Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cathedral Cove

The day dawned bright, sunny and warm, and after a leisurely breakfast we drove out to Cook’s Beach, where we took the ferry across to Whitianga. Whitianga is a typical small New Zealand town, and after second-breakfasting at a café we wandered around  the town, in search of souvenirs for Sacha and Lisa to take back to their families in the UK. At around midday we crossed back via the ferry and drove to the beach and went for a quick swim in the Pacific Ocean, before locating the Cathedral Cove tour operators and having a quick chat with them about when they were going to set out. Turned out we had a bit of time to spare, so we swam around a bit more before returning with a few minutes to spare.

Our guide to Cathedral Cove was to be Hayden, and our means of transportation was sea kayaks. Firstly he demonstrated how to hold our paddles, then how to steer the kayak (foot pedals attached to the rudder), and got us strapped in with skirts and life jackets. And then it was launch time – Hayden pushed us out and we paddled like mad to get about 40m out to sea, beyond where the waves were starting to break, and waited for the others in our group – Sacha and Lisa in one kayak, and a Malaysian couple in the other, as well as Hayden himself in his one-man kayak.

Sacha, Lisa, and me

We then paddled around to Cathedral Cove by way of some other bays – Stingray, Shakespeare's and Gemstone Bays, and another bay where we went into a cave that was forming in the volcanic rock that makes up the cliffs. Hayden led us through some reefs where we had to be pretty quick to get through on the waves, and occasionally got us together to form a raft by holding onto each other’s boats so he could give us a bit of info about what we were looking at, how the rock formations and caves were formed, and some Maori legends about the place. The whole area is also a marine reserve and the sea life is doing very well, apparently, although none of it turned up to greet us (which does happen every 2-3 weeks, so Hayden informed us – in the form of pods of bottlenose dolphins). We had to steer around snorkelers and divers as this is also a popular spot for them.

Before we landed at Cathedral Cove, we formed a raft again and Hayden briefed us on the hand gestures he would use to guide us in: when to paddle, when to stop, and when to go backwards. This is to avoid being caught by a big wave behind you as you come in to the beach. As he put it “if you try and surf into the beach you’ll look cool for about three seconds before turning sideways on and rolling over in the surf”. Not a good look, and of course potentially dangerous, so we dutifully followed his instructions and landed without incident. When we were all on the beach, he took our coffee order, then went off to brew coffee and chocolate on a little gas stove. We wandered off through the archway that give the cove its name, and connects two beaches. We also had a swim at the beach there before returning for our coffees and chocolates, and biscuits, to fortify us for the paddle back to the beach we’d started from.

The archway that gives Cathedral Cove its name

Hayden packed up all his gear, launched us out the same as when we’d started – we formed a raft immediately like the seasoned pros that we were – then he took us out to an island off the coast where there was a sea arch that we could paddle through. “Use your paddles to fend off the walls if you need to” said Hayden, but we were so expert by this stage that we steered a faultless passage through. As we lay in the lee of the island, Hayden told us a bit more about the Maori history of the area, including a story about the fate of some warriors captured after a battle and how he dealt with them at Hot Water Beach – about which more later. We then raised a makeshift sail using our paddles and holding our kayaks together in a raft, and sailed some of the way back to our destination beach. This was just as well as our arms and shoulders were beginning to feel the strain a bit by now – the whole round trip takes 3 ½ hours. We beached using the same routine as before, avoiding the big waves crashing in, which had picked up in the mid-afternoon on-shore breeze.

After a quick change in to dry clothes we then headed for home, to shower properly and get ready for the evening’s entertainment: Gauguin’s Shells – The Return.

Apart from mucking up our booking (they’d been expecting us at six, although we’d specifically said 7:30. “For five people again?” “No, for six” (we’d been joined by uncle Bruce) got interpreted as six o’clock. Nevertheless, they took our order, and managed to bring it within an hour – the maitre d’ having again had to resort to offering us some bread and pesto as it was taking so long. The food, when it arrived, was good; I’m just not sure how much call there is for sous-vide cooking in a small town in Coromandel.

The final turn was to be told that they were out of crème brûlée when I ordered it for dessert; only to see them bring plateloads of crème brûlées out to another table, who’d presumably ordered the last of them.

On the way home, the moonless night sky was so clear that we could see the Milky Way shining brightly.

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