Day #74 - Choo! Choo!

Our first full day in our fourth country, saw us waking up in our campervan having successfully navigated all the nocturnal necessities in such a small space - by which I mean clambering out for midnight wees without waking the other half or making the bed collapse! We both slept well and I personally always find waking up when camping really refreshing and inspiring since you often wake to lovely morning sun with beautiful bird song. So while I woke gently, James took to the pool that we had on site to wake himself up - far too cold and brutal for me! After stowing all our kit, showering and resetting the van to "day mode", it was time to head off for our next adventure.

We had been told that a must see attraction in the area was the Driving Creek miniature railway. James loves all things miniature and so that was our first activity decided! It was only about 2 km up the road and was one of those blizzard attractions that turn out to be amazing.

It all starts with a guy called Barry Brickell who was a potter. He started a pottery collective on the site in 1961 and in 1975 started to build a narrow gauge railway in order to transport clay and wood for the kilns. Over the next 25 years or so, this railway was expanded and took on a life of its own as Barry extended it, built some amazing structures including a double-deck viaduct, three tunnels and ten bridges.

Due to the steep hills that the railway is build on, it has a unique system of changing direction five times at reversing points in order to zigzag across the face of the hill. Along the track are various pottery sculptures and quirky features such as retaining walls made out of bottles or tyres. At the top of the hill is a lookout structure called Eyefull Tower, the design of which was based on the Bean Rock Lighthouse in Auckland. Sadly, the weather robbed us of the view, but the ride up was amazing!
The "view" from Eyefull Tower
Then it was time to return to the station and descend the hill passing once again through the switchbacks, over the bridges, the double viaduct and through the tunnels. One tunnel was shaped and decorated to look like a wine barrel since Barry the Potter, loved a glass or two. James was particularly interested and blown away by all the various plants (especially the tree ferns) in the forest we were passing through. Barry and his team have carefully restored areas of the forest by careful replanting. 
Some sculptures and a glass bottle retaining wall. 
I tried to capture the experience with some video - all aboard!
After our morning on the railways, we hit the road in our van and headed to the coast in search of a very unusual beach. You may guess what makes it unusual from its name - Hot Water Beach. It is unique in that within two hours either side of low tide, it is possible to dig into the sand allowing hot water to escape to the surface forming your own sandy hot tub! The water (up to 64 °C) filters up from two underground fissures located close to each other. Since both James and I love a hot tub, we were keen to try this out. So we duly arrived within the two hour window, and despite the fact the weather had closed in, we headed out to the beach. Sadly, our path was blocked by the incoming tide - we couldn't make it from our campervan car park past the headland around to the bay where the springs were. So determined to make the most of it, we enjoyed a stroll along the sand and admired the stunning scenery through the drizzle!
Back in the van, we started to head towards this evening's site where we were to park up. We took a scenic route taking in more of the coastal road but also some very attractive settlements and more beaches!
One that we particularly loved was the town of Tairua that is dominated by Mount Paku, an extinct volcano that lies by Tairua Harbour.
Our overnight pitch was one we found on Facebook and we chose it because of its closeness to tomorrow's attraction. It looked like a nice farm with some animals and the owners appeared friendly. I had emailed the lady owner back in June to secure a booking and she had replied to confirm. At the time, I responded to her reply with a few questions like "how much?" but never got a reply back. It was always at the back of my mind to follow up, but you know how it is! I did send an email this morning just to check all was ok before we set out, but I am currently struggling with data on my phone and I am relying on free wifi spots to connect to people. The upshot of this was that I wasn't sure she had seen my message and I was a little nervous in case we didn't have a booking after all. 
SatNav told us we had reached our destination (which took a few attempts to actually find the right turning for this farm) and we found ourselves approaching the main building with what appeared to be a party sat around eating and drinking in the main barn. There were no other campervans or tents in sight which was a little curious. As we parked, an elderly man left the group and approached us. He asked us if we had booked for the night (we confirmed that we had) and then he apologised that he wasn't aware since his wife had handled all the bookings and she had sadly passed away recently, the gathering was actually her visitation/wake since it was her funeral tomorrow. Awkward!!
We of course, offered our condolences and suggested we go and find alternative accomodation in order to leave him to attend to more important matters. He wouldn't hear of it and so, we quickly set up the van and connected the electricity and tactfully went for a long evening walk. Luckily the countryside in the area we're are staying in (the heart of Waikato, in a small agricultural town called Matamata) is stunning - lots of rolling green hills with plenty of cows, sheep or deer!
When we returned, the gathering had dispersed and we headed to the van for the night.  To borrow and misuse a quote from Mr Baggins, we think we're quite ready for another adventure tomorrow!