Cruising the Coromandel

April 2022

Part 2 of my holiday of 2 parts and I was back in Auckland to pick up my little hybrid car for the next few days.  It was a real shock to go from the roads of Great Barrier Island to driving on the vast Auckland motorways and I was glad to be out of the city as soon as I could get out.

The Coromandel Peninsula is, not surprisingly, a peninsula stretching 85km long and 40km wide at its widest point.  My first stop was to be Thames, at the bottom of the peninsula and only 1.5 hours drive from Auckland.   Unfortunately, I did not have any time to explore the former gold mining town as I was only here for the evening and I didn’t realise that my accommodation was out of town, up a long narrow winding road surrounded by bush – just like being back on Great Barrier Island lol. 

It looked like the rain had followed me as it had started to rain lightly as I headed out.  After a quick stop at the ruins of the Burke Street Wharf (once part of a large harbour scheme of the 1920’s, until the harbour silted up, making it unusable and leaving it to rot) I met a friend for dinner and a lovely catch up. 

After a good night’s sleep in the most comfortable bed, I headed north along the beautiful, windy road, following along the coast and through small seaside communities.  The sun was even shining … but it didn’t last long 😂.  

I had spotted a waterfall on the map that did not seem far off my route and so I took a detour inland to Waiau Falls – was it worth the drive down the narrow windy dirt road 🤔🤔🤔?  I am not sure it was, but it was still pretty.

I arrived in Coromandel (the town, not the Peninsula) with a population of less than 2,000 people, just in time for a quick photo of a beautiful rainbow over the harbour before I drove the short distance to Driving Creek. 

Driving Creek is a unique attraction and the inspiration of Barry Brickell, a local potter who started it as a location of his pottery studio.  He used the clay from the land around him, and began building train tracks to go further up the hill to source more clay.  Today the site still has a pottery studio and shop, a predator free nature reserve, New Zealand’s only narrow gauge mountain railway line which takes you on a ride through regenerated kauri forest and an amazing ziplining experience.

As I arrived at the site, the skies opened and the rain came down, thankfully it did not last long and by the time my Ziplining experience was about to start it had cleared up.  The experience (all 2.5 hours of it) was so much fun – we got kitted up with our harnesses and then set off on the train up to the top of the hill.  From here we took 8 different ziplines down (a couple upside down if you chose to lol).  Between the ziplines there were short walks with some great information panels, explaining the gold mining and kauri felling that took place in the area.  The regenerating Kauri and other native bush that we see today was planted by Barry and his mates over the last 40-50 years. 

With no time to waste, I had a quick lunch before driving over the Coromandel Ranges to the east coast of the peninsula (only around a 30 minute drive) to make the pilgrimage to New Chums beach (also known as Wainuiototo Bay)– once voted one of the world’s top 10 beaches and described as “pristine curved perfection”.

There are no buildings, no roads and no infrastructure and the only way to get there is to walk from the north end of neighbouring Whangapoua beach (a beauty of a beach in its own right).  After crossing the stream (easiest to do at or near low tide), you walk along the rocky peninsula and the over the ridge covered in nikau and pōhutakawa.

The rocks were a killer to walk on and I spotted a track just off the rocks.  Unfortunately, the track was really muddy, and it was not long till my sandals were bogged down in mud – so I decided to go back to the rocks, but now my feet were slipping in the muddy sandals – I could not win!!! 

Finally, over the ridge I came out on the beautiful, famed beach, the skies were not blue, but the beach was a stunning, long white sand beach surrounded by bush clad cliffs with only a couple of other people on it.  Was this one worth the effort??? Yes, I think so, but the photos do not do it justice 🎉🎉 (and the walk back was a little easier once I had cleaned off my sandals in the sea!)

Back in Coromandel (on the west side of the peninsula) I got some dinner and checked in to my accommodation. As with Thames, it is nice but too far out of town to be able to walk in 🤦🏻‍♀️.  Still it gave me a great view of the sunset over the harbour (the motel was called Harbour View 👍🏻).

I was awake before 7 the next day so decided to do one of the small walks in the area – the Kauri Block walk.  It is an easy loop track through regenerating bush with a lovely view from an old pa site.  It was overcast but not rainy – warm and a little humid with mist hanging in valleys.

The walk took me over the ridge and down almost to town and then back along the waterfront road around to my motel.  The water was like silk, so calm but I was surprised that there are not more birds.  There are a few fantails but not much else – not in the bush or on the shore (had seen loads of shore birds on the drive up) but none here. 

I took a quick amble around the cute little town, admiring the great street art) before heading back to the same dirt road I had driven down the day before looking for the waterfall (why do I do this to myself!!).  At the time, I did not realise that just past the mediocre waterfall was a Kauri Grove, home to most of the remaining mature Kauri on the Coromandel peninsula.

Now, this was well worth the dodgy road.  The rain had stopped, and the reserve had great tracks and boardwalks that lead you up to the massive trees.  The bush around the Kauri was beautiful, rain drops dripping from the trees, a roaring river and bird song filled the air.  The Kauri themselves were spectacular and there were some great information panels.  According to the information, the oldest Kauri in this grove is around 600 years old (and around 2m wide!) and the oldest on record was 4,000 years old when it ‘died’.  They also have a unique Siamese Kauri, when what had started as two, joined together as they grew into each other’s space. 

Funnily enough, this terrible road was actually the alternate road across the ranges and over to Whitianga, so I braved it and went all the way lol. 

Whitianga looks so fancy, so many beautiful boats moored in the harbour, and lots of development going on to create the kind of houses on canals where you can park your boat outside your house!  It also had a real tropic feel and it was so humid.  I popped into the museum for some respite. It is in fact the ‘coolest’ building in town as it once housed the town’s diary (where they made butter) and there was built to keep cool inside.

I took a quick walk around the waterfront, had a bite to eat, before driving the last 30 minutes to Hahei my final destination and were I would stay for my last 3 nights. I was instantly thrilled with this decision. 

Hahei has a permanent population of around 300 people, swelling by almost 10 times that many in peak tourist season.  I dropped my bag and quickly walked the few minutes down to the beautiful Hahei beach.  It is a small bay, but the beach was beautiful.  It has a real tropical vibe with hibiscus flowers lining the road – I love this so much. 

As if the beach and the hibiscus was not enough, my accommodation was right next to gelato shop called Little Lato – it was amazing, and I was convinced that I may just eat there the whole time I was there lol.  Having done some research, it is award winning gelato and is unfortunately, only currently available in the North Island (or perhaps that is a good thing). 

As is my habit, I was early to bed and early to rise – a 5.30am start for a sunset mission.  Hahei is the starting point for the walk to the world famous Cathedral Cove.    It can only be accessed by foot or boat, and the walk, starting just near my accommodation, takes around 45 minutes.

I set off in the dark and it was worth the early start for a couple of reasons – firstly, there was a unique planet alignment visible in the pre-dawn eastern sky with Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in alignment and it was visible to the naked eye.  Secondly the pre-dawn sky and sunrise at Cathedral Cove itself was amazing.  There were only a couple of other people who had made the early morning effort.  It was not only sunrise, but also low tide which meant you could walk right through the arch (which is not always possible at high tide). 

By the time I left, the tide was already coming in so that you had to time your run through the arch.  It was a beautiful walk back now I could see things and the sunlight filtering through the bush.  I enjoyed the company of a family of about 30 Californian Quail who ran along the track in front of me for some time before remembering they could fly.  I also took the opportunity to stop off at the other little bays – Stingray and Gemstone.

Back in Hahei it was time for coffee and breakfast and a change in to shorts for a relaxing morning on the beach.  It turned out that there was an Ocean swim event on – lots of crazy people 😂 not all in wetsuits, ready to set out on a 4km swim to Cathedral Cove and back.  (They probably think that I am crazy walking around to cathedral cove at 5.30am 🤔😂).  It was refreshing to have almost a full day to relax as my normal holiday mode is definitely on the go morning and afternoon. 

I had one more sunrise mission on my trip, this time to Hot Water Beach – another famous tourist destination (which I would avoid like the plague if there were a lot of tourists in the country)!  It is here that the volcanic activity that created the peninsula creates hot springs where the water seeps through the fissures in the base rock.  2 hours either side of low tide, you can dig a hole in the sand and create your own ‘hot’ pool’.

I was lucky that low tide corresponded with sunrise (as with the day before), but there was still only a small amount of beach to dig as the tide, despite being low, was still pretty high.  There were only a few other people this early and it took 4 of them to dig and fortify a hole from the sea but no spot was unscathed from the waves of the now incoming tide. Not sure if the tide normally goes out further or what??

I was happy to find a warm patch for my feet and watch the day begin.  It was beautiful with the steam rising from the sand, but not as nice sunrise as the day before and by 6.50am there were already more people than there was space on the beach, so I decided just to take a walk along the 2km beach.  There were a few surfers out by the time I walked back along the beach, waiting with anticipation for a decent wave.

My final activity for this trip was a ride on the Hahei Explorer.  A small boat adventure that takes you along the coast, exploring hidden sea caves, offshore islands and Cathedral Cove from sea.  The trip normally departs from Hahei beach, but the swell was too much, so I had to drive about 15 minutes to Cooks Beach.  I wasn’t mad about it as I took the opportunity so see the lovely bay and stop at Shakespeare’s lookout for a great view down the coast.

Part of the area around Cathedral Cove is a marine reserve, the Whanganui A Hei (Cathedral Cove) Marine Reserve and the boat trip was a great way to see all the bays, including Cathedral Cove from a different angle.  (Apparently it is New Zealand’s most photographed geological features.)

The seas were that inviting turquoise blue and there were plenty of people enjoying them from the beautiful small bays, and some mighty big snapper swimming around safely in the reserve.  Across from the mainland, we jetted around Mahurangi Island.  The home of a sheep farm until the 1970’s, it is now uninhabited and home to regenerating forest in the hope of becoming an offshore refuge for native bird life.

It was really choppy on the way back across the sea to Cooks Beach … and was a lot of fun. 

Back in Hahei for my final evening a took a final walk on the beach and headed back to the gelato shop to have my favourites (I didn’t quite get through all the flavours but did a remarkable job at trying if I do say so myself) lol.

My last morning saw me take a relaxed drive down the east coast (with a beautiful rainbow) and back over the ranges to Auckland (well it was relaxed until a car skid across the road in front of me, spun around and smacked into the bush on the side of road – thankfully everyone was ok).  There were lots of sign’s warning that the road was “slippery when wet” and they were lucky there was no one coming up the hill the other direction.

I can add the Coromandel Peninsula to the list of beautiful parts of the New Zealand that I must return too.

A Great Barrier blog

April 2022

This trip was to be a trip of two parts – starting with 5 days on Aotea Great Barrier Island (not to be mistaken for the reef which is over 2000 kilometres away! (Buckle in as it a bit of a long one lol)

It started with a crazy early flight but it was on a big plane with a drinks service – I hadn’t seen either for a while.   The benefit of a flight at this time was a stunning sunrise and I had photo overload before I got off my first flight 🤦🏻‍♀️.

After a 3 hour wait at Auckland airport I was thrilled to be boarding the 12 seater Cessna Caravan, in seat 1A right behind the pilot, for the 30 minute flight over the city and out over the Hauraki Gulf.  The clouds started to roll in as we neared Aotea/Great Barrier Island so it a little bumpy on the way down to the small airfield. 

Great Barrier Island is the 6th largest island in New Zealand at 285 square kilometres and sits around 100 kilometres north east of Auckland on the outer edge of the Hauraki Gulf.  The island was first settled by the early Polynesian settlers, including the first of those great travellers – Kupe.  He named the island Okupe (which remains the name of one of the settlements on the island today).

Captain Cook arrived as part of his 1768-1771 expedition, naming the island Great Barrier Island due to the shelter it provides to the Hauraki Gulf.  In the 1800’s it was a hub for “boom and bust” industries – kauri forestry, mining (cooper, silver and gold) and whaling.  Apparently, descendants of some of these early European settlers still live in on the island today.

Around 1000 people live on the completely “off the grid” island, with many more “commuting” between their houses on the mainland and their island holiday homes.

Within about 30 minutes of landing I had picked up by bag, walked the couple of minutes to the car rental office and was ready to hit the road (there is no public transport so you either need a car, or be ready to hitch hike your way around).  I made a short stop at Medlands Beach, just by the airport, a pretty but exposed east coast surf beach. It is a beautiful long beach worthy of a walk, before I tackled my first Great Barrier Island hill, over to the settlement of Tryphena where I was staying. 

When I picked up the rental car, the guy at the office warned me about the roads and stressed to stay on the left hand side.  Many of the island roads are narrow and windy and when you take a blind corner only to come face to face with someone travelling at speed on your side of the road, it is rarely going to end well!  Thankfully I never found myself in this situation. 

Tryphena is one of the main settlements on the island.  Made up of golden sandy bays (well at least when the tide is out), which apparently are great for swimming and although I was not tempted, I did see a few people taking a dip.  My accommodation at Manuka Lodge was simple but everything I needed, including a lovely view over Mulberry Grove (one of the 3 bays).   Despite being a little overcast it was still warm and so peaceful. 

I walked just a few minutes from my lodge down to the waterfront and did a little bird spotting as the sun started to set.  I love that there are lots of signs around the road, warning drivers of Pateke crossing the road.  Pateke, or Brown Teal are small endemic dabbling ducks, once common place but now endangered.  I use to breed them for release to the wild during my time at the Otorahanga Kiwi House and I was excited to see them in the wild as they are very cute.  I spotted my first one quickly, though it was hanging out with a couple of mallards (apparently they interbreed which is problematic for the dwindling population). 

I spotted Kingfishers, fantails flitting around presumably catching insects (insects that I could not see and that I hoped where not biting me 🥴), terns (white fronted I think), Banded rails, Paradise Shell ducks – all these birds warmed my geeky bird spotting heart and I enjoyed the sunset with them.

Back in my room after sunset and the sound of kaka filled the air – so many and so loud!  The next morning they dominated the dawn chorus (not that you can call kakas screeching ‘song’) and I watched an incredible moon set across the bay from the comfort of my balcony.

The main activity for all Great Barrier getaways is the “great” outdoors and I was keen to get out and explore.  The forecast was not good and the promised rain was threatening but at the warmth continued.

I am lucky enough to have a friend (who I met on a trip a couple of years ago) who was almost a ‘local’ and I drove up the gravel road to catch up her at their house – I learn over the next few days that many roads on the island turn in gravel/dirt roads at some point!

We walked down to Whalers Lookout at the southern end of the island.  From here there is an amazing view over the Coville Channel and back to the Coromandel and not surprisingly it was once a spot where whalers of the 1950s/60s would spot whales.  It was beautiful but we had to take care not to be blown off the end in the gale force winds.  At least the Gannets were making the most of the winds, soaring high.   Surviving the winds we went back to her place for tea and freshly baked scones which were perfect.

Refreshed, I was keen to get to see as much I could before the rain set in.  First stop was a short walk to Station Rock.  This is one of the highest points at the southern end of the island and from here you get amazing views to both sides of the and down it’s length.

From here I headed down to some of the main spots on the eastern side of the island, firstly the so called Mermaid pools.  Supposedly picture perfect rock pools, perfect for swimming … in my reality it was blowing a gale and the sea was rough, coming over the rocks.  Not exactly like the pictures lol.

I then drove back along Medlands beach, eying up some of the lovely ‘Bachs’ in the area before grabbing an amazing burger from Swallow Burgers, one of the little food trucks near the airport.  The burger was huge, way too big when I was to head back to my friend’s place for dinner.  It was a great evening of new friends and a home caught dinner of local fish, crayfish and venison.  It was easy to forget about the gales and rain outside.

The rain and wind had not let up by the next morning, but I wasn’t going to stay in the room so I got all my wet weather together and jumped into car and drove to Whangaparapara, a small settlement further north on the western side of the island, but which requires you to cross to the eastern side and drive north, before being able to cross back again.  About half way along the road, it became unsealed and I was a little nervous in rain but got there in one piece. 

I took shelter from the rain, in a small shed which was basically the local information centre.  Whangaparapara was once the industrial centre of the island – for mining, timber milling and whaling.  It was actually home to the largest mill in the southern hemisphere in the early 1900’s when it not only processed timber from the island but from Northland and the Coromandel as well.

The shed also has lots of photos of the whaling industry that operated here until the 1960’s.  These days it is just a picturesque holiday spot for boaties and campers alike.  I can imagine it is stunning when the sun is out 🥴 (I think that will be the theme of the next couple of days.) 

It was now time to don the waterproofs for a short walk down the tramline track (used by the Kauri milling industry) to Kauri Falls, a small but perfectly formed waterfall.  What little Kauri that survived the timber industry is now threatened by Kauri dieback disease. A fungus like pathogen that kills Kauri trees that is spread through soil movement, that includes soil on footwear.  For this reason, as you enter and exit separate areas of the island, there are footwear cleaning stations where you scrub, wash and disinfect your shoes to avoid spreading soil from one area to the other. 

Back in the car and back over the hill, my next stop was one of the most popular on the island, the Kaitoke Hot pools.  Natural, undeveloped hot pools that vary in temperature, water volume and quality from day to day.  The pools are about a lovely 30 minute stroll from the road along a well maintained track and passed the Kaitoke wetlands (which forms part of the famous Aotea Track). 

There are no changing rooms anywhere near the pools, so I made a quick roadside change (there is a small porta loo by the road but the road was quiet and it was easier just to change behind the car) but as it turns out, I  needn’t have bothered.   There were a couple of large groups at the hot springs (who had just finished the long walk) so I decided just to soak my feet in the warm water – a real natural beauty.  There are other smaller pools but I had passed a small group on the way in who had said the others were not that warm so I did not bother explore any further. 

Back on the sealed road, the rain was still coming down so I decided to visit some of the island’s few indoor attractions.  Firstly the Aotea Community Art Gallery and Grays Homestead Museum, then the quirky Milk, Honey & Grain museum a quirky old building crammed with artifacts from the islands past.  Finally headed back over the hill to Tryphena to visit the Elephant Gallery in Puriri Bay, which sells a number of unique arts and crafts from various talented islanders.

My final full down day on the island dawned and the weather forecast the same – rain, some heavy downpours and winds.  But I was not going to let that stop me and I headed out again – stopped to get some fuel before my drive, $3.99 a litre 🤯- my mind was literally blown but there was very little option, so I just put a few litres and hit the road. 


My plan for the day was to head to Port Fitzroy, to the north of the island with some stops on the way.  My first detour was on a side road to Harataonga Bay, of course it was a narrow winding dirt road and I started questioning my life choices half way down but had committed to it and there was no way to turn around.  I made it down to the campground and took a short walk over farmland to beach.  Not too much to see in the weather conditions so I was quickly back in the car and back up the winding road.

As I went further north the mist came down – or I went up, and I decided to leave my stops till the way back – thinking it can’t get any worse lol. 

I arrived in Port Fitzroy and it was lovely.  A beautiful harbour surrounded by bush clad hills and perfect blue water – just imagine how perfect it would be if the sun was shining 🤯.  I decided to do a short walk and spotted one on the map call the Old Lady Track which sounded perfect except I was thwarted in the first few metres by a stream crossing I did not want to do 😂.  Instead I headed in to the predator proof fenced area of Glenfern Sanctuary and did a short walk.  It started raining again just as I set off so decided against doing the full 2 hour loop.

My next stop was in the small town of Okiwi and the lovely little Okiwi Park.   It is a more formal park with picnic tables and cute information boards created by children at the nearby school. It was so peaceful with a babbling brook and bird song (I think I heard kakariki) and I could have stay for hours if it was not pouring with rain.

You know when I said I did not think the weather could get any worse … I was wrong. It was raining pretty continuously now 🥴 and the mist appeared to be even lower. So completely kitted out in my wet weather gear, I set off on the walk to the Windy Canyon, one of the most popular walks on the island.  I had only planned to walk to the look out, but it was not actually marked (or I missed it in the mist) so the stairs of death I ascended were unnecessary.  Thankfully I checked my before I went too far and saw that I had already passed it.  Admittedly it as not the “Instagram” views but it was still pretty spectacular

Lessons I learnt from this walk – my raincoat is not waterproof in the slightest!! I won’t name names, but it was not cheap (but is not new and this probably its first intensive test).  But my Salewa walking shoes were amazingly waterproof and kept my toes dry 🎉.

On my last night I finally made it down to my ‘local’ for dinner – the local Irish pub (there is one everywhere) – the Currach Irish pub.  It was even run by an Irish woman and clearly is the place to be as there were more cars parked outside than I think I have seen the whole time I have been here lol.  I hadn’t booked a table and with the rain outside, the small pub was packed so I had a quick dinner and got out before the people who had reserved the tables arrived.

On my final morning it was not sunny but it was not raining so set out for a walk around the three Tryphena bays – Mulberry Grove (where I am staying), Gooseberry Flat and Pah Beach.  There was a lovely walkway around the crystal clear turquoise sea front path and over the small hills in between the bays.  I spotted a few more Pateke, settling in for the day (they are nocturnal) and watched a couple of black variable oyster catchers bullying a pied (black and white one).  They are very territorial, and I am sure they were not picking on it because it was different – I am sure that is just a terrible human trait!!

It was sadly time to finish packing and headed back over the hill for the last time.  Thankfully the fuel price on the east side of the island was a bargin at $3.85/ltr and I had to fill the car for drop off and make the short walk to the airfield.  When I arrived, there was a power cut, so check ins were done manually with no boarding passes – there are only 14 people on plane so no real problem 😂)

Despite the rain, it was a wonderful little off the grid get away and yet another place I want to come back to – perhaps when the sun was shining and when the Pohutukawa are flowering ❤️👍🏻