Wanderlust in Waikino

November 2020

This trip was first planned for August, but an Auckland lockdown meant it was delayed until November as most flights to Auckland were cancelled.  (As I write this I have just had another trip cancelled because of another Auckland lockdown – probably something we need to get used to!) It was disappointing to have to delay the trip but my first trip to the North Island since I got back to New Zealand was not to disappoint.  Starting with the flight up and the AMAZING view of Mt Taranaki.  As always, I was grateful for my window seat.

I picked up my rental car (currently it seems rental cars out of Auckland are pretty cheap which is great) and had decided to do a bit of a ‘tiki tour’ – that is, taking the long way round to my destination.  This route took me along the coast of the Hauraki Gulf and through cute coastal towns like Kawakawa Bay and Miranda.

By this point I was long overdue a break and something to eat so I stopped at the Buggar Café in Pipiroa, just outside Thames – yes, you read me right, the Buggar Café! Its philosophy is “Laugh a little” and the bathroom in particular had a number of amusing posters and photos. My favourite was detailing “Useful Bugger sayings” (just in case we could not think of any ourselves lol).

Refreshed from my stop, I next drove over the ranges which border the Coromandel Forest Park where I stopped briefly for a quick walk up to a viewpoint, before heading down the other side to the east coast and the small but perfectly formed beachside town of Whangamata.  (Small and perfectly formed towns was a bit of a theme to this weekend lol.)

Whangamata has a perfect combination of sand, surf and native bush which the population of around 5,000 can enjoy year round – in the summer holidays the population can swell to over 20,000!!  I decided it must be time for another break and a quick walk on the beach and look around the shops.  There is something about being on holiday that means I am always eager to buy things that I might not even consider when I am at home – not that they are bad purchase lol!

The final leg of my journey for the day took me through Waihi (where I would return to the next day) and on to Waikino and the rural log cabin that was to be my home for the next couple of nights.  It was a beautiful place, set in a beautiful rural outlook – fields, an orchard full of olive trees and a babbling brook … ok, it was a river but babbling brook sounds so much more literary right?  One of the best (or perhaps the worst) things about the place was that there was no phone reception – total peace.

Despite the sun earlier in the day it was fairly overcast, and the rain set in during the afternoon – I have probably mentioned it somewhere else in a blog, just how much I love rain on a tin roof!  I could listen to it for hours (and I did lol).   When the rain stopped, I went for a short walk down to the river – the fresh, wet farm smell was just so good!  I know it is not everyone’s cup of tea but I love it.

I spent the rest of the afternoon chatting with the other ladies on the retreat (did I mention it was a retreat – not that I know what a retreat actually is!) making homemade pizza and mulled wine.  Although we are now well into spring, remember this trip was original planned for mid-winter so mulled wine made sense then.   Both were delicious.

The next morning, I woke early (as I do) so I got up and went out for a short walk along the road just outside the house and passed the Waitawheta Valley tram track walk (the tram track used to provide the gold mining industry with timber).   It was so peaceful and still – only the sound of the river and birds. I had hoped the river crossing on the map (yay for maps.me and their offline maps again) was a bridge, but it was actually a ford and I was not prepared to get my feed wet at this time of the day 😂. Instead I spent far too long taking close up photos of plants with the morning dew on, as the sun came up over the hills. It could not have been a more perfect time to be out and about.

After breakfast we headed into Waihi, a small town founded around the gold mining industry – it actually won New Zealand’s most beautiful small town in 2019.  The gold and silver mining industry still exists today with both open cast and underground mining – giving Waihi the nickname of New Zealand’s “Heart of Gold”.  The Waihi goldmine is actually New Zealand’s richest gold mine!

We started by having a walk around the town centre (it did not take long), starting at the old Cornish Pumphouse.  It was built in 1904, based on the ones used in the tin mines in Cornwall (hence the name) and at the time it was built, it was the pride of the New Zealand mining industry ensuring the nearby mine had sufficient water, providing up to 7000 litres per minute!!

Despite its success, it was used for less than 10 years as in 1913 the Waihi Goldmining Company built the first hydro electric power station on the Waikato river and pumped the water 80kms to the mine.  At the time, the miners did not trust electricity so kept the pumphouse in working order until 1929 just in case it was needed. 

From 1930, the pumphouse was stripped of machinery and left as it was until the 1960s when one of the underground shafts collapsed, leaving the pumphouse on unstable land.  It was fenced off due to the danger but in 2006, it was decided to preserve it and therefore it needed to be moved.  The move of only 300m was an engineering feat in itself.  Today the pumphouse is an icon of the town’s mining heritage.

If you walk up the small hill next to the pumphouse you can look down on the vast Martha open cast mine.  You really can only tell the vastness of it when you see a truck halfway down which looks absolutely tiny.  There is also underground mining that tunnels underneath the town, which have caused some concern to the people who live above it.

After our short history lesson, we headed to ‘Laughing Pottery’, where we were to learn how to ‘pot’ lol.  Andrew, chief potter (not sure if that is actually a thing) taught us all about the origins of his clay and the process it goes through to get from the clay you dig out of the ground to the clay your make things out off – it was a surprising long process that I won’t bore you with!

Next up was learning how to make things.  I can firmly state it is definitely not as easy as the pros make it look!!  Nevertheless I managed to make 2 pretty decent looking bowls and a mug which will be fired and glazed (in a colour of my choice) over the next couple of weeks and sent on to me.  It was a fun experience, and I can’t wait to see the finished products (Finished product is included in the photos above – not to shabby if I do say so myself lol.

We had time for a walk around some of the cute shops in the busy little town before we were back on the road and into the nearby Karangahake Gorge and the quirky Talisman café for lunch.

Just across the busy road from the café is the start of a number of walks around the Karangahake Gorge itself.  These days the gorge is mostly a thoroughfare to get from Paeroa to Waihi, or perhaps somewhere to stop for a short walk, but it was once a bustling gold mining town.  The walks take you past some of the remains of buildings, along the old mining tram ways and through some of the old tunnels.  We did the short Windows Walk which is one of the favourites, not only because it is an easy 2.5km loop, but because of the wonderful views of the gorge through the ‘windows’.

Having had a bit of walk, we were ready for the next stop at the Karangahake Winery Estate.  A lovely winery set just up the hill from the river.  Despite the forecast, it had turned in to a lovely warm day, so we sat outside in the sun enjoying some lovely nibbles and a freshly brewed Mead – “Session” Mead as opposed to “Sack” Mead which I had sampled in Kyrgyzstan (feel free to check out that blog – All things Kyrgyz 101).  Chantelle, the owner and brewer of the mead explained that “sack” mead is what you drink before you go and sack a village (going back to its Viking roots).  It is very strong and very alcoholic 😂!!  “Session” mead on the other hand is something you could drink for a “session” – so it tends to be much lower in alcohol, lighter and fizzier – it was delicious and refreshing and definitely more drinkable than the Kyrgyz sack mead! 

Chantelle said it was her best batch yet!!

Our final stop for the afternoon was at the beautiful Owharoa Falls, in the Kaimai Mamaku Conservation Park and just off State Highway 2.   From the road it is just a short walk to the waterfall’s base were you get a view of the small but perfectly formed falls.  Now I mentioned previously that it was much warmer than I had expected it to be, but it was definitely not warm enough for swimming as a couple of people were doing lol. I was definitely not inclined to join them.

It had been a busy day and we had a couple of hours downtime before we headed back to Waihi, this time to Waihi Beach for dinner at the beachside Flatwhite Waihi Beach.   It overlooked the beautiful long stretch of Waihi Beach, despite the overcast weather it was still beautiful.

The rain set in during the evening and back at the log cabin, I fell asleep to the wonderful sound of rain on the tin roof (again).

The following morning was the last of my short getaway and we were back at Waihi Beach for a morning Yoga session at The Nest.  Now, I am not really a yoga person, but the yoga tent was in such beautiful gardens and it was so peaceful I found it all very relaxing … until the ducklings started running around the deck around the tent 😂 the pitter patter of their little feet round and round just made me laugh.   😂 

After yoga I had time for a coffee and a short walk on the beach – after the rainy night, it was a beautiful day, and you could see as my Mt Manganui … I just wished I could stay longer, but sadly no.  I had to get back to the house to get packed up and head back to Auckland.  Thankfully I did have time for a quick stop in Paeroa, the home to the ‘world famous in New Zealand’ Lemon & Paeroa and get a mandatory photo of the giant L&P bottle.

Yet another great long weekend, exploring my big back yard.

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