Coromandel Road Trip
About 2 hours south of Auckland, over the Kopu bridge there is a Peninsula well-known amongst Kiwi holiday makers. The protecting arm that shelters the Hauraki Gulf from the Pacific, the Coromandel Peninsula is a veritable playground for campers, with wild beaches and sheltered coves, friendly small towns and stretches of wilderness, and a relaxed atmosphere that makes even those who live on it feel on holiday. The Coromandel, as it is often called, is home to many treasures- Here are some of them.
Right at the base of the Peninsula is Whangamata, a beach town that is becoming one of the country's most popular beach resorts. Over New Years, it is full to bursting with teenagers and families. If a party town is what you want, give Whangamata a go- the surf is quite good too. Tairua and Pauanui, further up the Peninsula's eastern coast, are twin towns on either side of Tairua Harbour. With sheltered beaches inside the harbour, ferries running between the two places, a volcanic peak to climb at the entrance to the harbour and the bridge over the estuary a great spot for jumping into the water, These two towns are especially great for families with kids.
Yet further up the coast is Mercury Bay and surrounds. It would be easy to spend weeks around Hahei, Cook's Beach and Whitianga without being bored. Hahei has a beautiful white beach, and is but a short drive from Hot Water Beach, a surf beach famous for the hot water springs that bubble up through the sand at low tide. Grab a spade (or rent one at the shop), follow the people heading to the spring and dig yourself a private spa!
Also near Hahei (a 30-45 minute walk from the scenic lookout) is Cathedral Cove, an absolutely stunning cove with a cathedral-like stone arch. The Narnia movie Prince Caspian was filmed here- it is one of New Zealand's prettiest pieces of coastline.
Inside Mercury Bay are the two towns of Cooks Beach and the bigger Whitianga. These towns are keeping alive the New Zealand summer tradition- simple idyllic holidays of friends, family, beach and BBQs. Cooks offers a long stretch of beach and laid-back town with a mix of summer baches and permanent residents- make sure you visit the Purangi River at the eastern end of the beach and the wineries dotted around! Whitianga, a 30-min drive or 5-min ferry ride from Cooks, is a bigger town and offers safe swimming and good fishing off Buffalo Beach. Both towns have campsites.
As you go further up the Peninsula, towns become smaller and beaches more remote. Opito Bay, accessible only by gravel road, is a particularly beautiful stretch of beach. Matarangi, built on the sandspit sheltering Whangapoua Harbour, is known as a luxury beach resort and attracts those with a bit of money to spend on accommodations! Golfers might like to try out "The Dunes," an 18-hole course.
The northern tip of the peninsula is sparsely inhabited and is largely covered in natural forest- the Coromandel Forest Park which covers large areas of the Peninsula is great for tramping, with Department of Conservation operated huts dotted in the wilderness. Right at the end is Port Jackson, difficult to reach due to isolation and rugged roads, but the lovely and untouched curved beach is worth it. There is just a Department of Conservation camping ground in the bay, with basic facilities and the cost is $9 per adult per night. The perfect New Zealand camping ground! There is a similiar one at Fantail Bay, a pebbly bay that has a hidden gem- a swimming hole in the bush.
As you progress down the Pohutakawa tree-filled western side of the peninsula, along the Firth of Thames, you will come across the tiny town of Colville, and further along, Coromandel Town. Here and in the other towns on this coast can be found many artists and "alternative lifestyle communities." The drive along the coast from Coromandel to Thames is quite stunning, especially at high tide.
Thames, located at the bottom of the Firth where the peninsula curves to join the mainland is the Cormandel's largest town. The town was built during the Coromandel Gold Rush in the 1860s and 70s, giving it an interesting goldmining history - you can take a Goldmine Experience Tour to learn about this. The Thames Historical Museum is also a great place to learn about the history of Thames and the Coromandel. Although only a 2-hour drive from the big city, the Coromandel Peninsula is a world of it's own- once you cross the bridge, you can't help but relax!