Occasionally I leave Wellington and walk somewhere else. A few weeks ago, we had a very relaxing week on the Coromandel Peninsula, camping and hanging out on beautiful, mostly empty beaches. Towards the end of the week, we’d made our way up to the top of the peninsula, camping at the stunning DOC campsite at Port Jackson. A few kilometres further on from Port Jackson, the narrow unsealed road peters out at Fletcher Bay, the starting point of the Coromandel Walkway which follows the coastline at the very end of the peninsula, linking with another road end (and DOC campsite) at Stony Bay.
The idea of walking along the furthest point of the peninsula we had been exploring all week was very appealing, and we still had a full day before we needed to start heading homewards, so we decided to walk it.
We got up relatively early (for us), packed up our gear and drove to Fletcher Bay, where there is another lovely DOC campsite, and set off along the walkway. We climbed uphill from Fletcher Bay following a red dirt track through open farmland, looking out over the sea dotted with little rocky islands. A single fishing boat was heading out towards the horizon. The sky was completely clear and it was already hot. The track passed a rocky headland and then we descended through cool bush, a canopy of chirping cicadas overhead, woven through with threads of birdsong.
We paused at Poley Bay, a rocky cove where fairy-sized pohutukawa trees clung like bonsai to the cliffs and turquoise waves broke over black striated rocks.
From Poley Bay there was a steep and hot ascent through more open ground. We stopped for a break on a bench, looking out at the grey craggy outline of Great Barrier Island in a sea of perfect blue-ness.
After the initial climbs and descents, the path was relatively level for the rest of the way, snaking around the edges of the hills through groves of manuka and kanuka trees. We crossed clear streams that trickled over rocks and ran down through gullies filled with nikau palms. We could hear birds – tui, bellbirds, fantails and grey warblers – but didn’t see many.
The path descended slowly to Stony Bay with its curve of pebbled beach and huge gnarled pohutukawa trees laden with epiphytes. Inland, bush-covered mountains rose steeply beyond the lush green grass of the campsite.
I’d been thinking all week how the colours of the New Zealand summer remind me of old colour photographs from the 1950s and 1960s – maybe it’s the intensity of the light that makes things seem slightly unreal to my northern hemisphere eyes. The rocky coves of the Coromandel and the scrubby twisted trunks of the kanuka trees remind me of photographs of the mediterranean from my childhood, maybe from the National Geographic, or some colour guidebooks we had about the South of France. They all seemed highly exotic at the time, given that we rarely ventured more than a couple of hours’ drive away from our Yorkshire home, even for our holidays. It was making me feel slightly disorientated, as if I’d stepped back into a world that existed in my childhood imagination.
There was something dream-like about the walk in any case, walking through a succession of stunningly beautiful and mostly unpeopled vistas. I suddenly thought of the view-master I had as a child: it had circular cards with sets of 3D images of landscapes that you slotted into it. You peered into it like a pair of binoculars, pulling down on a lever to move the card round to the next image*. The walk felt a bit like that, but without the darkness in between.
We ate our lunch, and then re-traced our steps, back to Fletcher Bay.
*I was amazed to find you can still get these