At The Hop

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Saturday, 23rd March, 7:30am.
A blazing sunrise burns through the gap in the curtain as we squint our bleary eyes, getting ready to commence the 2 hour drive to the Whangamata Beach Hop. 

Every year, the seaside town north of Tauranga, hosts The Beach Hop; a festival dedicated to mid-20th Century cars and the era of Rock & Roll. 

We drove North, into the midst of the Coromandel Mountains, through tiny towns and farmlands, and along zig-zag roads where little lost clouds claimed the views.

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The sun was shy as we parked up in Whangamata mid-morning, and those little lost clouds drifted in the puddles beneath our feet. 

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We joined the troops, tramping up the road towards the hustle and bustle, until we came we across an events hall, whose car-park was filled with an array of classic cars.

I was on a mission to find a powder blue Ford Anglia – The Weasley’s car. One that could fly if possible, but not necessarily.  

 

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There were Corvettes; there were Mustangs; there were Fords and Chevrolets in all shapes and sizes; there were cars with V8s so spotless they were the colour of the sky and everything around them; there were engines with superchargers growing out of them, and little spouted pipes that looked like they should play merry-go-round music. There were bright green cars; luminous yellow cars; red cars; black cars; cars that were pink from one angle and purple from the other, and all on a dramatic backdrop of the Coromandels behind.

 

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Further into town crowds of people had begun to line the road, all bobbing up and down on their toes to see. A quiet rumble grew into a roar and the rally began. The beautiful sound of old, chugging engines, beeping their horns and revving, with their big beaming faces and grinning grills.

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American cars as wide as the road, filled with girls with their tops tied up and their hair in rollers; Elvis booming on the stereo. Little Hotrods grumbled along, chased by beastly chevvies with mean faces. Beautiful ‘Bugsy Malone’ cars chundled along, high off the ground and proudly humble, sounding their ‘AWOOGA’ horns to the cheering crowds.

Down a quiet road on the left, we escaped momentarily and followed the smell of the sea to the beach, with canopies of forest land on the left, and perfect curves of sand on the right. 

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By now, the weather was blazing, and I was wondering why I’d brought my jumper with me at all! What with all the engine heat blasting at my ankles and the sun gaining its confidence back, it was time for refreshment. 

We sat on the grass verge with some lunch we’d managed to get in a very hectic pie shop. I had a delicious chicken wrap; unfortunately, I wore more of it than I actually ate, and this very flattering photo was taken while an old man continued to point and laugh at me…

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Recovering from the food fiasco, it was time to venture into the heated crowds. The sun had brought with it about a thousand more people, and with the rally cars all freshly parked up along the road, the local rock and roll bands were in full swing on their trailers.

Lines of cars led us to the top of town as we played Spot-the-Camaro, (they were everywhere) when a contrasting view stretched out before our eyes…

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A paint-pallet of cars layered up upon this natural beauty, with the main street leading back towards the Coromandels behind, it’s moments like this that really make you appreciate where you are.

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I spotted two little bug-eyed Beetles, sat mulling over life. One looked sad for having lime green glitter sprinkled all over its roof; the other looked far too hot to drive on a day like that!

 

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Wandering back down the main street, I found a Ford Anglia! Such a lovely car, but with such a worried facial expression!

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It wasn’t the Weasleys’ though…  

 

A crowd started to gather around a jacked up motor, with the body rising up off the engine and wheels like a huge, gaping mouth. 

 

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Edging away from the monstrous mechanical crocodile, we followed the sound of rock & roll, as another band played atop a trailer on the roadside. The drummer smashed his signature on our eardrums as the singer and guitarist’s melodies glided over the bass line. The bassist grinned to his band as he tossed his dreads, and the horse’s head atop his magnificent instrument bobbed from side to side.  

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[Bassist of The Recliner Rockers]

 We took refuge from the heat in a busy pub, sipping Grizzly Beer in the shade, and sharing a picnic bench with strangers. Noise all around us – laughter; people meeting and greeting; guitars bass lining the rhythm of growling engines.

Quirky roadside stalls sold every type of toy car imaginable; original number plates, and tin-plaques. I spotted a pretty nice Batman wall plaque, but told myself I didn’t actually need it, much to the seller’s disappointment. 

Strange bric-a-brac was set out on wooden tables, like a brightly coloured garage sale. They even had boxes of American filtered cigars, which the seller offered to us to try! 

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In a local playing field, a bucking bronco frolicked about on its inflatable stand, surrounded by a vast display of classic caravans that matched their cars. The little round 1950s ones were my favourite; vibrant and cute, and quite compact. One set even had a nice little matching scooter; sky blue and perfectly unlittered with excessive mirrors or bling.

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It looked more Lambretta than Vespa, but on closer inspection, it turned out to be a Puch. I fell in love with a tiny yellow caravan called a Teardrop. The interior consisted of a cosy double bed, with a flush wooden storage cabinet installed above it. I should imagine you’d have to be careful sitting up in bed, and if you were much taller than 6ft it might be a squeeze, but I could’ve lived in it.

As we left, we found this double-fronted mini parked up opposite. I wouldn’t want to pull up behind it along a dark road!

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We left Whangamata, without seeing the Weasley’s flying car, but far from disappointed! Heading northwards, we crossed through more of the Coromandels; their spectacular pointed peaks reminding me of the Grinch’s mountain.

It was about mid-afternoon when we arrived at a town called Tairua, where we took a steep walk up a mount called Paku. The walk was short, and much of it was covered by a canopy, and accompanied by a chirping Tui. Climbing up to the very top, we came to a trig (the marker of the highest point) and were rewarded with the most stunning view.

The ocean was licked with light, sparkling below, and the inlets of land were surrounded by estuaries that looked like they’d been painted with unmixed watercolours. In the distance the Coromandels spiked the horizon with their uneven heads, and tiny boats decorated the water like beads.

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Taking a short detour in Tairua town, we got some ice creams and sat in the park to eat them, before heading back home via Thames.

The roads were long and their surroundings were bare – yellow fields stretched on rolling hills as far as the eye could see; cattle grazing on parched grass as dust sprang up from their cloven feet. With the sun beating down on the tarmac ahead, the signs of drought were alarmingly obvious here, even coming into autumn.

In the back end of nowhere, we passed a young man wearing a pair of round glasses and a baseball cap. He was hitch hiking – unsuccessfully I might add – holding a sign that simply said ‘Free Hugs!’ He was going the other way to us. Shame.

In a village somewhere on the outskirts of Thames, we stopped at a cheese barn, where chickens, goats and alpaca were roaming the yard. There was a big stone plant pot outside, but instead of plants, it held a lot of water and some goldfish. There were guinea-wigs in a hutch too and a little aviary full of tiny colourful birds.

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We got some cheesey supplies and continued home.

Passing through Karangahake Gorge, about an hour away from home, we were listening to Metallica and enjoying the cruise, when around the mountain on the other side of the road, came a powder blue Ford Anglia, flying around the corner!

I’m pretty sure Fred and George were in the front, too. 😉

You don’t have to be a car fanatic to enjoy Beach Hop! It’s definitely worth a look, even just to appreciate the atmosphere. 

And here I shall leave you with a few more photographs from the day… 

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The Volcano on the Beach

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[Photograph: View of The Mount taken from Papamoa Hills]

On the end of a 20km strip of sand, piled with civilization and surrounded by ocean, sits Mauao, the volcano on the beach. 

This spectacular peninsula, known popularly as ‘Mount Maunganui’, is a more recent addition to Tauranga, made directly accessible to the city in 1988 by the harbour bridge. The Mount peak (Mauao is its Maori name) is 761ft high. 

9am and the sun is already beating down upon Mount Maunganui as we walk along Pilot Bay; the harbour glistening on the left; The Mount looming ahead. The volcano itself is extinct, (so they say) and serves locals as a scenic exercise apparatus, and already the regular keep-fitters are jogging up between the trees that line the path. 

A short stretch of steps lead us upwards to a wider footpath, where sheep stand and stare, chewing over-elaborately. The path climbs gently, unveiling a gradual view of the port as we rise above the trees.

We pass through a gate, where the path tunnels beneath a green canopy, getting steeper and steeper as it spirals closer to the peak, stealing the breath from our lungs. The climb grows tough on our calves and just as the lactic acid starts to burn, the trees clear and open out onto a vast screen of blue.

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Glitter beads the surface of the ocean, blending with the clearest sky. Matakana Island slips off the horizon, its white beaches and emerald trees layered against the dusky mountains beyond. The path levels out for a moment, and then we reach The Goat Track.

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A rocky cliff with a vague track carved jaggedly upwards. The sign may as well not be there! Hands and knees in full action, we climb the side of The Mount, keeping our heads from swooning as we glance down the sheer drop to the Pacific ocean below.

Finally, the top is in sight. Staggering up over the edge, and feeling pretty glad to have our feet back on solid ground, we catch our breath, hands on hips and throats thrust at the sky. We pass a random picnic bench (how did it get there?) and under an arch of trees, and before us, a spectacular view unfolds.      

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You can see Mount Maunganui Beach on the left, famous for its surf and 20km stretch of beach. On the right is Pilot Bay, the humble harbour beach, which faces inland towards Tauranga city port. In the distance is Papamoa and the Papamoa Hills rising up from the horizon. Then there’s the little mound of rocks and greenery jutting out from the beach on the left – that’s Leisure Island. You can walk out to the rocks at the end and feel like you’re floating in the sky. 

I touch the trig at the top of The Mount, which marks the highest point, just as a ceremonial ‘I made it to the top’ sort of thing, and then we venture back down again… a slightly more sensible route this time. 

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“Of course, there’s the coming down too” – Tiggers Don’t Climb Trees 

Twisting back around the side of The Mount, feeling almost as though we are about to walk off the edge of the Earth, we give our knees a good pounding, greet some more sheep, and take the scenic route back towards Pilot Bay.  

Many an afternoon has been spent walking around Mount Maunganui, browsing the funky high street; reading on the beach; exploring and mouse spotting on Leisure Island; swimming and people-watching … it’s only three bucks away, or a scenic bike-ride, and the perfect place to be on a sunny afternoon with nothing to do.   

The Mount has a population of around 30,000, and the town is well equipped for young people and holiday makers, with cafes, bars and surf/skate shops lining the ‘mainstreet’. Mount Maunganui Beach thrives from day-to-day with various water sports: surfing; paddle-boarding; kayaking; swimming… and you certainly won’t fail to see a handful of tourists strolling or making their sunbeds on the sand.

Stick around for less than five minutes and you are bound to see hang gliders soar from the top of The Mount: giant arcing shapes that weave and somersault across the sky, landing in a cloud of sand on the beach nearby. In the evenings, the town’s long boarders congregate by the beach and take over the road that eventually leads towards Papamoa, and they skate barefooted without a care in the world.

 

 

  

 

From Land of the Small Wight Isle to Land of the Long White Cloud

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Sitting in the back of the land rover, sipping a cool L&P’s with the glare of the sun painting the marks on my sunglasses.

 

Cows grazing on golden grass along the roadside, while blueish black pukekos play chicken with the traffic.

 

Guitars whine on the radio – another rock god blowngs and twangs to the beat of steering wheel tapping.

 

The shining mirage of water as the heat rises off the road, shimmering in the sun and vanishing again.

 

This is New Zealand.

 

Late February: endless summertime. Of blues and greens like sapphire and emerald, and hazy black mountains on every horizon. Of longboard evenings and paddle board mornings, and gentle strolls in the shallows of the ocean while gulls placidly paddle nearby.

 

Soon, Autumn will dye the world ochre, and the horizons will be topped with white icing sugar, and the surf will grow fierce and impressive so that only the experts can ride it.

 

I met a man the other day. I was waiting at the bus stop and he was leaving his house on his pushbike.

 

“Have you seen the bus go past the other way yet?” he asked. I hadn’t. He told me his name was Rich and he was born just north of Auckland. His eyes were the blue of Paua shell, and he had a tinge of grey in his beard, but he was ageless. He told me about a lake just beyond the Rainbow Mountain; a mountain striped with a paint pallet of rocks and plants. The lake was called Waikaremoana. He’d picked up a German hitchhiker just around the Rainbow Mountain, and they’d carried on until they came across the lake, and they were both rendered speechless. He said it was the most beautiful lake he’d ever seen.

 

He told me about the time he did the Tongariro crossing in 100kph winds. By passers warned him not to venture up into the mountains, but he bypassed their caution and battled the great force of the weather. The rain lashed at his face and the air blew his weight around, until, losing track of his location, he found himself on a peak, gazing down upon sheer, brilliant blue. It was like he’d climbed to heaven and was looking down upon the sky, he said. He’d stumbled across one of the mountain lakes.

 

My bus arrived, and with that, Rich bid me a safe trip, and he cycled off.

 

Later the same day, I was waiting in a cashpoint queue behind a toothless maori. He turned to me and asked, “Hey, miss, do you like Bob Marley songs?” I nodded. Naturally. Who doesn’t like Bob Marley songs? The toothless maori then told me that he was a busker, and he sang Bob Marley songs for money. He told me his name, (which I couldn’t pronounce let alone write down), shook my hand and asked where I’m from. I told him and he grinned a toothless grin and said, “Well, Jaimie, if I see you in town, I’ll say hi but I shan’t bother you,” and he wished me a good stay in New Zealand and went about his business.

 

The next day, the toothless Bob Marley fan was working by the bus station – busking, singing songs and asking for a spare bob or two. He saw me waiting for my bus, pointed at me and with a big toothless grin, he waved and moved on.

 

Honest? Who knows. But he was a man of his word.   

 

The sky may be upside down, and north may be the new south, but it is still the same planet; the same sun; the same moon; the same stars.

 

Only two weeks ago I bid my island farewell; standing atop the red funnel ferry, watching the little seaside town of Cowes growing smaller. Yachts bobbed in the harbour, their rigging clanging against the masts they clung to. The white heads of the waves smashed against the seawall where we walked between shifts at the Yacht Haven. I saw all the pebbles on the beach by the green that I hadn’t skimmed across the sea, and the beacon on the corner, in the void between Gurnard and Cowes, leading beyond which the eye can see, to more secret memories.

 

It’ll all be there waiting when I return.

 

But for now…

I AM GOING ON AN ADVENTURE!