After leaving Rotorua on Wednesday morning, we drove north and spent Wednesday and Thursday on the Bay of Plenty and the Coromandel Peninsula before wrapping back to Auckland. They were two very relaxed days, just driving, taking in the sights, and relaxing.

The Bay of Plenty is East of Auckland and it's the kiwifruit (not to be confused with kiwi birds or Kiwis, the people) capital of New Zealand. We stopped at Kiwi360--a kiwifruit farm and information center--to taste both gold and green kiwis, kiwi liquor, kiwi wine, and kiwifruit juice (it's thick, like a thick orange juice) and of course to check out kiwifruit on the vine. They are grown on arbors and kiwifruit picking is one of the most common itinerant jobs in New Zealand.

We ate lunch at their cafe before heading West along the coast. We stopped in Whangamata at the i-Site to book a room further up the road and to take a Coke break (in a glass bottle!) on one of their gorgeous beaches. The weather was lovely. People were on the beach in bathing suits, but it wasn't terribly hot.

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We ended Wednesday night at Seabreeze Camp in a cozy little cottage with a kitchen. Once we checked in, we backtracked to the nearest grocery and picked up groceries to go with the fresh avocados we'd bought earlier in the day from a roadside stand. We made tomato and avocado bruschetta along with chicken tortellini. Kyle broke out another of his collected New Zealand beers: a Monteith's Summer Ale, which was spicy and gingery and great. We ate dinner on our little porch and watched the sunset.

After dark we headed to the beach. Thanks, again, to New Zealand's volcanic activity, there are several hot water sites on the North Island. Near our camp there is a beach with several hot water springs near the low tide line. You go at low tide (which was about 8 pm in this case) and dig yourself a sandy hot tub, right by the ocean. The springs are pretty close together, so everyone that's there to enjoy them is clustered tightly together. We got there a bit late, but two nice guys offered to let us in their "tub" with them. You don't want to be too close to the spring (because it is extremely hot), but you don't want to be too far away, either, or you get no heat. You have to dig a hollow for the spring water and build up sand sides, because the waves coming in are quite cold and you don't want that cold water in your hot tub.

No pictures, because it was pitch black by the time we arrived and got settled, but it was really lovely. We could see patches of stars through the clouds, hear and smell the ocean, and sit in the warm water and sand.

As the tide comes back in it gets harder and harder to defend your pocket of warmth. The waves eventually take back the stretch of sand with the hot springs and everyone rinses off and goes home.

On Thursday morning, we reluctantly left our cozy cottage and further traced the Coromandel Peninsula coastline to Cathedral Cove.

It was a 1.5 hour hike round trip to get down to the Cove, but we broke it up with play time on the lovely beach. Plenty of people were in the water, but as equatorial folks now, it was a bit chilly for us. Instead Kyle baited the locals:

we had a Hamish photoshoot:

and we had a Kyle photoshoot, so he wouldn't feel left out:

When it was time to go, we took the 309 road, a curvy, mostly gravel road, to Coromandel town on the western side of the peninsula. We stopped halfway to see a stand of kauri trees, one of the largest and most ancient trees in New Zealand.

We had lunch at a great cafe in Coromandel (Driving Creek Cafe, largest, most delicious lentil burger ever) before wandering through town and down the West coast of the peninsula back to Auckland.

The coastline was so pretty and peaceful. I loved the little wood frame churches in the tiny towns and Kyle was particularly impressed with the trees.

We called the one on the right Perfect Trees, because that's what they look like. We only saw a few of the one on the left, but they looked more like something out of Dr. Seuss.