We were after an ‘escape’ from Auckland, we wanted beautiful beaches, great landscapes, delicious food, relaxation and various accommodation options to choose from, to top things off we didn’t want to travel far. Luckily the Coromandel Peninsula exists, and it offers all of this and more! Pigs were not considered.
Travel by: Car
Time needed: 3 – 7 days
Take: Camera, jandals, togs & a towel
Interactive Coromandel Map
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This blog post has ballooned out in complexity with the various media elements (map, photos & video) and size – but the Coromandel has a lot to offer visitors and there simply isn’t anything I can do about that but show and tell all the great places you should visit.
As far as planning goes, most of the cool spots are on the east coast and you can visit them in pretty much any order, albeit for a few places which are tidal:
- Hot Water Beach (arrive two hours before low tide)
- New Chums beach – the walk is best under taken around low tide (2 hours either side again),
- Cathedral Cave can be enjoyed at any time, but it’s worth noting that the arch area is tidal, so if you want to walk through you may get wet…
What follows is our favourite spots from our recent trip (late October, 2014) in geographical order working our way up the east coast starting with Orakawa bay which is accessed from Waihi beach.
Accessed via a walk through the Orokawa Scenic Reserve (45 minute one way track). Park at the very northern end of Waihi beach near the surf club.
What you will find is a beautiful white sandy beach lined with hardy pohutukawa trees. I strung a hammock up and relaxed for a while, it was blissful.
Between Waihi Beach and Whangamata on the eastern coast of Coromandel Peninsula lies a small village with kiwi baches and a local store. Whiritoa boasts a pristine white sandy beach with the occasional patch of black sand to keep things interesting. The beach slopes fairly steeply down to beautiful clear blue water, making for easy swimming without having to wade for ages before reaching deep water (I hate wading – I’m scared I’ll stand on a stingray ;-)). No islands shelter this coastline so it is more exposed than other beaches we visited on the Coromandel (bigger waves). From the far northern end of Whiritoa a short 20 minute walk will take you around to Waimama Bay.
Accessed via a 20 minute walk from the northern end of Whiritoa beach. To find the walking trail you need to cross the Ramarama stream, walk around to your left and then look for the start of the track amongst the trees (location roughly shown on satellite image below). Waimama Bay has large rocks at either end of the beach and will be particularly beautiful when the Pohutukawa trees are blooming.
The Opoutere area, located between Whangamata and Pauanui, hasn’t been developed (houses, baches, shops, etc) like other parts of the Coromandel peninsula. What houses exist are located along the harbour/inlet while the beach is entirely protected by a thin pine forest (which you walk through to get to the beach). The car park is at the Wharekawa Harbour Sandspit Wildlife Refuge and can be easily missed. The walk through the pine forest takes about 10 minutes. The beach feels quite exposed, but is certainly beautiful. Be mindful there are no facilities on the beach, but this also means few visitors so you might be lucky enough to have it all to yourself!
Mt Paku – Tairua
Taking a break from the beaches, this recommended short walk (10 minutes) to the top of Mt Paku in Tairua provides amazing panoramic views over Tairua, Pauanui and the surrounding area. When we visited we were accompanied by a local cat who acted as a guide.
Hot Water Beach
Located just south of Hahei, Hot Water Beach is one of the most popular destinations/activities for visitors to the Coromandel. It’s unique in that you dig your own hot water ‘spa’ pools in the sand, taking advantage of the hot water which bubbles up from an underwater thermal spring.
You’ll need to take a spade to dig your pool (or hire one from the local shops), and a bucket to add cold water from the surf as required to make sure your hot pool isn’t too hot!
When arriving, park at the southern end of the beach (some parking is paid). Look for the off-shore rocks that are visible in the water about 100 metres from the carpark. From mid to high tide ‘the spot’ is completely covered with water and the surf can be rough. But, once the tide goes out, the area in front of these rocks becomes a unique thermal hot spot (take note of where the people are in my aerial video as an indication on where to dig). Be ready for some competition for space, particularly in peak season and on weekends. Stake out your spot early, we recommend arriving two hours before low tide to start digging, and you can stay and relax until two hours after low tide – at which point the sea will inevitably return with waves of crashing cold water. No matter how hard you work at creating elaborate sand walls to fend off the waves they always seem to break through!
Located north of Hahei. This famous coromandel spot is undoubtedly a very popular beach, despite being not easily accessible – you need to walk, heaven forbid.
We recommend visiting first thing in the morning on busy summer weekends to get a car park. The walking track from the car park takes about 45 minutes and is steep on the return journey, I recall some kid counting the steps back up – there may have been 120. But it’s definitely worth it. A beautiful small cove with clear blue-greenish water, white-gold sand, some rocky island outcrops and a sea cave that links through to another stretch of beach (easily accessed at low tide).
For the keen photographers this is a sunrise spot, but even during high midday sun this beach photographs well with the sun’s rays making the water beautifully clear and appealing, but as soon as you get into late afternoon the sun will start disappearing behind the high cliff edges (you’re on the east coast) and shadows will start becoming troublesome.
Cathedral Cove is part of the Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve which stretches from north-east of Hahei to Cooks Bluff between Mahurangi and Motukorure Islands on the Coromandel Peninsula.
The area is a popular spot for walkers and kayakers, plus sea taxis visit frequently from Whitianga and most boat tours in the area will stop by briefly.
To get here, take the first side-track on your right on the same walk you take to get to Cathedral Cove, it is roughly 10 minutes from the carpark. Gemstone Bay has a snorkel trail with various yellow buoys marking areas where you can see different underwater environments. It’s pretty easy snorkelling and the water is sure to be lovely and warm in late summer however it was freezing when we visited in late October. Maximum depth is 5-6 metres.
An old gravel road between Whitianga and Coromandel town, named potentially after the number of minutes it use to take a horse drawn carriage to traverse, or the number of bends you will go around… The 309 road offers a number of different sights from the beaches and depending on how you plan it can allow you to loop to the west coast of the peninsula potentially avoiding coming back along the same road.
The Wairau Lodge – We really enjoyed our stay here. Lovely hosts, a cool outdoor bath tub and serene grounds. http://www.wairualodge.co.nz/
Waiau Kauri Grove – Definitely stop here, it’s an easy walk, perhaps half an hour return and takes you to some impressive kauri trees which managed to evade early axe happy Europeans.
Stuart’s pigs – just when you least expect it there are pigs on the road, these would be Stuart’s. I captured a couple of pics including the one below right, arguably the cutest wet black pig in the world!
The Waterworks – we didn’t visit on this occasion as it was pouring with rain and we figured there was already enough water falling on our heads without watching it power cool contraptions. I went years ago and remember being impressed, think it may have been voted NZ’s best theme park? If the water wheel in the car park is anything to go by it features impressive kiwi ingenuity.
The Lost Spring – a must visit thermal hot pool and day spa complex right in Whitianga. As soon as you drive in from the road it feels like you’ve entered another world – like you’ve been transported to a tranquil island paradise. It’s cleverly landscaped with lush palms and other ‘rainforest’ like plants and volcanic lava flow style rocks. The reception area and lounge is lavish with rich red carpets, lots of natural wood and impeccably made tables for dining and presumably functions. The staff are friendly and easy to deal with, on arrival you get a wrist band with a unique code for ordering food and drink (waiting service) meaning you don’t need to carry anything when in the pools, you just settle your tab at the end of your visit.
It’s hard to think of anything better than floating around in a hot pool sipping a cocktail. I had a margarita and Renee tried the strawberry daiquiri – which was delicious. Over our visit we also devoured a platter of yummy cheeses, meats and fruit.
The day we visited was overcast and rainy (as you can probably tell from the photos), but we had a great time all the same. Come for an hour or relax the whole afternoon, it’s a treat! http://www.thelostspring.co.nz/
ASURE Marina Park Apartments – We stayed for a couple nights in a one bedroom apartment in the Marina Park complex. It’s conveniently located right in the heart of Whitianga, easy walking distance to the centre of town and a great place to stay while you’re in the Coromandel. http://www.marinapark.co.nz/
Our highlight from Kuaotunu was a visit to Lukes kitchen; which is a great spot to enjoy a pizza and cold drink while enjoying the relaxed atmosphere and live music. Go before or after visiting Otama Beach.
Take the coastal road east from Kuaotunu to reach Otama beach – an incredible stretch of white sand, small dunes and inspiring views over the ocean. Deserted when we visited except for a couple of fisherman trying their luck.
New Chums Beach
Voted one of the top 10 beaches in the world. New Chums is a half hour walk from northern end of Whangapoua. The walk is not recommended 2 hours either side of high tide due to the rocky beach. It’s an unmarked, unmaintained track which leads over the headland, you find it with difficulty after crossing the stream and walking along the beach and over the rocks (for a long time). To avoid a miserable walk take decent footwear (not jandals) and beware the rocks are slippery when it is raining. The final stretch of the walk has pretty nikau palms and pohutukawa trees leading onto the beach. There are interesting red rocks on the beach, some covered with a slimy, almost fluorescent green moss. Very cool, and well worth the frustrating walk.
If I’ve missed a great Coromandel spot let me know in the comments section below.