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september 27, 2000
After yesterday's nasty howling wind storm, it was quite a nice surprise to wake up to a clear blue sky. This meant scarthng the plans for a rainy day in Whitianga, and strapping on the gear for the beach. Today's destinations are some of the beaches of Mercury Bay on the opposite side of the jut of land where I had been walking the previous days.

I got a ride into town with my host Allyn (she had to work) photo here and started the day properly, with a nice cup of coffee from Nina's Cafe, which likely has the best coffee in Whitianga. Pictured is my current favorite, a "flat white" (coffee with milk). You get weird looks and odd packets and tablets when you ask for artificial sweetner here.

photo here The beaches for today lie across the mouth of Whitianga's Harbor, which is traversed easily aborad the "Stella B", the small passenger ferry boat that chugs back and forth all day long. The trip takes about three minutes, but if you drove a car, it would take an hour to circle all the way around.

today's photos
- all photos   o o o o

o o Mercury Bay Beaches

photo here From the Ferry Landing is a short hike to a Whitianga Rock, a hill with a nice view of Whitianga. It was here where Maori had a "pa" or fortified defensive structure. The name of this area comes from Te Kupe Whitianga, or Kupe's Place of Crossing-- Kupe was the Polynesian explorer who landed here around 950.

photo hereWalking past the shops and a few houses leads one quickly to the first of many white sand beaches- this one is called "Front Beach" and curves around a calm bay in a graceful arc. The water is very calm, some because of low tide, some because it is fairly sheltered here.

photo hereWith the tide being low, I am able to follow the rocks around to Flaxmill Beach. The rock here is a white volcanic ignimbrite, and forms interesting shapes the way it is weathered and eroded away. Flaxmill Bay has many berths for boats and campgrounds along its edge.

Continuing south, I cross a small estuary and then take a track that climbs the next beach head, the step walk to the top of Shakespeare Cliff. When James Cook explored this area, he felt that the profile of the cliff bore a strong resemblance to the Bard. It takes some imagination, but those explorers lacked television, so they entertained themselves by naming rocks.

photo hereThe view from the top of Shakespeare's head is extraordinary! In the foreground is the small, but lovely Lonely Beach and beyond is the long graceful Cook's Beach. Both are reached by trails from here. Lonely Beach was my favorite of the day, and I enjoyed a nice nap here after munching some lunch food.

Cook's Beach was a nice long walk. The shells here were remarkable varied in color, and variety. This is the place where Cook landed and took a longitude rading from the planet Mercury, hence the name of the bay here as "Mercury Bay". He also named the river that pours out from the southern end, "Oyster River". Fortunately, the Maori name "Purangi" stuck, which translates as "Where the sky meets the sea".

The next day brought an even nicer clear day. I am beginning to think they are all like that here! I repeated the steps for yesterday's journey (start with coffee and Nina's, ride the ferry across the harbor", but this time I boarded the bus for the longer trips to the farther beaches of Mercury Bay. There were only two other people aboard, a local and a young Chinese woman who seemed very confused with the directions. But she found here way.

My first destination was Hotwater Beach, certainly a novel place. photo here Below the earth's surface here, a hot rhyolite dome (sticky volcanic magma), heats ground water that rises towards the beach along a fracture or fissure. Two areas of hot spring here provide an interesting environment. Armed with shovels, hordes of people (self included) dig holes and rings in the sand, and balance the pockets of hot water about 12 inches below surface with cooler water, all at the place the surf crashes in.

It was interesting to see (and sit in) but was more of a crowd on a beach than I had seen anywhere else.

Next, I boarded the bus and headed towards Hahei, where the bus drops you off at the top of a cliff. The ride (I was the only passenger, so maybe it was being chaffeured) was highlighted by the non stop banter of Nigel the bus driver, who relayed how he had just had a narrow close call with a driver that nearly forced Nigel off the road. So Nigel (in his words) chased the driver back up a hill where there was no exit, and cornered the driver in a parking lot, so Nigel could provide a piece of his mind. I had been told about the bad driving attitudes here, which surprised me because thr Kiwis are so nice in person. But Nigel provided a clear (and enternaining) portrayal of the harsher truth.

photo hereThe next walk was the best- to Cathedral Cove. From the top of the cliff, the trail drops down to a small beach of "Gemstone Bay". It's name comes from the quartz crystals found in the rocks here, mostly welded volcanic tuff. After a look, I hike back to the main trail and towards its main attraction.

Climbing to a plateau and crossing a fence puts one in the middle of a sheep grazing area. photo here Here there is a sharp social separation as cows are kept on one side of the fence, and sheep on the other. They do not seem to mind this arrangement; they do not seem to mind anything at all. The mother sheep do seem very protective of their lambs (influence of Mary or the Big Bad Wolf?)

photo here But the ultimate spot here is Cathedral Cove, a massive high archway that connects two sandy beaches. It forms as water erodeds the area below a natural fracture, and the undercutting keeps opening and opening as a cave. Eventually, the entire cliff is completely worn out from below, and a large chunk sloughs off, leaving an outlier pinnacle like Te Hoho rock that you can see through the arch way.

photo here The whole thing is enhanced even more by the clear blue-green ocean, the deep navy sky, and the bleached white rocks, as shown in the three photo panorama shot I assembled.

photo here I regret not having more time to lunge here, but there is only an hour left to hike out and back to Hahei to catch the bus. I barely get to look at Hahei Beach, a long line sof white sand that is actually pinkish- tinted by the shells of very small clams.

photo hereFinally, the excellent day is capped with a dinner out with my hosts at Whitianga's "Fireplace" restuatant, a great eatery in a beeutiful location on the waterfront.

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