Approximately 3 hours drive from Auckland, the Coromandel is a rugged and mysterious place, yet with stunning golden beaches, natural hideaways and mist laden forests, it is the ideal place to relax and unwind. (New Zealand Tourism Guide) Aucklanders have recently relocated to the Coromandel in great numbers to retire - or commute, especially in the Thames area - escaping Auckland's skyrocketing housing costs and horrific traffic problems caused by a rapid population growth. (rjs)
There is so much to do in the Coromandel area, from historical tours, fishing and diving, to hiking, kayaking and cycling. The Coromandel main centres include Coromandel Town, Thames, Whitianga, Whangamata, Waihi, Pauauni and Tairua. It's a truly unique place to discover. (New Zealand Tourism Guide)
My 'home' for the next 3 months is in the tiny village of TePuru with the Firth of Thames, out the back door. The Firth is the southern part of the bay between the Coromandel and Auckland. It's here the delicious green-lip mussels and oysters are harvested, Orca whales swim in the summer and fishing is fantastic! Find the town of Thames on the map below and go north along the water for 5 black dots and you will find Te Puru. (rjs)
This is a view from the deck looking north- a magnificent landscape of water, mountains and sky, and below is the view looking south.
My 'charges' for the 3 months are Daphne (Daffy), a long-haired Dachshund, and Bella, combination of poodle and terrier.
They were fairly easy to care for, except for their weird feeding schedule, which made it difficult for me get away for more than 3-4 hours at a time.
Though they had the run-of-the-house during the day, they slept in the downstairs laundry room at night. Wake-up time for all of us was between 6:30-7:00 am. After a quick run in the yard, they were allowed one very small biscuit which had to last them until lunch. At noon they had a good-sized lunch of kibble and 2 spoonfuls of canned dog food. For tea (6:00pm) it was more kibble and home-cooked mix of mince (hamburger) with rice or a little pasta or mix vegetables added - which was my job to prepare each day.
They required 2 walks along the waterfront each day - if it wasn't raining. If it was raining (and this was the middle of winter so it rained a lot!), Daffy literally refused to go for a walk as she hated getting her little feet or low-slung tummy wet. Daffy, like all Dachshunds, was very stubborn and extremely bossy to poor little Bella. We had some long discussions about sharing our toys, our food and my lap! But it all worked out and the homeowners returned to very happy, healthy dogs - which is what all the homeowners want and expect.
Back to the Coromandel. The Firth-side of this region has a lovely micro-climate. When the area north and south would get snow, we got rain. Where the areas above and below got really cold days and colder nights, we never got to freezing. The average day-time temperatures during the entire 3 winter months I spent there was low to mid-50's. The locals were 'freezing' and I kept telling them that if we ever had days like this in the middle of a Chicago or Minnesota winter, we would throw open the windows and put the tops down on our convertibles!
The grass stayed a lush green. The trees do not turn shades of brown or lose their leaves, and the flowers just never stop blooming! It was the most beautiful, colorful, flower-filled winter I have ever enjoyed! I took all the photos below on just a walk with the dogs around the neighborhood.
With days filled with flowers and blue skies it was time to learn how to get around TePuru and the 'big city' of Thames while driving on the wrong side of the road and making turns completely opposite of 'normal.' I managed with only 2 'oops.' Oops #1 - Happily down the wrong side of the road gazing out at the water when a car coming at me in the same lane and nicely 'blinked' his lights. Oops #2 Trying to figure out where/how to make a turn into a 3-pronged "Y" intersection - not the way I chose to do it! But no scratches or dings on the big SUV I was given to drive for the 3 months. But boy, is gas expensive here! Right now a liter of gas (1/4 of a gallon) is $1.93NZ. That's $7.72NZ or $5.53 a gallon USD.
I was spent most days driving between TePuru and Thames along the coast highway. It weaves and winds as good as the best of any North Carolina mountain twister. The difference is that these roads are much narrower, there are virtually no shoulders AND no guard rails. So if you make a 'oops' on the Firth-side you are go onto the rocks and into the water! Here are just a few photos to give you an idea of what driving here is like. Did I mentioned you are expected to share these tiny roads with bicyclists, lots of RVers and massive logging trucks! White knuckles were the norm for every time I got in the car for the first month!
But drive I did, here, there, and everywhere. The first place I drove to was the local Pac'nSav grocery store. While there I spotted a poster for an upcoming classical concert at Old St. Georges Anglican Church happening on my first Sunday in Thames. A charge of $10NZ ($7.15US) at the door and I was treated to a fantastic hour of music by a brass trio who's members were part of New Zealand National Symphony Orchestra from Auckland.
Old St. Georges is the oldest church in Thames and is constructed of the most ancient workable wood in the world - kauri. The wood resonates sound, giving the church almost perfect acoustics - a great location for any type of concert. During my 3-months I enjoyed performances by a string quartet, a group made up of a harpsichord, recorder and soprano, solo performances of violin, viola, piano and vocalists, a wonderful presentation of A Grand Night of Opera and a man who sang Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin standards. Some of these performances were 'Friday Lunch' events. These were free-of-charge, or you could pay $5, which included the concert and a bowl of homemade soup with a bun
This first Sunday in Thames was outstanding, not only because the sun was shining, I had made it into town without crashing the car, and the music was beautiful, but I met the fantastic Jenny Bowman. Jenny was one of 4 exceptional women who made my stay in the area go from ordinary to extraordinary!
Jenny sat next to me at St. Georges before the concert began and we started chatting - as women do. (Before I go on, the churches aren't heated! But the women church members have knitted lap blankets that are available at the end of every pew for warmth.) It turned out Jenny's late husband was the President of the Thames Friendship Force International - an international travel group I belonged to in Chicago. After the concert, we planned a date for lunch. She then invited me join her twice-weekly senior exercise class, introduced me to many of her friends (including the lovely Elizabeth Jones, exceptional woman #2), the current President of FFI who actually knew my Chicago FFI friends!).
Jenny and Elizabeth took me on beautiful drives through the valleys surrounding Thames, hikes through 'the bush,' shared delicious meals, enjoyed an all-woman Bluegrass concert, toured a lavender farm, saw waterfalls, spent a freezing afternoon at the bird sanctuary and even took a walk through an abandoned gold mine. Here are just a few pictures of what I saw thanks to these two extraordinary women to whom I will forever be indebted.
|The Hot Diggity Blue Grass Band in NZ!|
|Gold mine entrance|
|Hot tea or coffee? In Elizabeth's 'boot' for after our walk|
|Bird sanctuary too cold for the birds today!|
|NZ Pizza - yum!|
|Massive Fern Trees|
|LtoR: Jenny, Me, Carrie, Elizabeth|
Jean took me under-her-wing and introduced me into her local Knit 'n Natter group. At first these women were a wee bit leery of an outsider, especially from America! But once we all started talking (including who I was voting for - big topic here) I was accepted into the group and learned so much from these very talented ladies, including how to carry-over colors while knitting!
Jean introduced me to the local chapter of Creative Fibers, a country-wide organization with chapters through-out New Zealand. Talk about talented! These women spin, dye, design, weave, knit, crochet, quilt, felt - they are amazingly talented. I would sit in the corner and work on the baby blanket I was slowly knitting and just absorb their conversations on color and weave and balance and pattern.
My good friend of so many years, Carrie Johnson of Hudson, Wisconsin, came for a 2-week visit and while she was here Jean and Frank volunteered to spend the day with us as our guides for a day-long circle tour of the Coromandel. We made poor Frank stop for so many photo-ops and slam on the breaks when we three saw a sign for a Fiber Gallery! Frank even cooked us his 'special curry dinner' one night. These are two of the 'good folks' and I know we will stay friends long after I leave New Zealand. Here are just a few photos of our time together:
|Jean & Frank|
The Knit n'Nater Ladies
Lee's hand-spun, hand-dyed, designed and knitted sweater I could not talk her into selling to me! ,
Photos of our day driving around the Coromandel,
Carrie on the hilltop overlooking the bay. The mussel-farming thingies,. Where we bought oysters for dinner and Raewyn Penrose's Fiber Gallery!
Driving Creek Railway, a small-gauge tourist attraction in Coromandel Town was very interesting. Take the time to click the link a read the history of this tiny little attraction and the man who did it all by hand!
The view from the Eyeful Tower, at the top of the Driving Creek Railway line,
overlooking the island-studded Hauraki Gulf.
Each week I spent many a wonderful-few hours at this little theater - and there was always this same woman there almost every time I was, seeing the same movie. We would nod, smile and then eat our popcorn. One day, after about the third time of this happening, she turned around and said "Aren't you the American who is housesitting in TePuru?" (Small town, word gets around quickly!) After saying yes, that was me, she said "I would love to have to come to my home for dinner, meet my husband David, and share your adventures with us."
How many times in your lifetime has a perfect stranger invited you into their home for dinner? In the States, not that often, I would guess. But this was not the first time since I started my full-time traveling lifestyle that this has occurred, and hopefully it won't be the last. I have found the kindness and generosity of strangers I have met along the way to be staggering. Sharon is a perfect example.
She is a retired nurse who met her Dr. husband while working as his nurse. (Where have I heard that story before?) They were happily married and he was running a very busy practise, being an extremely well-respected doctor, when he was knocked down by a massive stroke. His mind is still sharp, but his body is failing him and it's so sad. Sharon is now his full-time caregiver.
Dinner was delicious and the conversation lively. One of Sharon's daughter joined us. She is a teacher, but also hand-braids beautiful, colorful bridal horse ropes that she sells mainly to stores in the western states of the US! It was a totally delightful evening and Sharon and I managed to plan a meet-up for lunch and a movie! She even invited me once again for dinner to celebrate her birthday with her other daughter and the grandchildren.
Instead of feeling like a outsider, I was made to feel welcome and part of the family for the evening. This was truly a gift. I chose to travel solo and even though I really don't get lonely very often and actually enjoy my own company, when you can spend time and be made part of a close-knit group of people, it is something really very special.
My farewell dinner with my wonderful women-friend of Thames
Lee, Pat, Pat's daughter, Jenny, Elizabeth, Jean & Sharon
I'll conclude this overly-long post with some funny, weird, and wonderful things I did and learned and saw during my 3-months in the Coromandel!
I learned how to lawn-bowl. It's done with 'biased' bowls (not balls) and played mostly on an out-door court. I actually got fairly good at it and was allowed to bowl with the Thames Bowling Club on Wednesday and Saturday mornings open bowls - when it wasn't raining! You bowl 2-games each time with a break for a cuppa and it takes an average of 3 hours for a set.
My senior exercise group hosted a going-away tea for me the last day of class. So we exercised for an hour and then ate lots of delicious sweets - including my very first Pavlova, made by our instructor Ginny, just for me -because it's a New Zealand must-eat!
I won the Soup & Meat raffle at Bowls and was the speaker at the Thames Travel Club!
I attended a Fiber & Craft Expo in Hamilton and every Saturday morning went into Thames for Market Day and the extremely weird sidewalk display of one vendor - does your dog want a cuppa?
Birds of all kinds! Besides the local Tui, I had Kingfishers on the deck and a Rosella in the garden and Cormorants on the shoreline!
I attended one, and only one, Red Hat meeting and marveled at some of the weird veggies in the Chinese grocery shop.
I loved the Maori art displayed on the sides of buildings (this is the TePuru grand school) and bought a beautiful hand-felted coat from Raewyn Penrose.
Enjoyed touring local art studios and eating Bubble & Squeak at Sunday morning brunch at the Waikito Cafe.
Got a hoot out of the local 'garden art', never tired of the glorious scenery and loved snapping photos of the newest 'locals.'
I bid adieu to the Coromandel on the 28th of September, ready for the next part of my travels in New Zealand. It was a wonderful time and the ladies have asked me to return, which I hope to do for at least a few days, before I depart in March. But not it's onto Wellington and the South Island!
Until next time.......
PS: I apologize for the wonky way this post might look! I lost over 1/2 of what I had written one day, then the pictures refused to line up, and I couldn't make the formatting work! ARGH. I also understand that yesterday Blogger sent out a previous post of mine from July, 2015, as my newest post. The net can be really strange at times......