The Coromandel is a popular holiday destination for New Zealanders and tourists alike, with its accessibility to Auckland making certain areas such as Pauanui a lifestyle for the rich and famous, but for the most part still providing old school Kiwi charm. A must visit in any trip to New Zealand!
Coromandel Peninsula – choose your own adventure
Coromandel is a great place to be during the Christmas holiday period – the 2-3 weeks around Christmas and New Years when most Kiwis take their holidays. This is generally when I have been there, and this time is great if you want a crowd for drinking with and for some good home-grown live music, but if you want to get away from it all into some native NZ bush and not see any other humans for a week it is also possible to do this – it really is your choice.
Whitianga/Cooks Beach/Hahei Beach (Free to visit – all NZ beaches are!)
Whitianga, Cooks Beach and Hahei Beach are all nearby on the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula. Whitianga is one of the larger townships in the Coromandel with ~4,500 residents. Cooks Beach and Hahei Beach are both beautiful beach towns and very typical NZ summer holiday locations, with rows of Bachs (NZ’s name for a holiday home – pronounced Batch) running down to the beach. A great place to get away from it all. Hahei Beach is most famous for being the gateway to Cathedral Cove (see below) but is definitely worth a visit in its own right. A popular live music bar over this period nearby is the Coroglen Tavern. I saw Shapeshifter, a NZ drum and bass band, play at the end of 2013 – a great night out!
There are many restaurants in the area and when we go away we usually cook our own food on a BBQ (NZ is expensive for food!). However I can highly recommend Squids Restaurant (www.squids.co.nz). The Gurnard was excellent and affordable, for NZ restaurant prices.
Cathedral Cove/ Gemstone Bay (Free to walk to, Sea Kayaking NZ$105, Snorkelling Hire NZ$25)
No trip to Coromandel is complete without a trip to the iconic Cathedral Cove. The cove can only be accessed by sea or by foot, which makes it all the more worthwhile if you either sea kayak into the bay or walk the hour long trek from the carpark just above Hahei beach. You can access the Cove at any time, but at high tide you will have to walk through a bit of water to get through the hole in the rock. I have walked to the Cove a couple of times, and would love to do the sea kayaking as it has very good reviews. But when I was there in December the swell was too high to do the full kayak day trip. I would highly recommend it if the weather suits – it is great exercise and an amazing way to view the beautiful coastline around the Coromandel. If you doubt the benefits of Kayaking, then let my friends at Nature Rated persuade you otherwise here!
Additionally, there is a Marine reserve on the walk to the Cove, accessible by foot at Gemstone Bay, which has great snorkeling (hire gear available from the Dive Shop in Hahei). I was really looking forward to doing this but due to the swell the visibility was very limited and the Dive Shop advised it wasn’t worth it.
Hot Water Beach (Free to visit – Shovel hire ~NZ$5)
Hot Water Beach is a once in a lifetime experience where you can dig your own hot pool and have free beach front views! The hot water comes from an underwater geothermal stream and can only be accessed to bathe in approximately 2 hours before low tide and up to 2 hours after. If you want to not battle the many other tourists from all over the world, it’s a good idea to go during the low tide either early in the morning or later at night. If you go at night, you can have the even more unique experience of your own hot tub on a beach under the stars!
There are two streams which run nearly parallel and the water gets very hot so caution is advised. Some of the locals had clearly brought their own bucket to full up with seawater to cool their hot tub down. You can hire shovels from the local cafe, or bring your own!
Coromandel Town – Driving Creek Railway (Adult NZ$35 per person)
The Driving Creek Railway is a classic example of some good old Kiwi ingenuity and never-say-die attitude. Barry Brickell purchased a 22Ha block just out of Coromandel town in 1973 with the aim of building a pottery workshop there – the first commercial pottery workshop in New Zealand. He soon realised the best way to get the clay he needed for his workshop was by building a narrow-gauge railway up the side of his plot. So began a lifetime project which continued up to his death in early 2016, building longer and longer railway track up the side of the mountain.
The railway was opened to the public in 1990 to help pay for its construction after the advice of his bank manager and it hasn’t looked back! Barry was a true character – the first stop on the train is called Ravington, where he used to hold parties and raves. A lot of the retaining walls are made from bottles of wine he drunk over the years – supposedly a bottle every night (and he still lived to 80!). Barry was also a serious conservationist, having planted thousands of native trees on his block, his true gift to future generations of New Zealanders and tourists alike.
Accommodation options around the Coromandel
AirBNB is becoming very popular amongst NZ hosts. The classical idea of ‘success’ in New Zealand was always the three ‘Bs’ – the BMW, the Boat and the Bach (holiday home). These days, many Kiwis are seeing that their Bach can also become a source of income when they aren’t using it. AirBNB and other local options like www.bookabach.co.nz offer great opportunities to stay in some really interesting and unique homes. When we went to the Coromandel just before Christmas in 2016, we stayed here and it was amazing! Previously I have also stayed at On The Beach Backpackers in Whitianga and had a great time.
Getting to the Coromandel Peninsula
As I discussed in my Auckland post, flights from London to New Zealand range massively depending on time – £600-£1500 return. The best tip is go in late March/early April – this is considered shoulder season but the weather remains very settled and the water is warm. There is considerable competition from airlines all over the world – making it the perfect time to visit New Zealand. Airlines from America, China and the Middle East are all significantly increasing capacity.
To get to Coromandel from Auckland (either the city or the airport) is easy. While the best way to get around New Zealand is to hire a car, there are multiple buses each day from Auckland city or Manukau City (a short bus ride from the Airport to connect to a bus to Thames and into the Coromandel Peninsula). Information on the timetable can be found here.