculous,” one of us would shout.
The road wound and coiled, and other cars were sparse and more like abstract thought than traffic, through fishing villages and sheep farms and a stray Buddhist temple, and I couldn’t have been more impressed with New Zealand than I was on that drive; giddy with myself, absolutely giddy.
We rolled into Coromandel shortly before the sun bedded down, checked into a charming hostel/motel tucked against the bush, cozily cross from the bay. A bag of fresh coffee for the morning quickly won over the missus. Traveling down under makes you call your wife missus for some reason. A dinner of pizza and wine capped one of the best drives of my life. Up there with the PCH through Big Sur.
Watching Snakes On A Plane from bed was just too delicious.
Giddy, I tell you!
In the morning we treated ourselves to an amble through the bush behind our room, a small stone bench made for an excellent book-reading spot, then we set out for a small hike up the hill overlooking the town and the bay and a tip-toeing creek – creeks were everywhere – and the light was soft enough to convince yourself that you were still dreaming.
We had a 5 hour drive down the east coast of the peninsula to Rotorua so we didn’t spend much time kicking around town, just enough to pick up a croissant and more coffee – the packet in the motel only got us two cups.
They don’t have regular coffee like up here, coffee has a whole different nomenclature than in the States. Long black. Short black. Long white. Flat white. It’s a challenging prospect that I avoided by just ordering lattes. Waking up early every day with a plateful of things on the to-do list really gave us a caffeine addiction and put money into the coffee industry’s pocket. We sat on our balcony for ten more minutes.
Then it was back to the road.
From Coromandel we headed over the hills and across the peninsula to the east coast, than headed south, stopping off to play in tide pools and for pictures. Again, driving at a leisurely pace and taking it all in. We devised a plan to have lunch and then go check out Cathedral Cove, a popular and scenic beach, that’s a 40-minute hike from the parking lot, and if I may say so, it was a solid plan.
We found a cafe for paninis and organic juice and consumed them both slowly and thoughtfully. I read the paper.
Big news. The entire first dozen pages devoted to the tragedy. New Zealand was devastated by their rugby team’s upset loss in the World Cup. The All Blacks, as their team is endearingly called, were favored the win the whole thing but France outplayed them all game and shocked the island nation silly. The All Blacks have a tendency for choking and it’s a dark stain on the country. They were blaming the referees, the coach, accused the French of cheating – in short they were acting like poor losers, like a country of Red Sox fans.
There was even a column with tips for how to deal with the depression, stuff like: go outside and toss the ball around, continue to watch the cup, reconnect with nature. A blurb about the economic losses, all the merchandise that will go unsold now, the bars that expected to host large, rowdy rugby championship parties; all the black flags expected to be wedged onto car windows, the silver fern emblem expected to flap proudly in the breeze.
It made for good reading material, I must say.
I was curious about rugby, figured since the World Cup was going on, I should learn the rules a little bit. So I watched it in Auckland, I mean four of the 9 stations that the T.V. got was broadcasting sports of some kind, most of them rugby, you’re somewhat forced into watching it. I caught chunks of various games and got the basic rules down, the flow of the game; but I was still at a loss at why they had a leaf for a symbol or called themselves the All Blacks.
So I did some research, asked some questions.
All Blacks comes from some linguistic slip-up by announcers in the early days, saying the kiwis played like All Backs (the strongest, most crushing players), because apparently the New Zealand players were bullies, bad-asses; somehow it got twisted to All Black and the name was adopted belovingly ever since.
The logo is a Silver Fern, New Zealand’s national tree. The hills are covered with them, giving New Zealand’s forests their own special look.
The pre-game taunt the All Blacks perform comes from a Maori War dance.
It’s the best part of the game in my opinion.
Without a doubt, Cathedral Cove was worth the 40 minute hike, and then some. The hike alone was a treat, rambling through cow pastures, under cottony clouds floating gently overhead – brushed soothingly against a blue backdrop like a Bob Ross painting, and along bluffs that looked out on an ocean that is almost completely empty until Chile, save for a few small islands filled with people praying desperately for a cold spell.
The beach splayed out finely, golden, against bleached-white limestone cliffs; and speckled-at-sea, verdant islands of birds assumed Tetris-like shapes; and the water and the sky were dueling to out-blue each other.
If we had some with us, we could have filmed a Corona commercial quite easily.
NERD NOTE: Limestone is a type of rock made mostly of crustaceans and fossils piling up over thousands of years and breaking down, and then the earth shifts and it’s uplifted above water.
And it’s pretty light rock, easily eroded into spectacular shapes by the wind and the ocean. Limestone is cool.
It was a good place to play with my cannon.
After indulging in the beach and the sun we were all business to Rotorua.
We still smiled at the views and squealed at kiwi farm signs like kids on a sugar rush – because we get down like that – but it wasn’t the same as the west coast. My Westside love applies to New Zealand too it seems; who knew?
The road ran inland and we hit the rain and a bunch of confusing rotaries in Taraunga, a drab working class town with murals of Biggie Smalls and rush hour traffic, and it forced us to come out of the clouds, the picturesque beauty of the Coromandel Peninsula had a spell over us.
I now have a happy place.
You smell Rotorua before you see it.
It smells like a fartbuger with rancid meat, topped with a rotten egg, transported in a truck driver’s armpit.
That’s coming up next…
But first, the All Blacks Haka: