Cows, Coves, Cheese and Kauri

I am in love.

I like Auckland, I thought Northland was cool (especially the giant kauri trees and Cape Reinga) and was glad I saw the Waikatere Ranges, but the Coromandel Peninsula captured my heart. It’s about an hour and change east of Auckland and juts out into Hauraki Gulf.

I think I’ve fallen in love with Coromandel because it has everything I look for in a place: rugged, forbidding mountains, sea, gorgeously lonely beaches, mysterious islands dotting the horizon, free cheese…

I did a loop of the peninsula going clockwise and mostly along the coasts. Day one was sunny, day two, eh, not so much, but if nothing else my photos captured the area’s many moods.

The big excitement happened near twilight on day one, when, turning around in a pull-off because I decided I really needed to take a photo of the sunset, I got Skylon stuck. Ahem. Just one wheel was mired in mud, the rest was on loose gravel. If there’d been someone with me it would have been an easy thing to push him out. But since I was alone, I hiked to the farm I’d passed a couple miles before… only to find my way blocked by cows.

(Some of you know that being near cows makes me deeply uncomfortable, dare I say frightened. Well, I guess now all of you reading this (should I say both of you???) know that. I sucked it up and walked through the edge of the herd without fainting.)

The farmer and his wife and their sheepdogs were leading the herd back along the road. They said they would help but that they had to get the cows milked and the calves fed before dark so I’d have to wait a couple hours.

Fair enough… though while I was loitering, the next farmer down the road pulled up in his tractor and said he was there to help, to step up onto a piece of plywood jerry-rigged between the big wheels in back and “stand in the middle to avoid the shit.”

Well then.

So yes, I got to ride on the back of a tractor (very exciting!), standing on a piece of plywood and holding on to the metal edge of the seat for dear life as we bumped and jostled up and over the winding gravel road, mud and, er, manure. Andy the farmer got Skylon unstuck in about 20 seconds (I told you it was an easy job, at least with two people) and I was on my way. Good on ya, Andy. Well done.

Interestingly, having to walk the cow gauntlet was not my first bovine encounter of the day.

While driving up near the northern tip of the peninsula, I came across a roadblock. Two pickups and a tractor. The farmers in the pickups had stepped out to chat to the farmer in the tractor for a bit. So there they were, five guys shootin’ the, uh, manure, in the middle of the road.

There’s one more thing… the tractor had a forklift-like attachment and the farmer driving it had hoisted a cow up by one back leg and had nearly decapitated it.

And as they chatted, the cow’s body was hanging there still, blood pooling below it.

I didn’t take a photo. I felt it would have been inappropriate. The farmers were very friendly and waved and got in their trucks to move off the road so I could get past and I didn’t want to make them feel like I was judging them or something. But I sure as hell felt weird, especially because they were all just standing around talking, ignoring the fact that there was a GIANT FRESHLY DEAD BOVINE SWAYING IN THE BREEZE BESIDE THEM.

As I passed, the one farmer got in his tractor and started up the hill with the cow still dangling in front of him, its tongue dragging on the ground and trailing blood.

It was one of those moments where, when it’s over, you think, “did I seriously just see that?”

Yes, I seriously did.

Day two I skipped my plan to hike Castle Rock since it was so foggy that I wouldn’t have seen anything. Instead I did a quick hike to another kauri grove. These trees were a mere 600 years old but they still took my breath away. You could get close to them, too, and when I arrived there was an Italian woman hugging one of them while her boyfriend looked on, slightly embarrassed.

Truth be told, I wanted to hug them, too, but noticed that the trunks were covered in bird crap, something that the Italian woman, in her ecstacy, apparently missed. So instead I just stood among them for a long time and petted them. Yeah. I did, and I’m not ashamed to tell you (clearly). They have a presence unlike any other tree I’ve stood beside. There is such a feeling that they’re sentient beings, aware of more than you or I will ever know. Incredible.

To cap the morning, I had an excellent date scone at Success Cafe in Coromandel Town. Two thumbs way the hell up. Finally, a scone to write home about (though I’ve had a few since the first couple disappointments, including a delish currant scone at SeaFriends in Leigh and an amazing date scone – the most common kind here – at the River Cafe Bistro in Kaitaia).

Then I drove across the peninsula to Cathedral Cove, which was used as a location for the movie “The Chronicles of Narnia.” A nice walk up and down the forested coastline from the car park, I’d say the cove is a must-see for anyone visiting. Beautiful itself, it has stunning views of the Mercury Islands and some of the coast, even on a lousy weather day.

Then it was back down the peninsula, past the mountains called The Pinnacles and much moody landscape to the town of Paeroa.

Paeroa is famous for L&P, marketed as “world famous in New Zealand,” so you know it’s got to be good. It’s a lemony soda (or lollywater as they call it here… how cute is that?). The regular version was too sweet for me, but I’m addicted to the sugar-free L&P, which is a little less sweet and has floral overtones that remind me of the rose and orange blossom syrup used in kenefeh, my favorite dessert.

Unfortunately, aside from the opportunity for Karl to pose beside the iconic bottle landmark, there wasn’t much for us in Paeroa, where souvenirs were crazy-overpriced and people seemed to lack the jovial friendliness I’ve found everywhere else here so far. Meh. Keep your $40 L&P t-shirt.

The antithesis to Paeroa was the Matatoki Cheese Company, my final stop on Coromandel. If you go to New Zealand, GO THERE. It’s small and they don’t do tours, you just look through a window to watch the guys working, but their cheese is incredible. I was the only one visiting at the time, but the super-nice woman did a whole tasting for me and then insisted I take a few cheeses that were nearing expiration for free. FREE!! And big eight-ounce pieces, too! She offered me some Greek yogurt as well, but I knew I had more than enough dairy for the next few days. I also bought a small piece of their Halloumi and a bit of their sublime 18-month-aged gouda.

Sigh. It was very good-a.

Photos: Five views of the peninsula’s west coast; Coromandel Town which reminded me, oddly enough, of Twin Peaks (note the foggy mountain forest in background); four shots of the majestic kauri grove; views of and from Cathedral Cove including some cool patterns in the sand; two moody shots of The Pinnacles; a fog-shrouded tree I particularly liked near Matatoki and Karl the Kiwi meets another NZ icon.

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6 thoughts on “Cows, Coves, Cheese and Kauri

    • Aw, shucks, thanks, Verne! And tell Dave… I can’t get in touch with him now that he’s a man of leisure and he needs to know that I’m on my way to visit the COLOSSAL SQUID in Wellington!

  1. I’m so happy you have a chance to see such wonderful things and that friendly people are crossing your path. The photos are stunning – what a place! – and the narrative is superb! Thanks for taking us with you on this wonderful journey.

  2. re: cow. My brother would love to tell you how he got gored in the rear by a bull, and still managed to chase it through Battle Creek, Michigan and deliver it to the slaughterhouse before going to the emergency room. I don’t know if fork-lift attachments were involved …

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