We bought our first bach in Pauanui back when the kids were still cute, and have been regularly driving the road to the Coromandel on a Friday night / Sunday afternoon return for the last 10 years.
It's a regular escape for many Aucklanders and it pays to be aware that weekend traffic out of Auckland on Friday night and back home Sunday afternoon will be heavy, especially when the weather is looking good. It only takes one small accident to create total mayhem. It's the same for those escaping the city in a northerly direction too, of course, as they head over the Auckland Harbour Bridge and through the tunnel to beach houses in Leigh, Omaha and the like. You just have to be patient, or travel outside of these times. We try and get going as soon as school is out on a Friday and return after dinner on Sunday, which mostly nets a pretty clear run.
Life for Coromandel holiday makers improved significantly with the opening of the new Kopu Bridge a couple of summers ago. The old one-lane swing bridge now looks decidedly forlon as it sits unused alongside its efficient, sturdy replacement. Thankfully the days of queueing for an hour or more at Christmas and New Year's are over. Although old habits die hard, we still joke about who's going to hop out and grab the chips out of the boot while we sit in the queue and wait, remarking with amazement when we cross the dual-carriage structure without a second's delay! The future of the old Kopu Bridge is as yet undecided, council is consulting and considering whether to demolish it or save it to be used as part of a walking track/cycle way.
Things to look out for before you get to the Kopu Bridge - do pay attention to the 90km/hr 'safer speed zones', they are well sign posted and patrolled especially on popular public holiday weekends like Auckland Anniversary Day and Easter. Similarly, slow down at the 70km/hr sign as you approach Waitakaruru. A speeding ticket at the start of the weekend does nothing for your good mood - you can buy a lot of ice creams with that $100 plus. Watch your speed on the nice straight Hauraki Plains as well, it can be tempting to open things up a bit and get in front but don't get carried away.
If you're a Brit or a Royal Family fanatic do make a quick stop at The Corogate Cafe on the left hand side of SH 25, look for the big yellow building with a kayak on the roof. My daughter and I usually pop in and pick up some sherbert lemons for the trip, it is a shrine to all things British which will leave most Kiwis shaking their heads in confusion and preferring the food at The Pipiroa Country Kitchen Cafe, further along the same road on the right hand side.
There are plenty of passing lanes as you head through the Coromandel Ranges themselves and most holiday makers towing boats and caravans are pretty courteous, using the passing lanes or the occasional picnic spot to pull over and let you get past. Do give them a friendly toot or a wave. When traffic is heavy there is little to be gained in trying to get one car in front, take your time and enjoy the journey. The emergency siren for the volunteer fire brigade or ambulance service hoots regularly in towns like Pauanui, Tairua and Whangamata as travellers in too much of a hurry manage to take out themselves or others on the roads.
Slow down and make sure you and your family arrive safely...The beautiful beaches of the Coromandel certainly make it worth it when you get there.