If epic seascapes, deserted beaches, craggy mountains ranges, lush rainforest, and natural bounty ring your bells, then a road trip around the Coromandel Peninsula should be right up there on your bucket list!
The Coromandel looks reasonably tiny on a map relative to the rest of New Zealand, but it is jam packed full of diverse landscapes, quirky smally towns and plenty of natural goodness. The Coromandel is well worth a road trip in its own right, almost a micro-ism of New Zealand, just without the snow! One could easily allow 2-3 weeks of beach hopping around the Coromandel and still not have allowed enough time!
For this reason a campervan is one of the best ways to explore the Coromandel, switching to Coromandel time, going nice and slow, stopping where the heart desires in unexpected locations and chilling right out! That’s what a holiday is all about after all!
PLANNING YOUR CAMPSPOTS
Much of the Coromandel is protected as the Coromandel Forest Park and therefore some of the best camp spots are Department of Conservation campsites which are numerous and in epic locations like Port Jackson, Stony Bay, Fantail Bay, Waikawau Bay and the Kauaeranga Valley.
Every seaside holiday town big and small is dotted with motorhome friendly holiday parks places like Long Bay, Oamuru Bay, Cooks Beach, Hot Water Beach, Hahei, and Kuaotunu (to name a few) and so pulling in somewhere camper friendly at the end of the day is usually very easy.
Unlike the rest of New Zealand, historically the local council has been quite strict on freedom camping and although it is has recently relaxed its bylaws, it pays to always check the local signage before choosing to freedom camp as certain areas are prohibited, especially in populated areas.
THE COROMANDEL’S TEN MUST DO’S
1. Hiking the Kauaeranga Valley. A short drive from the town of Thames, this area is a hikers delight. Prehistoric 2000 year old kauri trees once lined the forest but were heavily felled by early settlers in the late 1800’s. The now protected and regenerating native forest is rich in pioneering history including remnants of the old kauri dams which were constructed to move the giant trees downstream to Thames. The epic walk to the peak of the Pinnacles can be tackled as one of NZ’s best full day walks, affording impressive views over both sides of the coast from its peak.
2. Driving the Thames Coast. One of the best short coastal drives you will find in New Zealand, plenty of places to pull off, have a cuppa by the sea and soak in the serenity.
3. Indulging in the local seafood. One of the best place to do this is Coromandel town. The Mussel Kitchen serves locally farmed greenlip mussels, likewise the Coromandel Oyster Company serves paua, crayfish and plump oysters at market prices. Even better go catch dinner for yourself – a snapper off the rocks or something bigger on one of the many sportfishing charters. There's nothing better than feasting on fresh seafood with a local wine overlooking a pristine Coromandel beach at the end of the day!
4. Exploring the remote northern Coromandel. Travelling north from Colville you will find some of the regions best scenery, and tranquil bays, like Port Jackson, Fletchers Bay and Stony Bay. Take it nice and slow, the roads up here are unsealed and windy but worth every mile travelled!
5. Having a woodfire pizza at Lukes Kitchen! Heading over the range The golden east coast beaches of New Chums Beach (a great little walk to a deserted beach), Opito Bay, Otama and Kuaotunu are a stark contrast to the granite western coastline and each deserves a visit. At the very southern end of Opito Bay is a short walk to an old Maori Pa site affords awesome views over the Mercury Islands. The friendly local atmostphere at the open-air Lukes Kitchen at Kuaotunu pretty much sums up the local vibe and with good honest food and highly recommended as a stop for lunch.
6. Cathedral Cove. This iconic location is everything it is cracked up to be! Stunning limestone coastline carved away by the elements over thousands of years.
An easy 1 hr return walk takes you to the golden beach and archway of Cathedral Cove, or even better take a guided kayak tour with the friendly team at Cathedral Cove kayaks departing Hahei. This is another small beach village you drive into and you know that plane ride to New Zealand and miles traveled getting there are all worth it – this is what you came to NZ for! The waters outside Cathedral Cove are part of the TeWhanganui a Hei Marine Reserve and rich in protected marine life, so grab a snorkel and check out the snorkel trail or go on a scuba diving trip with the local experts. There is plenty more to visit in this little slice of paradise including local breweries at Hahei and wineries at Cooks Beach.
7. Soaking in thermal pools at Hot Water Beach. Plan for low tide, take a spade (which can be hired at most local campgrounds or local shops), look for the crowds at the southern end of the beach and dig yourself a hot spa pool in the sand!
8. Tackle the twin peaks of Paku and Mt Pauanui! The views from the old volcanic crater of Mt Paku afford numerous photo opportunities taking in the Aldermen Islands, Sailors Grave and Slipper Island and it’s a nice, short easy walk. Conversely, the gutbusting near vertical walk from the end of Pauanui beach looking back down over Mt Paku and Pauanui beach will test the legs and the vertigo but again will not take up too much of your day and you will come away with some epic photos!
9. SUP! A stand up paddleboard tour is a great way to explore the sheltered harbours of either Pauanui or Whangamata and both have tours available from the local surf shops. For the avid surfer when the swell is running Whangamata Bar and Tairua beach are both popular surf breaks.
10. Check out the local arts scene. The region is well known for its creative streak. No better living, breathing, artistic creation can be found than the Driving Creek Railway constructed by potter Barry Brickell. Studios are dotted around the region and you can browse the best works at local galleries like the Little Gallery of Fine arts in Tairua
Most importantly - Relax! Yes, you are on Coromandel time, don’t rush and allow plenty of time, because like they say this area is Good for your Soul. Go slow and soak it all in! And of course make sure you choose a good quality motorhome to enjoy it in!