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STONY BAY TO WHAREKAIATUA
A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE
The end was almost in sight when we woke on that last morning, and while we wanted to go home and be with family, friends and furniture, we were also a little sad. We had breakfast with Kuroho, the DoC ranger who’d kindly let us bunk in the Stony Bay Camp ranger house, and headed off.
The weather was perfect. Unlike my memory...which is a little foggy.
The great thing about the top of the Coromandel is that there isn’t a road around it. It’s a double dead-end up there which means off-peak visitors are few and far between and the ones that do make it are there to relax. If a road swept around the top linking Fletcher Bay with Stony Bay, the place would just be another soulless stop for so-called Freedom Campers. As it is you have to really want to be at Stony Bay to go there...and long may it be like that.
The tip of the peninsula is, however, connected for travel by The Coromandel Walkway - a 10km walking and mountain bike track that took us through some delicious regenerating bush - its highlights included flowering Puriri trees and a pair of Kaka - sadly, our first since Wellington. There were steep ups and downs as we went from bay to bay. I remember being enveloped in a swarm of flying ants as we had a break on an outcrop that looked across to Sugarloaf.
I’m looking at a map right now and I think the bay we swam at was probably Poley Bay. We were in public so the usual Chunky Dunking was downgraded to a more respectful Grundy Dunking. The young couple who joined us were probably pleased by this choice, although we were feeling pretty good about our slimmed down bods, so...you know...er...I’ll stop now.
The water was warm for May. Not just pleasant. It was warm. We’re southerners at heart which means we’re used to swimming in Dunedin which isn’t that far from Antarctica. Although the swim at Poley Bay was really nice, I remember feeling a little unnerved by the friendliness of the water.
“Is this global warming or am I being paranoid again?”
We dried off and ate the last of our rations, before making our way up past the creatively named Sugarloaf and Pinnacles, then down to Fletchers Bay.
Not only does Fiona have an elephantine memory, she also does all of our trail planning. She has poured over maps, stalked Street View, and surveyed Google Earth for routes official and unofficial. She knows where we went and where we will be going because that’s what she does.
Me on the other hand...I’ve just had a look at a map in an effort to remember what happened on the last day of our hike and realised that the day I thought was the last, was actually the second to last day.
See...I told you.
THE LAST DAY
Fletchers Bay is another DoC campsite, but it’s a little more developed than Stony Bay - it’s closer by road to Auckland I guess. I don’t remember anyone showing us to our cabin - I think there may have been a key in a basket on the clothesline. I also can’t remember when we got the bump box we’d sent from Coromandel town a few days earlier but I do know it arrived...well I assume it did. It may even have had chocolate and wine in it. It didn’t have fish and chips.
Our second to last evening on our trail was a nice evening indeed.
We weren’t in a hurry to finish, so we had an easy start the next day. We sat on the deck in the sun with casual coffee and chocolate for breakfast while campervans left and the local farmer roared up and down the hills behind the campground herding sheep...or was it cattle? The dogs that got left in their cages barked more than the lucky buggers who had been chosen to do all the hard work.
Rain was forecast, but we headed off in the sun. We followed a meandering and quiet gravel road as cloud slowly crept over the day.
A DESIGN CRITIQUE
Looking back toward Fletchers Bay
Design is a tricky thing to critique when you’re a designer - which I am. I know this because a lot of design jobs come with constraints like time and budget. Many design jobs come with tricky things like committees and opinionated but fundamentally tasteless managers who always know best. I know that a designer’s work can’t be judged by the finished product so I feel a bit guilty about this...
New Zealand used to do memorials and landmarks well. We became a nation in the Victorian age - when nothing was too extravagant - afterall. The country is littered with hundreds of beautifully rendered statues featuring all sorts of self important blowhards from the time. It must have been a boomtime for sculptors, stonemasons, town planners and architects. These edifices are largely irrelevant now, but jeez they look good.
World War l was a great era for making monuments too...for all the wrong reasons...lest we forget.
Then something happened after World War ll.
New Zealand must have run out of the time and money to care about great places and historical moments. We also embraced the car. Why spend time and energy making nice things for people to look at when they really just want to park up for a ciggie, a snog and a quick photo?
Why make something of Cape Reinga or Bluff when all you need is some tarseal and an AA sign that points to everywhere else but here?
The stylised urinal that marks the northernmost tip of the Coromandel is a design classic from the era of The Car - a celebration of lazyness. We’re a phallic-centric nation - I get it! But just because something is at the tip of something else doesn’t mean that we should make a big thing about it...even if that big thing is just a block of concrete with a bent piece of stainless steel riveted to it.
Good design isn’t just about looking good. Good design should include context. Relevancy. Acknowledgement of a reason for being. Being at the tip of a knob isn’t really a thing...most of the time anyway. The brick that celebrates the tip of Coromandel’s thing isn’t even at the tip...it’s on the side of the road above the tip! Aaaargh!
What I'm actually trying to say here as that we were a little disappointed by the monument someone made to mark our monumental trek up the Spine of the Fish.
“I need a proper monument to celebrate what we’ve done! This isn’t good enough!”
Phew. I'm glad I got that off my chest.
We stopped, had lunch. Pulled a wilding pine, then appropriately had a pee at, not on, the urinal before going off to find the real deal. The Coromandel version of Rerenga Wairua - Wharekaiatua.
Note: I may sound knowledgeable in this next bit - but I consulted a map for names and checked my photos for dates and times.
THE END IS NIGH
As the dark clouds and rain skidded across the smooth Tikapa Moana, we made our way off the road, and along a farm track called the Muriwai Walk.
We don’t know anything about the place that is marked as Wharekaiatua on the map because there’s not really anything on the internet about it. It’s a historic pa site - and, judging by its name, would have been a place of abundant food. It would have also been very defendable before the era of guns. The Coromandel has a history of awful massacres and the area is eerily devoid of any human history other than cattle and fences.
The walk to its tip is over a line of beautiful and ever-decreasing mounds. The view east follows high cliffs back to Fletcher Bay, the view south skirts around a long sandy beach to an opposing peninsula - Kaiiti Point - which also seems to be marked as a pa site on the topo maps. North of the peninsula, across Colville Channel, sits Aotea Island (Great Barrier) and its little brother or sister, Te Hauturu-0-Toi (Little Barrier).
To the west we could see Kawau Island and the beginning of our next walk. The last piece of our hiking jigsaw - Northland.
We reached the end of our walk as the skies darkened. A kind of gloom took hold. The rocks below us disappeared in a crooked line into a dark sea. We watched birds diving for fish in the threatening, but smooth waters.
The line of disappearing rocks was traced by a chaotic white line of small waves that crashed against each other as two small seas met below us.
We’d done it. We’d found the tip of our imagined spine.
The Spine of the Fish.
Click to view
Spine of the Fish Index
Wellington to the top of the Coromandel - 2017
Note: the links below will take you to Wilderlife.nz -
return to this page to access the Spine of the Fish index below
Many thanks to Helen Lehndorf for the editing and uploading and FMC for the hosting