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Thursday 30 Jan 2014
Coromandel, New Zealand

Driving Creek Railway

I started the day in a much better frame of mind after a FaceTime call with Mum.  She was at my brother’s house so I got to see my little nephews charging about.  The twins, who were barely crawling in the summer, are now walking and pushing each other around on a little trolley, while Daniel was very happy to see I still had his Thomas the Tank Engine toy.

I drove south out of Auckland and around towards the Coromandel Peninsula, my destination for the next week.  I stopped for lunch at Thames and bought a new hard drive.  The drive up to Coromandel town was stunning.  The road sticks to edge of the coast and wraps itself along every contour.  The sea to my left was an impossible shade of turquoise, contrasting with the deep green of the twisted Pohutukawa trees and golden sand in the tiny bays that seemed to wait behind every turn in the road.  I barely got above 30mph but I was happy to just follow the road and enjoy the scenery. 

I booked two nights at the Coromandel YHA and completed my YHA collection card (stay 10 nights to earn a year’s membership, instead of paying the fee up front).  This YHA was more like a holiday park, with cabins and caravan parking as well as a few small dormitory rooms.  I got chatting to a young English couple while cooking dinner.  Through a few conversational tangents, we discovered they had been at Leicester Uni with my younger cousins.  I later found out my roommate, an older American lady, was from Livermore and knew my friends Bill and Donna.  There are connections everywhere when you travel.

I spent the evening reloading photos from my memory cards and started the mammoth task of trying to sort them back into folders of where and when they were taken.

The next morning, I drove a few miles outside Coromandel in search of the Driving Creek Potteries and Railway. The headland here is steep and covered in forest.  The landowner, a well-known local artist Barry Brickell, started building the railway in 1975 to bring clay down to his potteries, but over time it turned into a labour of love.  He was a railway enthusiast and took pride in surveying and building each section by hand.  In 1990, he started carrying passengers as a means to fund further railway expansion.  12 years later, he drove the last spike to complete his masterpiece: Three kilometres of narrow-gauge track rising up to 165m above sea level.  There are three tunnels, five major viaducts, two horseshoe spirals and five reversing points.  The unique double-decker viaduct is 14m long on the bottom and 46m on the top, the two levels connected with a spiral through rugged forest terrain.  This bridge alone took two years to build. 

I went for a ride up to the top and felt a childish glee in the whole thing.  The seatbacks were cleverly hinged, so that they could be pushed across the seat to allow passengers to face forwards again at each switchback.  The forest has been managed to limit invasive species.  Pines are removed and used as fuel for the pottery kilns.  In replacement, the forest has been replanted with thousands of Kauri, tree ferns and other native species in an attempt to restore the land to some of its former glory.  As we went up on the train, I recognised some of the trees James had pointed out to me on our walk in the Waitakere. 

Trains run up the hill in tandem, so we could see the second train crossing the features on the tracks below.  The terminus at the top is the Eyefull Tower, a replica of the octagonal Victorian lighthouse in Auckland’s Waitemata harbour.  The tower stands clear of the restored forest and provides a spectacular view out across the Hauraki Gulf back towards Auckland.  Barry Brickell has achieved something really special here and I’d definitely recommend a visit.

The train route was lined with handmade ceramic tiles, sculptures and assorted clay creations from the potteries at the bottom of the hill.  The potteries are open to visiting artists from all over the world and I nosed around the sculpture garden and gift shop afterwards. 

I followed the peninsula up to the little town of Colville for more twisty roads and beautiful views out towards Waiheke Island.  The very tip of the peninsula is a dead end to traffic.  There are several local companies that will drive you up one side and pick you up again on the other, leaving you to follow 8km of coastal trails in between, but i left that for another time.  I followed the gravel roads up the coast a little way and ate my packed lunch over looking a wide shallow bay, watching the waves roll in and break on the beach.

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Zoe's Big World Adventure Part II - #4 New Zealand and Australia

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I had so much fun in New Zealand and Australia that I'm going back around again! This time I'll see more of the North Island and catch up with friends and family in Melbourne

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