Sunday, 17 March 2019

We're In Hot Water

It's Sunday morning and we pick up our first hire car and say goodbye to Auckland. We're heading for the Coromandel Peninsula. Our first stop is Hot Water Beach, where we get to experience the geothermal activity occurring beneath this whole area of New Zealand. At the beach you can hire a small shovel (for £5) and dig down, possibly quite deep, until (if you're lucky) you find a hot spring.

We are a bit tight (careful as they might say in Yorkshire), a bit lazy and not always lucky - so we took the more sensible option of walking along the beach, past a few digging enthusiasts until we found a hole which someone else had dug for us. The hole was over a metre deep and wisps of steam were coming off the surface of the little pool of water which had bubbled up in to it. We carefully tested the temperature, literally dipped our toes in, and it was lovely, like a hot bath.

We alternated between sitting in the hot water, then climbing out and paddling in the cold sea waves breaking on the beach. It was like visiting a health spa but without the dressing gowns or carrot juice.

From here we drove through the rain-forest, up in to the mountains, where the road surface quickly became a dusty gravel track with more hairpins than a branch of Claire's Accessories. I started to feel like we'd joined the Paris-Dakar Rally. Eventually the road dropped back down towards sea level and became easier to drive on and we arrived at our next stop for the night, a town called Thames. Driving down the main street it seemed as if we'd entered a frontier town in the American Wild West.

Essentially that's exactly what Thames was, a frontier town which grew when gold was discovered in the area. We were staying in a motel next to the former goldmine manager's house in which the owners (of the motel, not the goldmine) now lived, and they recommended a place to go and get fish and chips.

This was the most picturesque chippy we've ever seen. It used to be a fish wholesalers, had its own pier, and there were flying fish jumping out of the water which we could watch while waiting for our battered gurnard (whatever that is).

Back in our motel room, having finished the fish and chips, but still working our way through our bottle of Graham Norton...

...we were alarmed when, at around 11pm, an air raid siren suddenly broke the silence. We both briefly thought "four minute warning - impending nuclear attack". After a few moments we dismissed that in favour of the rather more plausible, but no less frightening "it's a tsunami warning". Jus looked out of the window, but there seemed to be no panic, no running around, nothing whatsoever which would suggest that either nuclear or oceanic armageddon was about to happen. So I did what we all now do when we're confused or ignorant - Googled. Very quickly we were reassured to read that the siren was to summon the volunteer fire brigade - it turns out that this is quite common in New Zealand's smaller towns and we've heard it in other places since. I felt a bit stupid the next morning when I noticed a very obvious sign on the wall explaining that we needn't worry if we hear the "Nuclear Tsunami Siren"!

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