This is the Coromandel Peninsula! One of the most stunning and mind blowing parts of New Zealand with a coastline that is second to none the world over. We are exploring the Coromandel Peninsula in our Isuzu MUX, starting from Waihi (just 90 minutes south of Auckland on the East Coast, heading up the eastern side to Tairua, Whitianga, Hot Water Beach before crossing over the peninsula to finish of in Coromandel Town.
The drive from Waihi is winding, so take your time and stop at the many rest areas to stretch your legs. It is only a 45 minute drive to Tairua but as well as being slightly arduous it is also extremely picturesque.
Tairua has a great sheltered harbour area filled with heaps of seafood as well as birdlife, but it also has a sensational surf break just around the point. Tairua is very popular in the summer months with surfers and boogy boarders coming from all over the country to enjoy this slice of heaven, but in winter it is very quiet, just how the locals like it. Somewhere they can enjoy the peace and quiet this is a boaties heaven. With the harbour sheltered from the ocean by Mt Paku and inland from the mountain range, it is the perfect spot to anchor your boat or park up the motorhome. Mt Paku or Paku Hill as it is widely known, is a twin-coned volcanic peak that dominates the head of the Tairua Harbour.
From Mt Paku you get to spy on the neighbouring town of Pauanui which is very popular with the Kiwi celebrities. While Pauanui and Tairua are only a stones throw from each other across the water, there is no bridge which means you have to drive all the way around the bay to reach the other. These quiet and remote little towns are the mainstay of tourism in this area. Offering secluded beaches, fantastic surf breaks, stunning mountains in the background and of course plenty of ocean fun.
A must-do is to walk to the top of Mt Paku. You can drive to the base and park your vehicle, motorhomes included before setting out on the 30 minute trek to the top. During the walk you can stop and read the information boards giving you all the information about the Maori ancestors who own this land. Mt Paku is the site of the earliest evidence of Polynesian settlement in New Zealand. It showcases their early life and what Mt Paku means to the Maori. It is said in ancient folklore that Mt Paku erupted and created the off shore Alderman Islands. Mt Paku was once an island itself but after the eruption it became joined to the mainland.
Like so much of New Zealand their farming and forestry land runs all the way to the ocean. And while some of the beach “bachs”, as they call them in New Zealand are looking fairly old, the oldest and most famous residents of Tairua are just up the road – The Twin Kauri’s.
The Pakeha, the white man, chopped the Kauri trees down in their thousands which of course angered the Maori as they believe the Kauri Tree is the King of the Forest and deeply treasured by the Maori people and they seldom ever used them. However the Kauri trees are the best wood in the world for masts on boats and this is what the Pakeha used them for. At the Twin Kauris you can pull off on the shoulder of the road and it is only a few steps up to be next to these amazing trees. There is also a walk you can do into the bush, which is very easy and only takes 10 minutes. It will give you a great insight into New Zealands dense and widely populated forests and give you an upclose look at their native Ponga’s. But I would have to admit, that the best part about travelling New Zealand is that nothing can hurt you! No venomous creatures, no snakes, no bull ants and definitely no crocs!
Next on our itinerary and only 20 minutes up the road is Hot Water Beach. The world famous Hot Water Beach that is! This is a truly unique Kiwi experience for all travellers. An underground river of hot water flows from the interior of the earth to the surface in the Pacific Ocean here at Hot Water Beach. The stunning beach overlooks the Pacific Ocean and offshore Castle Rock, with Pohutukawa lined cliffs at either end of the beach. All you need to do is grab yourself a shovel which can be hired from the local beachfront shop and dig yourself your very own spa pool in the sand! Just be careful with your children, as the water can get very hot! Two hours either side of low tide tourists & locals flock to the usually deserted Hot Water Beach to find hot water bubbling through the golden sand.
With New Zealand being so sparsely populated, secluded beaches are around every corner. Seldom will you find a place that is commercialised right on the beachfront. Rather you will find many tiny little old beach “bachs” hugging the sand, handed down from generation to generation. Beach life here in New Zealand is about keeping everything original.
Next stop is Whitianga. Here we venture out on the water with Whitianga Ocean Adventures, their tours leave from the Whitianga Wharf, which is located right at the end of the main street. Darryl is our skipper and also the owner and has lived in this area his entire life. He knows everything about these waters including where you can and cannot get this purpose build boat into – this is a day tour with no limits! We set off at speed, which is always fun for the kids. He takes us out the mouth of the harbour and into the Pacific Ocean. Always hugging the stunning cliff faces that line this part of the ocean. The rock faces in this part of New Zealand are simply breath taking. Carved out over millions of years they leave behind some of New Zealands most revered scenery. Darryl is extremely experienced in these waters so to get as close as we did to the caves and cliffs, you must take his tour and not attempt to do this yourself. He will take you right into the caves and inlets and let you get some phenomenal views of this coastline. The colours inside these caves are amazing. The cliff faces reach far down into the ocean floor. The colour of the water is such a rich jade colour it makes you want to jump right in! New Zealand is world famous for its scenery and you can certainly see why. It was a 3 hour trip that I will not forget anytime soon.
Our 4 day trip is on its final leg as we head across the Coromandel Peninsula to Coromandel Town. Coromandel Town is old world and very eccentric. Old restored pubs like the Star Carter Hotel, cafes and buildings line the main street. There are local art shops, ceramics, handcrafted wood and shells as well as amazing art pieces to buy. If you love seafood then head into The Coromandel Smoking Company to get your taste buds excited! They smoke just about everything and anything and I must add that it is all very reasonably priced too!
The Star Carter Hotel is famous in this area, it is original and has the hospitality to match. Have a drink in the pub by the open fire and enjoy the history that adorns the walls. It’s a nice way to enjoy your beer while actually learning something! The staff here will ensure you know everything there to know – just as though the walls are talking.
Our last adventure is to explore the Driving Creek Railway located a few minutes drive out of Coromandel Town. Upon arrival you are greated in their stunning Pottery Barn, if you love pottery you will love it here. After taking an hour to get Sheree out of the Pottery shop, we jump aboard the Driving Creek Railway which is a 1 hour return trip through the bush and forest that makes this part of New Zealand stand out from the rest. You will go through tunnels, spirals, reversing points with look outs and several large viaducts as it climbs all the way to the top look out. At the top you are welcomed with spectacular views over the Hauraki Gulf. The New Zealand scenery is so raw and so untouched that there really are no words to describe it properly.
Our 4 day self drive trip has ended and it’s a sombre drive back to Auckland as we wish we could stay forever in this heaven on earth. Throughout New Zealand they have fantastic Holiday Parks to stay in, with the ones we stayed in on the Coromandel Peninsula being among the best locations I have ever seen for a Holiday Park. The kiwi song ‘slice of heaven’ couldn’t be a better description for this remarkable part of the world.