We’ve experienced some of the beauty and one treacherous road in the northern part of the peninsula so now it’s time for a little touristy trip to Driving Creek Railway. Then it’s off to Waiua Falls for a little hike and some photo ops of the waterfalls and a stop at Stuart’s Pigs. Yes….you read right.
Finally the day has started off quite beautifully. The sun is shining brightly above and we’re excited for the adventure du jour. As we head out once again on Highway 25 to cross over to the western side of the peninsula I finally see the perfect opportunity to stop and get a beach shot in Kūaotunu. I see Dan’s head shaking and his eyes rolling as he realizes he’s probably in for a day of stop and go to allow me to take photos but he smiles and pulls over at my request.
Driving Creek Railway
Before we know it we’re in Coromandel Town and have arrived at Driving Creek Railway. So, what’s this place all about? Well, I’ll tell ya Shoutie…A Kiwi and conservationist by the name of Barry Brickell purchased a 22 hectare property back in the early 60s. He purchased it because he loved the land but also because of the raw pottery materials that could be harvested from it. His original intention was to build a pottery collective.
In 1975 he purchased an additional 60 hectares upon which Brickell, also a train enthusiast, began the construction of a 15 gauge rail line. The rail was to be used to transfer clay and pine down from the slopes to the pottery building. It would also be used to help re-plant native trees such as the Kauri, Totara and Rimu upon the hill. He wanted to return the area to its pre-gold digging days.
Creation of the railway was a significant engineering feat due to the steep slopes and complex terrain. It took 25 years to complete the current railway with its double deck viaduct, ten bridges and three tunnels. The line climbs uphill behind the pottery. It has five reversing points that allow it to zig zag across the face of the hill. It’s a slow climb with fabulous views that eventually ends at the Eyefull Tower. Here you can take a walk onto the deck and take in incredible views across the valley below.
The rail cars and locomotives are made on the property in their workshop. Yes, in addition to the pottery they have a complete workshop for the rail cars. These are adorable little cars that remind me of a children’s train only they are set up for us big kids too. They have an interesting feature in them….each bench seat has a moveable seat back can be flipped so that when the train reaches a reversing point the passengers can flip the back over, turn around and move to the seat in front of them thus making certain the passengers are always facing forward.
And, as interesting as the history is, the property itself is as well. When you arrive at the property you have an opportunity to walk through the pottery and watch potters as they create their wares, mix and dry the clay and use the old stone kilns, most of which were designed and built by Brickell himself.
Everywhere you look there are pieces of pottery from busts to bowls to animals to miniature houses to fairies…you name it. If it can be made out of clay you can probably find it here sitting in a corner, up on a hill or hiding behind a tree. There are newer pieces sitting beside older ones that are covered in mold and forest growth. In some areas the forest appears to actually be taking back the pottery as if it’s reclaiming the clay that was mined to create it.
Along the railway there are vignettes carved into the forest where you’ll find interesting pottery works on display. There’s even a few retaining walls that were made from beer and wine bottles. Someone had to drink a whole lot of wine and beer to make even one of these walls.
To this day you can go there and take pottery classes and they still have potters who come from around the world to work and create there. For us, however, one of the most fascinating things about Driving Creek is the fact that Brickell, who died in 2016 made certain to protect this property and the pottery for future generations. He was adamant that it will be there for decades to come. It certainly goes a long way to showing what kind of man he was and how deep his commitment to conservation and pottery went. We found that to be very cool!
Look At All That Bacon
After a few hours at Driving Creek Railway we are back in the car and headed south on Highway 25 to Road 309 that will loop us back to Whitianga. We’ve read that this is a scenic road and a must see for anyone traveling in the area. This time we’ve been warned that the road ahead will be a dirt road most of the way. Okay, okay….we’re ready. At least this road goes through the forest and not along the cliffs.
We’ve read about an extremely peculiar tourist attraction along 309 and you know me…I’m a strange ol’ gal and the more odd something is the more interesting I find it. We make our way down this road, which, to our surprise, is paved for the most part. Of course it’s not long before the pavement runs out and we are on the dirt road that was promised. All of the sudden we see the sign. The “Don’t feed the pigs” sign. Yes, you read correctly.
You see, this particular tourist attraction is nothing more than a place in the middle of the forest where there are abandoned old cars and campers and a hundred or so domestic pigs that roam free. On one side of the road is a worn down old shack that we can only guess is Stuart’s place. After all, this attraction or should I say eyesore is known as “Stuart’s Pigs”.
It’s sort of like a bad car wreck. You simply can’t just drive by. You have to stop and take it in. There’s easily a hundred pigs large and small as well as a few dozen chickens and a couple of sheep. Obviously I just had to stop to grab a few pics because, well, who would actually believe me if I told them there is a tourist attraction in New Zealand where you can mingle with free roaming pigs at a junkyard in the middle of a forest?
As you might expect they smell to high heavens and it turns out they can be a bit aggressive too. While we would never feed them it’s pretty clear that others do which would account for them pushing each other out of the way to get to us. After a few minutes there a couple of the males began getting territorial and start fighting. It’s at this point we decide it is time to move on.
Next Stop…Waiua Falls.
Yep, another chance for Jilly to snap a few waterfall photos and, of course, we can get out and stretch our legs a little. The hiking in New Zealand is always fabulous and this walk includes walking through a grove of Kauri trees. These trees are the longest living and largest in the world and we never tire of seeing them.
The hike to the falls takes just a few minutes. Along the way we see some of the younger Kauris but none of the really huge ones. We will find out later that we needed to walk deeper into the forest to get to the boardwalk with the big ones. It’s okay. We see the falls. I get my pics and we are on our way again.
The rest of the road is a mix of gravel and pavement and offers great forest atmosphere. Along the way we see an RV on the side of the road with a guy and a truck there who appeared to be stealing stuff from it. Of course we aren’t positive that is what’s happening and we don’t have cell service so there’s not much we can do except keep going.
Road 309 eventually leads back to Highway 25 on the east coast of the peninsula. It comes out at Kaimarama which is just a little south of Whitianga. Well, we have to go through there to get back to our BnB so we stop at Grace O’Malley’s Irish Inn for a bite to eat. After all, when you find a good thing you should stick with it right?
It was definitely quite a day from the interesting and unique Driving Creek Railway to Stuart’s Pigs to the hike to Waiua Falls. For now we’ve got full bellies and we’re both beat so it’s back to the BnB for some R & R.
Tomorrow we leave the Coromandel and head back south to Waihi Beach. That will be our base for the next few days as we explore all that the Karangahake Gorge area has to offer. There will be lots of hiking and cool places to check out there so don’t forget to check back in a few days for more fun and adventure.
Until next time,
Jilly & Dan
P.S. Dan’s pretty certain the pigs at Stuart’s place were recently relocated there from California.