Sarnie, our Coromandel Adventures guide to the Waiau Kauri Grove spreads her arms out wide and asks us to imagine a kauri tree (Agathis australis) with an eight metre diameter: filling the gap in the forest immediately in front of our viewing platform, where its ancestor either fell or – more probably – was milled in the 1800s, it would tower over us today and its canopy would blot out the sunshine.
Behind the space that our imaginary tree would occupy, five or six ‘young’ kauri (they’re around 800 years old) escaped the brutal milling process and our scenic walk takes us to their base. Along the way Sarnie shows us two baby kauri – just two and three years old, with only a handful of leaves and just a few centimetres tall. Then we climb onto a platform around the base of the kauri: this wooden structure allows us to ‘hug’ the trees and breathe in the scent of their tangy resin and at the same time prevents us from trampling on the ground over their roots and thus reduces the risk of anything on our shoes conveying the ‘dieback’ disease to these kauri trees. In other parts of New Zealand dieback (a fungal disease, Phytophthora taxon Agathis) is destroying kauri groves and forests but so far the Coromandel Peninsula has remained free of it.
Like the hillside where we travelled on the Driving Creek Railway, the Waiau valley was almost completely denuded during the late 1800s, but whereas at DCR the reforestation has been done by hand, here in the Waiau Valley, just a few kilometres south of Coromandel township, the secondary growth of native trees has occurred naturally through seed brought by the wind and birds.
When we return to Coromandel it’s late afternoon – perfect for relaxing on the verandah of our ‘Boatshed’ cottage at Pottery Lane Cottages. The boatshed is one of three cottages in a peaceful garden setting just a few hundred metres from the centre of Coromandel township: a perfect location for a short stay.
Dinner time finds us a short walk from the cottages, in the Star and Garter – an historic building which was once a bank and then a drapery and is now a café-pub-restaurant. The long kauri bar is made up of the three counters where fabrics were measured and the walls are a fascinating collage of old photos and snippets of news relating to the gold mining days.
This platter (above) of mixed seafoods, including local, melt-in-the-mouth, green-lipped mussels in tempura batter, featured on the Star and Garter’s menu as a starter for four, but my friend and I shared it as a very delicious main course.
Coromandel was humming in the late summer sunshine on Sunday morning and we enjoyed another great meal – brunch (above) at the Success Café. Success was the name of one of the gold mines that was particularly productive. This plate of pancakes with bacon, boysenberries, cream and maple syrup set us up for the day.
As the Auckland-bound ferry left Coromandel on Sunday afternoon we were lucky that the sea was still fairly calm: the perfect ending to a great weekend.
For more on the places mentioned, see www.360discovery.co.nz for ferry details, www.drivingcreekrailway.co.nz for the narrow gauge train ride, www.coromandeladventures.co.nz for guided tours including the Waiau Kauri Grove, www.coromandelcottages.co.nz for Pottery Lane Cottages, www.starandgarter.co.nz