New Zealand / Australia Diary
Wednesday 18 April 2012

Mercury Bay

With my MEDNAZ workshops done and no more teaching until... tonight, I had a day free to be a simple tourist again. Catherine & I drove into Whitianga from where we took a small ferry across the estuary to the imaginatively named Ferry Landing and from there set off on foot towards Shakespeare Hill Scenic & Historic Reserve.

It was a gloriously sunny day with just a hint of coolness in the air to keep it from feeling oppressive. We skirted the edge of Maramaratotara Bay before climbing up the path to the top of Shakespeare Hill, from where Mercury Bay lay spread out before us, glistening in the sunshine.

(Historical note - the name Mercury Bay comes from Captain James Cook who came here in 1769 to observe a transit of Mercury across the sun. There's a small memorial on top of the hill which (incorrectly) marks the site of the observations. And Shakespeare Cliff is meant to look like a profile of the Bard, although I couldn't see it myself.)

From atop Shakespeare's bonce we descended to sea level at Lonely Bay, a small, secluded beach which was apparently free of the Deadly Rips and other life-threatening currents that Kiwis and Aussies kept warning me about. We changed into our bathers, gingerly walked down over the sharp & pointy shells covering most of the sand, then strode into the water - accompanied by small squeals as we found out just how cold it was. Not what I was expecting but, as a lapsed Scot, not too terrible. After getting fully immersed (helped by the largish waves) it felt great to swim (although not helped by the largish waves) and we spent five or ten minutes out in the sea before deciding it was a little too cold and retreating back onto the sand.

Eggselect food too!

We continued our walk, stopping for lunch at the Eggsentric Café before taking a high path with more spectacular views over the surrounding area. The up & down nature of the land meant that most of the paths consisted of steep staircase-like sections with intermittent viewing points, several of which seemed to have been placed directly behind large trees which seemed a bit odd. Anyway, the views were many and splendid, the walk was challenging but not exhausting, the sun shone down over everything and all in all it was very good to be alive.

The Lost Spring spa

In the afternoon I'd been promised a visit to the local hot springs. I was expecting an isolated spot with steaming, noxiously smelling water bubbling up amongst dark volcanic rocks so it was something of a surprise when we drove along a suburban street and turned into one of the houses. Yet this was it, the Lost Spring spa. Passing through what looked like an ordinary house I found myself in the the lobby of a health spa, and after changing into my swimsuit and going out into the 'garden' I entered a tropical world with warm (verging to hot) waterways threading through lush, verdant growth.

The illusion was spoilt a little at close range - there was 'generic Pacific' piped music (thankfully not too loud), empty cocktail glasses lying around in clumps and the 'volcanic rocks' turned out to be painted concrete and a bit abrasive if you weren't careful (I wasn't and paid the price in lost skin from my elbow). But despite all this it was an excellent place to relax & unwind while swimming or bobbing around in the warm water. Catherine led me to the Crater Lake where the water was the hottest and we slowly cooked while sipping virgin piña coladas. Not a bad way to ease away our hiking aches.

For the evening I was 'back to work' - teaching at Catherine's local dance group. Despite only having a small circle I started on time and then, because it was a small circle, I let myself throw away my programme for the evening and follow my instincts. We ended up doing an odd and eclectic selection of dances (even for me!) including some I hadn't done in years. Everyone seemed to have a good time and it was reassuring to find I could still 'vamp' a dance session with minimal forward planning.

Lonely Bay, with Cooks Bay beyond

Catherine, alone in Lonely Bay

Into the wild interior

Catching the ferry back home

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