The last time I was on holiday with my folks was in 1999 I think, when aged 15, I spent most of a two week trip to California fighting with my brother and trying to spot Snoop Doggy Dogg. Looking back in fact, I seem to recall wreaking havoc on most of the holidays of my childhood. Dad chasing me and my friend Kevin around Centre Parcs on a bicycle at midnight was a low point, as was closing off half the swimming pool after an incident with a palm tree at the same place. Then there was the time I scalded my bare backside on a towel rail as whales were spotted from a Scottish balcony, not to mention going AWOL for a week in Cornwall or discovering the merits of the cheap local grog in France. The list goes on. So it was something of a surprise to me when my parents suggested that they might travel to the other side of the world, not only to see some of the sights of Oceania and Asia, but also to incorporate a week on holiday with us along the way. They obviously have selective memories.
We couldn’t have been happier however. Despite the obvious delight of spending some time with my Mum & Dad amid our 10 month trip away from home, it’d been agreed that The Coromandel peninsula would be the setting – somewhere we’d been looking forward to coming to since our arrival. Every Kiwi we’d spoken to about our plans to head up there had made similar cooing sounds and proclaimed it as some kind of paradise on earth, while every piece of literature on the area waxed lyrical about its bohemian charm, it’s natural beauty, and most of all, it’s beaches. It didn’t disappoint. Growing up with my summer holidays mostly spent in the retirement home clad streets of Frinton-on-Sea, it still fills me with wonder to find a beach where the water is not a murky grey, a windbreak is not an essential piece of kit and any weather aside from heavy rain is not described as ‘terrific!’ And so it seemed just that it was with my parents that we set about making our own discovery of some of New Zealand’s most celebrated seasides.
The first of these was Cathedral Cove, aptly named for not only its immense geological charms but also the huge congregation of sun worshippers in attendance. It’s a bit special really. There’s everything you could want in a beach here; the kind of fine, soft sand that’ll ruin your lunch, vicious surf, the cavernous natural archway from which the name is derived, a cliff top waterfall, in fact even the public toilets give you a seated view usually reserved for postcards. We leapt from offshore rocks, swam into hidden caves and watched Mum get repeatedly knocked onto her backside by the waves – a fine way to spend an afternoon by anyone’s standards.
Hot Water Beach is quite probably New Zealand’s most famous beach, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out why. We’d been looking forward to this for months – not only for the prospect of having a hot bath on the beach, but also for the chance to finally use the spade that had been in the van when we bought it. Following its former life as a grave digger (there was an axe in the van too) it had sat dormant, just waiting for an opportunity such as this to arise. Well unfortunately for the spade, he stayed unused. The world and his wife had also turned up that day and why waste time and effort in digging your own hole in the sand, when you just recycle someone else’s? So we did just that – found ourselves a hole and bathed on the beach, scooping deeper for fresh hot water and revelled in the novelty of it all. And it was a novelty, albeit a damn good one – so while there may be a vast crowd of others sharing your bath time with you, at least there’ll be no shortage of people to scrub your back.
Recently named as one of the world’s top 10 beaches, New Chums Beach had a certain amount of expectation to live up to. There’s no gimmick here however – no bubbling springs or scenic rock formations- just a seemingly endless carpet of golden sand, hemmed in between a brilliant blue sea on one side and the deep green of native forest on the other. Access is via a 30 minute scramble over rocks so the visiting numbers stay down – and it’s largely due to this seclusion that makes it great. No cars going past, no thumping music – it’s beauty was in its untouched silence. Sadly however, unlike the others mentioned here it did not live up to its name. For we left with no new chums.
We found time for some other beaches too – always impressive and always amazingly empty. It’s a strange concept to me. At the slightest hint of sun in England half the country will call in sick to work, grab some sun tan lotion that expired in 1992 and rush to the nearest beach, returning to work the next day with a suspiciously lobster red glow. In fact even if it’s not sunny, the English will sit on a beach, clutching a flask in one hand and a paper in the other, with the droll tones of a Test Match Special on the radio. Yet here, along with a whole host of other countries, hundreds of miles of glorious sun baked sand will be left un-sat on. Aside from this, we pottered around the local town of Whitianga as only tourists do, had fresh seafood barbecues in the evenings and enjoyed the comfort of the rather plush holiday home my parents had paid for. Being able to get out of bed without opening a door was a revelation. Most of all however we enjoyed the company of my mother and father. They’d been on the move for about six weeks by this point, so a week off was welcome relief to them too. We swapped travel stories and recommendations – theirs mostly interjected with coffee shop reviews – and made the most of what was probably our most stress free holiday to date, before sadly heading off again on our separate ways.
Back in the van, we made our way inland for an overnight hike in the Kauaeranga Valley, culminating in a clamber up to the top of our second set of north island Pinnacles, this time a jagged collection of rocky peaks overlooking much of the peninsula. Exemplifying a theme we’ve seen right across New Zealand, these are a showcase for the determined Kiwi attitude to the outdoors. Where other countries would allow you to walk up to, but not on, the treacherous looking summit, here they’ve thrown in some ladders and well placed hand and footholds, allowing the average hiker to scale heights usually reserved for the accomplished climber. And how grateful we were. As we sat alone, high above the surrounding forested hills we gazed out and took in a 360 panoramic view of The Coromandel, from the eastern beaches over to the western shores and beyond. You could see everything from up here for miles around, but you know what? There was still no sign of Snoop Doggy Dogg.