The morning was colder than the day before but the sun still shone as we watched the kayakers float away from the beach. Kirstin and I, our driver Bern, the German and the Tahitian where the only ones left, the others opting to pay extra to ride upon the waves to another Coromandel highlight: Cathedral Cove.
It was a long walk to the cove, a forty minute hike up and down through the bush and a WWI memorial forest to the coast. The sun moved in and out from beneath the clouds as the gravel of the path crunched beneath our feet. We strode mostly in silence, the German struggling to make conversation with his limited English.
Tourists began to pop up around us the closer we got, and when we finally made it down to the beach, they littered the sand with their cameras and hiking boots. Kristen and I took off our shoes and wondered through the cave and past the monstrous stones that dominated the shore. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian had capitalized on the natural beauty of this landscape, furthering the impression that New Zealand lives just outside of reality, a place so stunning that it bleeds into the realm of fantasy. It’s easy to see why…
My feet chilled in the cold sand as the violently bright sun peaked through the clouds and the sea splashed upon the shore. I spent a while trying to capture the beauty of those blues and the tans, before I ended up sitting upon a rock, playing with the sand and watching the ocean glimmer in the light. My mind drifted upon those waters and I quickly lost track of time.
Somehow we all came together again and collectively, wordlessly agreed to go. After the steep trek back, we picked up the kayakers from the other beach and zoomed into town to grab some lunch. It was fish and chips again, this time at a roadside stand in the darkening sky. The wind was picking up and clouds were rolling in, but Bern had promised two more memorable sights.
It was getting quite chilly by the time we arrived at Waiau Falls. In the end, only two of us were brave enough to jump into the near-polar waters: one of the French and the Tahitian. They both cried out in shock when they leaped in, inciting laughter from the rest of our group and the few other tourists that stood on the rocks surrounding the waterfall. Bern tried to get more of us to go in, but there was no way we were going to join the now shivering jumpers. We were all quick to hop back into the bus.
“Are we going to see the pigs now?” Kirsten asked once we got rolling.
The day before, Bern has described, in detail, the “pig man” that lives alongside one of the country roads in Coromandel. Like an old lady feeding stray cats, this man, Stu, cares for hundreds of wild pigs on a field next to the forest. Stu himself lives in a shack and survives on the government dole while he dutifully looks out for his squeaky little friends, feeding them donated food scraps and love.
Desperate to hold a piglet, Kirsten and the French girls were eager to meet this Stu and his swine. So we drove up to his lot on the side of the road and encountered roosters and pigs roaming around moldering cars and rusting farm equipment. A barefoot man in a baggy, patched jumper, the famed Stu greeted us with a smile and a wave. For a moment, we all just stood there, unable to register the crowd of animals parading around the greenery and urban decay. It was such an odd sight in the middle of the beauty of Coromandel, almost unreal. Yet somehow it seemed fitting in a strangely fantastical way.
Kirsten squealed when a litter of piglets ran across our vision and soon we had ducked underneath the wire fence to get a better look. The French girls and a few of the others meandered about, chatting with Stu, taking selfies with pigs, and chasing after piglets.
Clouds capped off the sunlight as I did my own exploring, hoping to capture the peculiar essence of the place with my camera. A male pig came up to me during the course of my photo sojourn. He even lay down at my feet and rubbed my leg like a cat, begging to be pet. I laughed, stroked his course fur, and watched as Kirsten squealed again when she and the others finally got to hold piglet. The only thing that tore Kirsten away was the rain that started to drip from the sky.
All we had left now was to start the journey back to Auckland. But before we did, Bern made one last stop. Up upon the top of a hill, overlooking the stormy Coromandel on the right and the intensely sunny Hauraki Gulf on the left, we paused to take pictures and spot the Auckland SkyTower off in the hazy distance. Once again the fantastic beauty of the landscape hit me as our collection of international travelers took our group photo. I turned to Kirsten. This was the last time we would be traveling together in New Zealand. It all didn’t seem quiet real.