"" Writer's Wanderings: New Zealand Diary - Coromandel Peninsula

Monday, October 21, 2013

New Zealand Diary - Coromandel Peninsula

Monday, October 7, 2013

Another sunny day greets us as we set off for Coromandel Peninsula. But first, we decide on a stop at a place we’d passed on our way in to Snells Beach. Puhoi is a historic Bohemian settlement according to the sign at the turn off for the road. It is a tiny little place along a small river. It was settled by a group of  83 Bohemians from villages near Pilsen in Bohemia. The offer of free land was what encouraged them to leave their homeland in 1863 and emigrate to New Zealand.

Each adult was given 40 acres and each child 20 under the Waste Lands Act. In Puhoi the land was steep, the bush thick, the only access the river and only a rough shelter house. Te Hemera Tauhia and his men brought the immigrants to Puhoi and helped them to learn a bit about the bush and survival. The Bohemians, a hearty people, managed to survive by using what they found in the bush as a means to generate income and slowly put their settlement together. Steamers began coming up the river to receive the timber and other goods for shipment and by 1881, about 3000 acres were beginning to be farmed.

Why is this so fascinating to me? Well, because my grandfather came from Bohemia. He was a farmer and immigrated to America not too long after these people. Under different circumstances, I could have been a Kiwi!

We are here so early in Puhoi that nothing except the general store is open. We mail some post cards and take pictures of the old hotel and the stables and set out on the road again. Surprise, surprise! Our next stop is another waterfall. Hunua Falls. This one is quite impressive. The Kiwis have erected a frame so that you can take a postcard-like picture. Kind of funny. I like the more natural scene a lot better.

Our route to the town of Cormandel takes us along a magnificent coastline. Lush green islands dot the water and contrast with the deep blue of the sea. It is rockier here than any other place we’ve been yet and it makes the shoreline even more dramatic. Around every turn there seems to be another breathtaking view. Of course some of the turns are pretty breathtaking too especially when you are met by a huge logging truck coming the other way.

We check in to our motel, again finding it much nicer than expected, and quickly drive to the Golden Stamper Battery. It is a place to learn more about the gold mining that went on in this area. Unfortunately, we arrive about ten minutes too late for the last tour which seems didn’t happen anyway because we are the only car in the parking lot. Disappointed, we turn and head for the other site on our list, the Driving Creek Railway.



Thankfully we arrive just in time for the last train run of the day. The train is narrow gauge and diesel driven and was originally used to bring clay down from the mountainside for use by the artist’s colony that formed there. When the man, Barry Brickell, who originally built the whole thing was running out of money, he began to use it to take tourists up to the top for a view of the surrounding area. Eventually he built a lookout he calls the Eyefull Tower and it affords a panoramic view of the ocean, the peninsula and the surrounding islands.

Again, we find the friendliness of the Kiwis amazing. The engineer sat with us on the way down (we were in the last car which became the first car on the return) and asked us about home and Bob’s volunteer job with our Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. He answered all Bob’s questions about the little train we were on and even gave us a great suggestion for dinner.

Coming into town, we had noticed the low tide revealed several square patterned areas on the exposed beach that were lined evenly. Obviously an area where something was being farmed. We learned it was mussels and when we checked out the restaurant suggestion of the engineer, we found it had mussels on the menu. Ah! A no-brainer. Our dinner of mussels is wonderful. We order fries to go with it like we did in France. The sauce is lemongrass and coconut with a slight kick of something—maybe cayenne?

As we eat, we ponder what the long black roping with loops on it is that is draped across the restaurant. Finally we ask. It is the rope that is used on the beach for the mussels to attach to and grow. How appropriate.

After dinner, we shop for some things for breakfast. The cost of breakfast at the motels is a bit much and for a lot less, we can eat well. We get English muffins-whole wheat with raisins- a couple of bananas and some jam to go with the peanut butter we brought with us. I will learn to make plunger coffee in the morning. A new skill to acquire.

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