After our short stay in Taupo we decided to have a few days away before returning again for Steve’s race.
Our options were still limited due to the extensive cyclone damage, which was causing major problems across many areas of the North Island. After some research we decided to risk a few days in The Coromandel Peninsula. This area had been battered by consistent and heavy rain for most of the Summer, which had caused a series of landslides completely destroying parts of the road network. However, it escaped the worst of the cyclone and a road around the peninsula was still passable, so we thought we would give it a go.
En route we made a stop in Rotorua, which is apparently the main geothermal hotspot of New Zealand.
Our first stop was to see some boiling mud pools, which we found fascinating. It looked like a scene from a prehistoric age, where dinosaurs could have roamed. A large lake of thick mud and water was simmering away, with steam floating across the surface. On a regular basis the activity would increase and boil over shooting hot mud a few feet in the air, sometimes quite close to where we were standing. No matter how much you were prepared, it still made you jump!
It was mesmerising, like sitting by a fire watching the flames dance.
While in Rotorua we also did a three hour walk through a Geothermal Valley. In terms of time, this is very much a younger area of activity, with most of the area being created in the last hundred years or so, and the most recent activity was only 40 years ago.
Along the way we passed through colourful sulphur terraces, steaming vent holes and volcanic craters which are now lakes and had steam being blown across them creating strange eerie patterns. It was a throughly enjoyable walk.
After Rotorua we continued our way North towards The Coromandel. The scenery returned to the rolling green hills and farmland which had been the main theme since we left Wellington.
When it comes to scenery The North Island is very much the poor relation to The South Island. We had loved being South so much that we were struggling a little with the North. Our advice to anyone visiting New Zealand would be, if possible, to do the North first.
We totally appreciated that the North was not at its best having had such a difficult few months with weather but when most people conjure up images of the country, in general, those images will be of South Island features.
Luckily for us we had allotted much more of our time to spend South and that proved a great decision and the fantastic weather had helped.
We arrived in the small seaside town of Whangamata on The Coromandel on a cold, wet and windy morning and it was Steve’s birthday. If he can he always likes to do a bit of training on his birthday, come to think of it he likes to do a bit of training everyday!
He spotted a sun shade over a barbecue area and set up his stationary trainer using the shade as rain shelter while Sarah went to get breakfast.
When Steve had finished he went back to the van and found Sarah had decked it out in balloons and bunting and put some candles in a banana cake!!
The rain kept coming and we spent the rest of the day catching up on admin and making plans for the next few days, weeks and months.
The following morning the rain had passed through, the sun was out and Whangamata had taken on a whole new image.
We parked up by the scenic marina, wandered through the nice little town and strolled along the wide beach, which had almost golden sand.
We did consider staying longer in Whangamata but with more rain forecast we decided to try another beach and see a little more of the area. We decided the next day we would head to Waihi Beach.
We got up the following morning and checked the Internet for current road conditions and saw that Waihi had been hit by a tornado! “Tornado! They don’t have tornadoes in New Zealand”, was Steve’s response. “They do now”, replied Sarah.
It turns out it wasn’t just a little one either as it had torn down power lines and ripped the roof off at least one house. But as it had passed through and the sun was out we went anyway.
Waihi was similar to Whangamata but with a smaller town and bigger beach. It was Sunday and the place was buzzing. We sat by the van right next to the beach for hours watching The World go by.
Like on so many beaches on a Sunday morning in both New Zealand and Australia the local Surf Life Saving club was out for training. This involves all ages from real youngsters up to adults participating in all sorts of drills and competitions, all designed to improve and practice their lifesaving skills.
Always the highlight for us is watching teams race each other from the beach, run out to a fast boat, get it ready to go, then speed out to sea around a bouy and back to shore.
With yet another spell of wet weather forecast for The Coromandel, we decided to cut our losses and the next morning we packed up and headed off back in the direction of Taupo.
This time, however, things were going to be a little different. Our friend Sandra was now on her way to Australia and we were taking up residence in her lovely little house for the week. No campsites for us. A real bed, comfortable sofa, and a toilet and shower in the same building! Paradise.
The added benefit was that the house was in the lovely village of Kinloch, about 20 minutes drive outside Taupo.
Kinloch sits right on the edge of the lake, and has some great walking trails that pass right through it. There is also a section of shingle beach on a sheltered part of the lake with a great general store which served the best gelato this side of Italy. So with the weather set fair we settled down for a relaxing few days.
Just when we had completely switched off from travel, organising and planning, our comfortable and relaxing time was brought back down to earth with a bang as Steve’s race was suddenly upon us.
Although it is Steve who has to go out and swim, cycle and run ridiculous numbers of kilometres, Sarah’s contribution to the day is equally exhausting.
She does so much running around in the couple of days before the race, making sure he is in the right place at the right time for the registration, clothing bag drop offs for the three legs of the race, cycle racking and special needs bags!
Then on race day she is up with him before 5am, making coffee and bagels. Then from sunset, when the race starts, until almost sunset when Steve finishes, she can constantly be heard above all the other spectators, “C’mon Steve. Keep going. You’re doing great”. Even when he isn’t!
She seems to pop up all over the course cheering him on. Then when things aren’t going according to plan, as was the case this time, she can always find the positives in his performance to keep him moving forward to the finish.
Then at the very end when it’s all over and he can barely walk, she is there to half carry him back to some food, a shower and bed.
So when Steve crosses the line and gets his medal and Ironman Finisher T-Shirt, it really does belong to Sarah as much as to him.
No matter what length of time it takes to cross the finish line, it is an amazing achievement and Steve sometimes forgets that. He sets himself high targets which were difficult for him 30 years ago never mind now and to meet those targets things have to go pretty much exactly right. So when the wind picks up, the sun shines and the mercury rises, which it most certainly did on race day, those targets realistically become out of reach.
It’s not until the days after the race when Steve looks at the other athletes’ results and speaks to people about town that he then realises most other people missed their targets too. Then maybe he thinks “I didn’t do all that bad after all. I made the top 10% of my age category and almost the top 20% of all the starters, and I am getting on a bit”.
Just a couple of days after the race and Steve was completely recovered. This is a little bit unusual and probably down to the fact that for some reason he just couldn’t get going properly in the race. Consequently, he didn’t go so hard to completely flatten himself like he has done in the past.
It probably also helped that we spent the day after the race soaking in the wonderful hot pools at Waikerai Terrace!
We were also able to take advantage of his quick recovery and head out on one of the wonderful trails around Kinloch, which wound its way around the edge of the lake through the forest.
We stayed on at Sandra’s place as long as we could, which left us with a half day drive up to Auckland where we were due to return the campervan.
As is normal for us, we used every last day of our trip and spent the time exploring the city on foot.
Over 10 miles later we had seen all the major sites and we were both a little surprised how good it was. We hadn’t expected too much as it really doesn’t have any World renowned iconic sites, but it was just a pleasant city to stroll around with plenty of different neighbourhoods. Ponsonby was probably our favourite, described by many as ‘hip’ and ‘cool’. “Just like me”, said Steve. “Absolutely”, said Sarah with a big roll of the eyes!
So at just after 1am in the morning our plane left the runway and our three and a half months in New Zealand were over.
We had enjoyed the South Island enormously and the North Island maybe not as much. The Taupo and Kinloch area had probably been our favourite purely because there was so much to do and it had been mostly spared the ravages of the cyclone. But it had also been fab to catch up with Sarah’s Mum, her sister Louise, her husband Greg and their three wonderful boys. Will we return to New Zealand? You bet we will, probably a few times!