Far from the madding crowd
If you're looking for peace, quiet and fresh country air, a springtime break in Coromandel is just the ticket, as Rochelle Gillespie discovered.
The Friday afternoon where everyone descended on Auckland for the opening of the Rugby World Cup, we packed up the car, and "got out of dodge". Our "party central" was a self-contained cottage on a lifestyle block in Coromandel - the country yes, but still with colour TV so we could watch the opening ceremony fireworks by proxy.
As soon as we arrived, two and a half hours from Auckland, the kids ran straight for the trampoline, while our host Fiona Murphy showed me around the cottage. I told her "cottage" might be understating it a little. This is really a fully set-up home (indeed it's where the Murphy family lived for six months while their own house was being renovated).
Benefits of baching
Usually when we pack up the kids and head off for a long weekend our accommodation of choice is a rented bach. With a husband who's a reluctant camper (his idea of roughing it is hitting a small white ball out of long grass with a 7-iron), we favour the ease of renting someone else's holiday home. Most of the time the only extra thing you may have to pack other than your own clothes and toiletries, is some bed linen. But at Dragonfly Cottage we didn't even have to do that. It's fair to say the Murphys go the extra country-cottage mile.
Our beds were made with crisp white sheets and boasted electric blankets to keep the chill off when the sun went down. And to further keep us toasty there was a log burner in the living room, with kindling kindly stacked inside. The cottage also had enough thrillers to have kept Ian Fleming happy for a year or so, as well as a great selection of DVDs and recent House and Garden Magazines.
With kids in tow baches are a great option for the simple necessities such as washing off the sand in the bath, heating up milk in the microwave, or keeping the wine cool in the fridge (yes, my husband calls that a simple necessity).
So while the parents enjoyed the delights of Dragonfly Cottage so did the kids. Hosts Fiona and Justin Murphy have two girls, Charlotte and Hannah, who were great tour guides and playmates for our young trio. They are probably the most polite children I've ever met, maybe it's the wholesome country air that does it. They told us all about the farm and introduced us to their menagerie of animals. Our 20-month-old Baxter was in his element, feed bucket in hand, ready to serve breakfast to the piglets. Gabriella, eight, and Jimmie, four, enjoyed looking after the Murphys' pet lamb Misty; where Misty went our other two were sure to go. I did worry that it'd be difficult to drag them away from this little slice of paradise to explore the rest of Coromandel's wonders.
For more: Dragonfly Cottage costs $160 to $250 a night. For more information go to Dragon Fly Cottage www.bookabach.co.nz/6476.
Water, water everywhere
Hot Water Beach is a quick eight-minute drive away and listed in the AA's 101 Must-Dos for Kiwis. So despite the pull of the farmyard, we packed togs, towels, and a couple of borrowed shovels from our kindly hosts and hit the beach. The best time to visit is two hours either side of low tide. Head for the rocky spot in the middle of the white sand beach and start digging your natural spa. The water can be deceptively hot in places, so you do need to take care. It could easily be called Very Hot Water Beach.
Top tip: We made perhaps an easy mistake for first-timers by parking in the first carpark, which meant a slightly longer walk along the dunes carting all our gear. I'd recommend you keep on the road and head for the Hot Water Beach village where you'll find a carpark closer to the beach, a café and an ice cream shop for treats on your return.
After the beach, it was back to the bach for a quick rinse down, a change of clothes and a lunch break. Then back in the car, and north to Whitianga, 20 minutes away. At the wharf we climbed aboard a glass-bottomed boat and set off for a two-hour journey around the stunning Coromandel coastline. We saw the holiday homes of the rich on Cooks Beach, the majestic Cathedral Cove at Hahei, but sadly were a day late to catch sight of orca and dolphins. Despite the beautifully sunny day, the waters were a little murky so visibility wasn't fabulous, but the kids still loved fish-spotting through the glass bottom. Rod (as in fishing) acted as suitably skilled skipper complete with a plethora of jokes he hauls out for tourists. ("That's an ugly fish, only his mother would love him" and "One drip from the cave above and you'll get some luck, or get lucky, I can never remember which".) The two-hour duration was just right for the children and, best of all, the boat has a roof which would be an absolute must on a hot summer's day.
For more: Glass Bottom Boat Trips leave daily at 10.30am and 1.30pm from Whitianga Wharf (also 8am and 4pm in summer). Check in 15 minutes before. Prices: $85 per adult, $50 per child (three to 15 years) or a family pass for $260.
Top tip: There's a playground right next to the wharf where the kids can play and get rid of some pent-up energy before getting on the boat. You'll want to pack some snacks and take bottled water and, in summer, your togs because the boat often stops to let people go snorkelling.
We also enjoyed a classic Kiwi family meal of fish and chips down at the beach, and thoroughly recommend the Buffalo Beach Takeaways on Albert Street.
Rain, rain go away
Sunday morning and we were up bright and early to head over the hill to Coromandel township. On the way we met the rain. Lots of it. Still, the intrepid travellers that we were we headed to Driving Creek Railway as originally planned. Potter Barry Brickell spent over 30 years building a life-sized railway on the side of a mountain - a simply astonishing feat of engineering and enthusiasm. This is a tourist activity that's quaint and charming. It has been built with love and by hand so the only bells and whistles will come from the train horn and the conductor's "all aboard" ring.
The one-hour return train trip takes you to the cleverly named "Eyefull Tower" - although on our visit we got only an eyeful of low cloud and rain. I have been there once before and can vouch for the spectacular vistas of Coromandel township and beyond. While those views are impressive, it's Brickell's vision in creating something unique and quintessentially Kiwi in this part of the world that leaves a lasting impression.
For more: Ph: (07) 866 8703 or go to www.drivingcreekrailway.co.nz. Open daily 10am-5pm except for Christmas day and Anzac Morning. Prices: $25 per adult, $10 per child, $60 for a family pass.
Top tip: The 309 Road cuts across the peninsula but is a gravel road and very windy. Locals' advice was to take the road north through Whitianga, across and down to Coromandel. It takes about an hour. That is unless you're coming on the other side of the peninsula in which case head north from Thames. The railway is 3km north of the township.
With tummies desperate for food and the promise of a hot chocolate our next stop was Umu café in the middle of Coromandel township. They have highchairs and a kids' menu, plus delicious offerings from the cabinet. But as we sat inside the rain kept pelting down, putting the kibosh on the rest of our afternoon. We intended to head to Water Works on the outskirts of town - a virtual water wonderland with a human hamster wheel and water canons. But with the skies dark grey and our coats dripping, we kicked this one into touch. Never mind, as they say, it was a holiday of two halves, but in the end spending quality family together was the winner.
Rochelle Gillespie is a mum of three. She enjoyed watching the opening ceremony of the Rugby World Cup on TV, but admits to falling asleep half-way through the All Blacks versus Tonga match. If she manages to watch one of the 48 games through in its entirety she'll consider that a win.
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