My next scheduled work visit was with the Acorn dealer in Thames, so I reluctantly left the beach behind and headed west, back towards civilisation. Gwynne and his wife Alice live with their son Tobin in a beautiful house in tiny Thames, a little town tucked away at the southern end of the Coromandel Peninsula. If my previous dealer experiences had been great, this visit was simply wonderful. Alice's dad owns a yacht – one he built himself from scratch, no less – and we spent the weekend out in the Hauraki Gulf, exploring, swimming and fishing.
The Hauraki Gulf is between Auckland and Coromandel, and is home to Rangitoto, Motutapu and all the other islands I came across in my time in Auckland; indeed, although we were far enough away from Auckland for it not to be visible, it almost felt like I was close to home, an unexpected feeling seeing as I only spent six weeks in Auckland. The eastern coast of the Hauraki Gulf consists of the north-south Coromandel Peninsula, and off the coast of the peninsula are lots of pretty little islands, totally untouched for the most part.
The sailing was fun enough on its own, but add in the beautiful bays where we dropped anchor and went swimming, the bush on Green Island that we hacked our way through to reach a huge breeding colony of gannets – arguably the smelliest experience of my life so far – and the snorkelling around the rocks, and it suddenly felt like a tropical holiday, the sort that people class as a once-in-a-lifetime event.
On the Saturday afternoon we fished, and unlike my usual experience with rod and line, it seemed I couldn't fail; as soon as my line went in I'd hook another snapper, and before long we had enough fish to complement the chicken we'd got for dinner. On the way to the sheltered island harbour where we were planning to spend the night, a school of dolphins joined the boat and swam in our wake, veering off like fighter jets before swimming back up to the front of the boat without seeming to move a muscle. Not since Monkey Mia have I seen dolphins this close, and you could have sworn they turned on their sides to purposely look up at us as we hung over the stern.
The snapper were quite superb. I haven't tasted fish this fresh since my kayaking trip to Rangitoto, and the captain's batter was the product of an experienced chef. As we settled down for the night, the full moon came out, the already calm sea flattened out totally, and I slept the sleep of the happily knackered. Fresh air in the bush is one thing, but a fresh sea breeze really brings on the sleep. I didn't even notice the chattering of the sea shrimp as the they banged into the boat in their hundreds, or the clanking of the steel hawsers against the mast; it was the best sleep I've had in ages.
Waking up on a yacht in a remote natural harbour is quite an experience. As your eyes open, you notice a slight swaying, and it took me some time to work out where on earth I was, even though I've spent practically every night in a different place on my travels. Then the smell of the sea wafts into the cabin, the sounds of merry breakfasting carry gently across the boat, and the next thing you know it's time to eat, shake the sleepy dust out of your eyes and get moving. Having the sea air breeze through your hair as the boat catches the wind is surely one the best ways to wake up in the morning; it even beats coffee.
Before long we'd dropped anchor off a reasonably sized island just off the coast, and Gwynne and I climbed up the island's biggest hill for a gorgeous view along the coast. However, the weather had turned from beautiful to humid and the sky was pregnant with potential, so after fishing for sprats on the beach with a net – with no success, defeating our plans to fish for big game – we finished off our existing bait, again catching nothing, and headed back to Coromandel, a cosmopolitan seaside village that has more to do with expensive boats than serious fishing, but which still manages to ooze charm.
Coromandel is a perfect spot for lunch, and we were lucky, because as soon as we'd finished eating, the heavens opened. I've been through plenty of storms where the rain falls down in vertical shards, but this storm had attitude. Thames isn't a terribly wet area, and normally has pretty good weather, but the build up of humidity had been particularly unpleasant, and I thought the storm would wash away the atmosphere. I was wrong.
Earlier in the month, when I was enjoying the most delightful weather in Fiordland (an unusual piece of luck given Fiordland's huge rainfall) the Coromandel area was being battered by a cyclone. In my distant position I hadn't realised how serious the storm had been, but the combination of torrential rain, heavy winds and very high tide had conspired to wash out most of the road from Thames to Coromandel, and seeing the Coromandel rain sloshing down from the sky and right into my leaky car brought home the eternal truth about New Zealand weather; when it decides to be moody, it makes PMS look like a mild headache.
Still, it's a small price to pay for such wonderful company in such a wonderful place...