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.
The sun was shy as we parked up in Whangamata mid-morning, and those little lost clouds drifted in the puddles beneath our feet.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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…
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.
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!
Wandering back down the main street, I found a Ford Anglia! Such a lovely car, but with such a worried facial expression!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…