Today’s Monday Escape takes you to New Zealand’s North Island on the Coromandel Peninsula. I visited Coromandel after spending a couple weeks in the Northland near the Bay of Islands – I didn’t think this area of New Zealand could be topped, until I made it to Coromandel.
It’s a beautiful area filled with mountains, sandy beaches, green rolling hills, and picturesque bays. While it’s a stones throw away from Auckland (about two hours by car), you’ll feel miles away from the characterless city of New Zealand’s North. With the mountainous spine running down the middle of the Penninsula, the west side of Coromandel is home to fishing villages and mining towns. While the east side has many of the white sand beaches and the snorkeling and diving that come with them. Cormandel is also an area filled with hippy communes, organic farms, and Buddahist retreats. Many of the locals don’t hide their contempt for the Aucklanders which make Coromandel their weekend playground.
Travel Tips for Coromandel
I’ve heard the ferry ride from Auckland is an excellent way to get to Coromandel Town. However, if you’re brining a vehicle along, driving will be your only option. Yet it’s an excellent one. The drive from Thames to Coromandel is one of the nicest drives I’ve been on in New Zealand (And I’ve essentially circled both islands. Twice.). The road going north hugs the seaside with many of the corners essentially only allowing room for one vehicle. Consider stopping for a wee picnic on one of the many pull outs.
Coromandel Town is an undeniably quaint little village that almost feels as if it belongs in the Old West of the US. Its history is rooted in the gold that used to be mined just outside of town. Today, much of the town circles around the fishing which is done off Coromandel’s coast. You can’t miss out on sampling some local smoked mussels. They’re delicious and come in a variety of smoked flavors like garlic and chile lime. Try some at the Coromandel Smoking Company as you come into town. Stay at the Lion’s Den hostel which definitely has the hippy vibe that Coromandel is known for. Don’t forget to take off your shoes when you go inside.
You’ll inevitably pass a number of beaches while driving around the Peninsula, but there is one you can’t miss. Between Coromandel Town and Whitianga on the SH25, you’ll pass a road which would be easy to miss if you weren’t looking for it. Actually, it’s easy to miss even if you are. Ask a local where the Black Jack Road is and prepare yourself for an epic, unpaved, windy road which will drop you off at a beach which may become your favorite in New Zealand: Otama Beach. It’s about 30 minutes off the state highway and was deserted when I was there – less a couple locals trying to catch their dinner.
Whitianga itself isn’t overly exciting – though it would be an okay place to base yourself for a couple nights if you wanted to go sea fishing, diving, or windsurfing. If you can, plan your departure from Whitianga on a Sunday and check out the Coroglen Farmers Market. This small town might be no different than many of New Zealand’s blink and miss settlements if it wasn’t for the weekly market. The locals from the area come to sell anything and everything. I recommend the 10 minute back massage, the mussel fritters, the persimmons (delicious local fruit), the homemade ginger beer, and the local deer jerky.
A visit to Coromandel wouldn’t be complete without checking out two the most visited tourist attractions in New Zealand: Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach. Both of these are about an hours drive away from Whitianga as you’re heading south. Cathedral Cove is accessed via an hours walk from the carpark. It’s a massive limestone archway set amongst beautiful blue waters and white sand beaches. We went at sunset to avoid the crowds. Hot Water Beach is another area of New Zealand where you can soak in natural hot springs. Go two hours on either side of low tide, bring a spade, and dig yourself your own sandy spa bath.
Coromandel was undoubtedly one of my favorite areas of New Zealand’s North Island. It is an area I’d head back to if I had a week to spare. Make it a must on your North Island trip and allow an extra couple days as once you get there – you may not want to leave.
Have you been to Coromandel? Add your travel tips in the comments section below.
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