Driving the breath-taking landscape of the Coromandel is one of the most popular holiday trips to do in New Zealand. It reminded me a bit of the Ring of Kerry in Ireland…green rolling hills, steep coastal roads and amazing ocean views.
Our first stop is the quaint town of Thames on the Firth of Thames. Firth is the Scottish word for Fjord and is used to describe a large bay. The English colonial influence is clearly visible in the Victorian architecture and the small gauge train that runs along the seaside. It is hard to believe that this sleepy little place used to be the 2nd largest city in New Zealand after Auckland. That was during the gold rush in the mid-19th century when it attracted many new arriving fortune seekers. There is a gold mining museum which has a shop attached that offers a large selection of special stones. If you are after an active stay there is a nice 3.5 km walkway along the sea front and mangroves.
For the first time we tried freedom camping which there are quite few spots on the Coromandel peninsula. We arrived early at 5pm and managed to get a place opposite the Danby field which is right next to playground. Nearby is a 24h toilet which is very clean and a supermarket in walking distance.
Coromandel town is another quaint township which can also be reached by ferry from Auckland. It has attracted many artists from all over New Zealand and is known for its alternative lifestyle. With its 1,700 inhabitants and heritage buildings it is a relaxing stop over. There is also a self guided heritage walk.
The Coromandel Mussel Kitchen is a must stop for any mussel lovers. For an affordable price we enjoyed delicious and huge mussels in a scenic setting. They also have local crafted beer.
Stony Bay is about 55km north of Coromandel. Be prepared for a couple of bumps on a windy road. It is a very scenic drive but also lengthy as most of the roads are not sealed. The neighbouring Port Jackson was one of the landing points of Captain James Cook on his 1769 First Great Voyage. It most likely all still looks very much like when he stepped foot on land…very scenic and untouched apart from a handful of buildings and the drop loos in the campground.
We were there during the rain and it was rather lonely with only two other camping families around.
The Stony Bay DOC managed campsite is very picturesque surrounded by green rolling hills in the beautiful bay. The onsite manager is very friendly and more than willing to help with information. There are ducks roaming around and tamed eels waiting to be fed by the visitors.
The famous 10km return Coromandel Coastal Walkway starts here and leads to another campsite in Fletchers Bay. There are some fantastic all-round lookouts. Unfortunately, we got rained in and couldn’t do this beautiful hike. A good reason to come back one day!
We actually had not planned to stay here overnight but because there was a bad weather warning we decided to leave Stony Bay campground early and head away from the non-sealed, mountainous roads. It pretty much rained for the whole time that we were in Whitianga and therefore we actually did not get to see much of the township.
However, we found a beautiful freedom camping spot right on the beach. It wasn’t that bad after all. We spent our day playing cards and writing our diaries whilst overlooking the rainy sea.
Hot Water Beach
Hot water Beach is about 12km south of Whitianga. It was our last stop on the Coromandel peninsula and thankfully the sun greeted us in the morning after a rather wet day and night in the campervan.
On the same route is also the famous Cathedral Cove. We actually did go to the lookout but didn’t go down to the cove as we were running out of time.
Hot Water Beach is best visited two hours on each side of low tide. During this time hot water comes out of the sand. A large underground hot rock warms up the water beneath the surface which then rises through fractures and allows you to create your own hot pool. It is a good idea to take a shovel and water bucket along to excavate your very own natural spa setting and to cool down the 64C hot water with a splash from the ocean.
There were many tourists around digging their own little hot water ponds which made it even more fun. Hot Water Beach was my six year old daughters favourite NZ holiday experience. No wonder…it’s a magical place presented to us by mother earth.
This concludes our discovery drive of the mighty Coromandel. Our next stop are the geothermal wonders in the Bay of Plenty.