The Coromandel Peninsula is named after HMS Coromandel, a Royal Navy ship which visited the place in 1820 and took a cargo of spars of kauri timber back to Britain. This was characteristic of European interest in the area. When the kauri forests were virtually all gone, gold was found and this has continued to the present day. So when one looks at Coromandel one is struck by the peninsula’s beauty but should remember that it is by no means a natural landscape. (Assuming that man is not natural!)
We stayed in a B&B a couple of miles outside Coromandel Town and spent the time touring around looking at the spectacular scenery and visiting the quirky sites.
The peninsula is rugged with steep mountains and equally steep roads, many of them untarred. A few weeks previously the area had been hit by a cyclone and huge quantities of rain had fallen and so many roads were blocked by landslides. They were just finishing the job of road clearance while we were there.
There are some rather nice beaches and the sea is fairly warm.
There are a few remmnants of Kauri forest left and we visited one.
One of the tourist attractions we visited was a gold stamper battery powered by a water wheel. This now preserved but reminds us of the continuing mining history of the area.
The battery was used to crush gold bearing rocks so that the gold could be extracted. Listening to the commentary as we looked at the battery it was obvious that there is a continuing debate between the miners and the greenies – one felt that one had intruded into the middle of a heated conversation! Each side seemed to have a wilful ignorance of the other. I tend to favour the miners as the reality of mining is often less destructive than it is portrayed. And no one can say that a kauri tree surrounded by decking looks natural.
But the most unusual visit was to the Driving Creek Railway. This is one mans obsession. The man is Barry Brickell, a potter. He bought his 22 hectare property on Driving Creek Road so that he could pot. There was clay and timber (for firing his kilns) on the property and as he was keen on railways he built a 15 inch gauge railway to get his raw materials to his workshop. And then he forgot to stop. The railway now goes to the top of his property via a series of swichbacks, tunnels, spirals and, the unique feature of the railway, a double deck viaduct.
The railway rises 152 m and has at its summit “The Eyefull Tower”. I wonder where he got the name?
It is a wonderful place to visit. All along the railway he has replanted native woodland especially kauri. The railway web site is well worth a visit especially the map of the layout – click on the start button to see train go!
After Coromandel we drove to Auckland and set off for Fiji. Just before we took off we had two minutes silence to remember the Christchurch earthquake which had happened precisely seven days before.
Then off to Fiji of which I will write shortly.