Posts Tagged ‘Tatahi Backpackers’

Rain and Shine at Hahei

March 28, 2011

Monday 14th February – Thursday 17th February: Hahei Beach

Hahei Beach was damaged by storms – the edge of the cyclones that devastated North Queensland had also hit this coast hard. Landslips had closed roads and paths: the proprietor of the Tatahi Backpackers glumly showed us uprooted plants spread down the hillside: half his garden had fallen onto the road below. Clearly, cutting roads and paths into a hillside destabilises it, and invites these landslides. The evidence was there in lots of places on the Coromandel. You might argue that (by definition) we only saw the bits where there were roads, and that landslips can take place anywhere: but in fact plenty of native bush and steep hills can be seen, all still secure. The weather was still a bit chancy, and the walk to Cathedral Cove was closed (it might be open again by now). So we went for a drive. We parked at Ferry Landing near Cook’s Beach to take the ferry across to Whitianga and see the little local museum, with its extensive collection of photos and information about early life in the logging camps. (Perhaps inevitably) there was a charming DVD about Captain Cook and the Maori, apparently scripted and performed by members of the historical society. A discreet subtext of the displays (not loud, but deep) was a sense of outrage over the waste involved when the huge, ancient kauri were dragged out of the mountains and sent off to furnish the Empire with fighting ships. There is now a re-planting programme, which is something, but many of those trees cannot be replaced even by centuries of growth.
On Wednesday it rained on and off, but we got to Hot Water Beach just in time to paddle in the hot springs before the tide rose too high. Ravenous from all that and from a long time spent in the wonderful Moko Art Gallery there, we set off to find food – any food. Sweeping round a corner under dripping trees I spotted a rough and ready sign: Open fired Pizza  – winery.  The prospect seemed dubious, but indeed – quick decision –  down a short track we found a winery, with massive amounts of free tasting, excellent pizza, and a laid back atmosphere that anyone who lived through the sixties would recognise in a moment. Even the dark green paintwork and the Scottish waitress/cook sitting knitting a vast shawl looked authentic. I don’t for a moment think they try to create the atmosphere: they just are like that. We bought their wine and their Feijoa Liqueur, and wished we could have fitted many more bottles into our bags.

Purangi Winery

(Thanks to Kelly Chesterton’s blog for the picture.)
Back at Hahei, rain misted the hills and the out-of-focus low cloud was neither cool nor warm. The dark sea, hazy and flat, set up a rhythmic hushing monotone: a kind of white noise. I parked on the foreshore and watched the sea, wondering how best to photograph the rain. The birds had all vanished. Two kayaks circled and tipped endlessly where the murky grey-green waves were churning up sand, but my camera’s battery had flattened – the photos of islands in the rain, of headlands in the mist, would have to wait for some other year. But I swam in the cool grey waves under a light drizzle. Blissful.
On the last morning the sun came out, and brightened things up. Our useful host told us that some people had been through to Cathedral Cove anyway “using the old path”, so we decided to have a look. The path had returned itself to thick, dark-yellow clay, staining and very sticky, but there were indeed people coming back the other way. As we hesitated by the barricade and the ‘Path Closed’ sign, a Canadian clambering around it told us “It’s steep; you have to kind of rappel down; but it’s do-able.” The path itself was mostly quite easy going, but the last climb down into Mare’s Leg Cove was indeed steep: the topmost of the three flights of steps had completely washed away,

that's the top flight of steps, lying on the sand, right at the bottom

and the others were slippery from the muddy feet of the people who had been there before us.

two flights of steps were intact

We had explained the situation to a young German couple back at the barricade, and they decided to come along. They were agile down the cliff, and immensely kind – carrying my bag and offering a hand down.

behind those bright leaves is the tree root we used to rappel down the cliff

A New Zealander climbing back up showed us a slightly easier route, for the return: I imagine this was the ‘old path’ that the bloke at Tatahi had mentioned.

the alternative track up from Mare's Leg Cove

I’m noticing nationalities here because I really enjoy the multi-national feeling of Hahei, and of the folk whose sense of adventure led them along the forbidden path.

I mentioned the New Zealand attitude to rules in a previous blog. Here we found another interesting moment. Having disobeyed the sign telling us that Cathedral Cove was closed, we met some workmen on the way back, right by the barricade.
One looked at us (aggressively I thought) and said ‘Did you see the sign?’
‘Yes,’ Andrew answered (man to man).
‘And you chose to ignore it.’
‘Yes, that’s right.’
No further comment. I enjoyed the unemphasised assumption that we could exercise personal responsibility, and choice. He clearly thought we were stupid, but he allowed our right to be so.
We hustled back to Auckland in broad sunshine, to return the hired car on time.

February 22nd – 23rd

April 3, 2010


Monday 22nd  –  Tuesday 23rd February


Dolphins at Hahei

Three or four maybe – a small pod

Just on time, at five thirty, the dolphins

splash in the distance, race surging between the islands

gregarious pack animals, energetic as teenagers.

Please stay with me;

roll leap and play in my mind’s eye forever;

puppies of the sea – spending energy in wanton high leaps

and full-length crashes like breaching whales.

The dolphins are wonderful – I was lucky to see them, as I think they had been there for a while when I finally closed my book and walked down to the beach.  They had been closer in, but I saw them way way out – perhaps as they were leaving the bay.  And I was struck by a sudden fear that I would forget them – that Hahei itself would fade in my mind, and I would never come back, simply because I had forgotten what it was like and (at some level) how absolutely easy it is to leave all the ties that feel so dominatingly real when one is at home. But while I was there it felt completely right and natural: it felt like my place, and, corny though it may sound, like my spiritual home. It’s interesting too that a phrase like that, which sounds so qualified anywhere else, could sound appropriate while there.  And remembering the dolphins stands for remembering the whole experience – they feel like my own daffodils. (Stupid Word – can’t tell what the subject of a sentence is!) And the poem, though it isn’t very good, is a way of holding that time and that sense of possibility. Holding on to it.  Not very far below the surface, too, is that fear of forgetfulness and of aging.

Tuesday 23rd

My day to leave, so I took an early morning walk up the headland, where there is a Maori pa. (I didn’t spot it. Didn’t really know what to look for, then.) There were lots of seagulls and cormorants, and some hidden bird was giving a sawing two-note call from well inside a tree.  As one climbs the inner side of the hill, one can look back at the bay and at the township of Hahei.  It suddenly struck me why I feel so at home there: it is very like Nelson Bay in the fifties, when I was a child.  A combination of the simplicity with the slightly tawdry tourism of caravan parks and beach walks, in a place that is lovely beyond belief. Further up the headland one sees forward out to the open sea, fine and crashing with great waves and rocky cliffs.  A solitary gannet heading eastwards dove headlong into the waves. At the top, wonderfully, I found an American couple doing yoga – they denied this, but she seemed to have just finished the ‘Salute to the Sun’.  Lovely chatty people, they offered to take my photo and explained that they live at Hahei for six months of the year, and in the US, near Chicago, for the rest.  What joy, I think.  They have been doing this for nine years now – since retiring, I guess.

Back along the beach to check out of Tatahi Backpackers (charming – wood-built, with gardens – but expensive, I thought at 80 dollars a night – wondered if I’d been overcharged, actually).  And couldn’t resist a last swim – such perfect water and waves.  someone was sea-swimming, quite far out. Most impressive.  But no morning dolphin were visible – I did look for them.

Few were in swimming , but I had my farewell swim anyway.  A bit chilly so early in the day, but amazingly good – battering waves.  A woman in a bathing cap waved to me – and I belatedly recognised the American from the hill.  Hope she didn’t think I was following her – (but what the hell if she did – I was leaving in half an hour).

and writing this just two days later, it is receding and it is so hard to hold it in my mind as banality seeps and then surges through me.  A treacly tide that immobilizes, and that I can fight with the poetry and the words here.  (but not with photos, which only capture a moment, and seem to be a part of forgetting because they allow only a very specific fragment of memory.) My dolphin poem, rough and ready though it is, is part of that holding process.

I hared back to Auckland through Tairua and over the mountains to get the little bright blue Getz back to Go! rentals  on time – and all worked smoothly despite my perennial fears of running late. (Why do I care so much?) The useful map of Auckland made all the difference.  It’s all about the maps. (Maybe I shouldn’t say that out loud – it ought to be obvious at my age.) But there’s something a little deeper there too, about maps. I hadn’t intended to go through Tairua, but took a wrong turning – another navigation problem. Finally collected from the wilds of the light industrial suburbs by kindly Colin, and restored to the family party going on at Ann’s.

Walking to Cathedral Cove: 22nd Feb

March 7, 2010

At Hahei Beach, on the Coromandel peninsula, there are two activities that visitors are expected to undertake: a trip to the Hot Water beach (I pass on that) and a walk over the northern headland and along the top of a beautiful ridge, to Cathedral Cove.  Both of these are best done at low tide. On the first day there – ariving late-ish in the afternoon – I swim at Hahei and walk along the beach. 

My shark-phobia means that I like to check on the situation before swimming in the open sea,  new Zealanders are unanimous that there are ‘no sharks’ off the Coromandel, but there is a suspicious difference in the reasons they offer.  For some it is an article of faith – no big predators in New Zealand, therefore no sharks.  Other narratives include:
1. They are out there but they just don’t come inshore.
2. They get hammered – which I take to mean that they get meshed, fished and driven away.  This seems likely.
3. The fish stocks are better in the deep ocean.  They don’t need to come in here, where the fish are fewer.

A leathery-skinned man fishing from the beach gives me answer number 1 to my shark question.  He it is who tells me about the dolphin who have been coming to play off the beach between four and six, for several evenings now.  (I do slightly wonder why the dolphin come into the bay, if not to eat.  Maybe it’s to socialise. And why do snorkellers see plenty of fish, and why was the guy fishing off the beach . . . ? However, this explanation does fit with point number one. Furthermore, on later days I see intrepid sea-swimmers moving gamely across the bay, with no apparent fear.  Confidence is contagious and I felt perfectly happy every time I swam in that sea.)

Later on that first day a German man of about my own age at Tatahi Backpackers advises me (firmly) how to go  to Cathedral Cove: namely ASAP and at low tide.  Snorkelling is better at low tide – and he narrates an encounter with a stingray which doesn’t exactly persuade me.  Though unconvinced by the idea of snorkelling, I nevertheless set off early-ish in the morning for Cathedral Cove – to catch the low tide – also,  as it turns out, avoiding the crowds. 

As well as the usual cicadas creaking and sawing, something is clicking – a rattling like rolling dice; like little twigs on fire; like a bike crunching on a gravel path as it approaches you quickly.  Like none of these.

A steep set of steps finally takes the path down into Mare’s Leg Cove, and from there Cathedral is the next beach. There are signs at Cathedral Cove, telling you not to go through the walkway underneath the stone arch for fear of falling rocks. The way has been fenced off.  The wire fence, though, has been breached, and a clear path of many footprints leads through to the beach beyond, where the swimming is wonderful, and there are very few people. Also, very little shade.

Blyton-esque notiuons of being trapped by the high tide cross my mind, so I soon go back into Mare’s leg Cove – equally charming – where a young man has whizzed in via an inflatable dinghy and has started to set up a kind of kiosk under an awning.  From this rather makeshift location he advertises soft drinks for sale and snorkelling gear for hire.  Inspired!   I discover later that this  

Only on the way back do I realise just how popular theses beaches are, as group after group pass me, climbing down as I climb up the long, wooded hills. 

The Puriri Grove is dark and cool, and a small group of people are taking one another’s photos there. They graciously take one of me:

There is always a bit of yourself that you forget to cream against the sun: today, for me, it’s my chest.   And it lets you know later, most spectacularly.  Where others are brown, I am red-and-white.  By afternoon, I am exhausted from the walk, the swim and the snorkelling. Spend the afternoon reading Audrey Niffenegger and putting anti-itch cream on my heat rash, back at the Backpackers. Bliss. Later in the afternoon I go looking for the dolphins – and there they are – rolling and leaping far out by one of the islands. Such joy!

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