The Coromandel Peninsula is blessed with beautiful beaches and rugged, forest-clad ranges.
The ocean is studded with off shore islands, lovely to gaze upon, but also important as a home to native species, and for their historical significance as dwelling places and food sources for Māori for many centuries. The Coromandel Peninsula and islands are perhaps one of the earliest sites of occupation by Māori. Place names commemorate great navigators, including Kupe, who according to legend sailed here first, from Polynesia, and Hei, sailing master on the waka Te Arawa. Captain Cook made historic landfall here in 1769, to observe the transit of Mercury.
From 1735 the great Kauri forests were milled, and the logging boom in the late 19th century saw the forests decimated. Now The Coromandel Forest Park covers about 73,000 hectares of the peninsula. Visitors can go on day walks and hike into the backcountry. The forest park is home to bellbirds, long-tailed cuckoos, grey warblers, native pigeons and tui. Kiwi can sometimes be heard calling in the night. The Department of Conservation manages about 30% of the land on the Coromandel Peninsula, so there are a wealth of options for hiking and exploring. The Kauaeranga Kauri Trail follows a historic packhorse trail, used by bushmen during the 1920s. The trail climbs up to the Pinnacles, with fantastic views over the Coromandel Ranges from the top.
Photo: Destination Coromandel, Gold mining relics, Karangahake Gorge
Gold was discovered on the Coromandel Peninsula in the 1850s. Around the towns of Thames and Coromandel there are gold mines, relics and historic buildings left over from the rush. Old mining tunnels can be explored in the Karangahake Gorge, and Waihi still has a huge gold mine operating.
Coast around the Coromandel - glorious beaches
There are tranquil harbours on the western coast and golden surf beaches on the east coast of the peninsula, with off shore islands dotted prettily about.
Drive up the east coast from Thames in early summer when the pohutukawa are blazing red, and when the tide is in, the string of sheltered beaches is ridiculously pretty. There are mussel farms up this coast, and people fishing all around. Make sure to stop in at Coromandel Township for smoked mussels and other gourmet treats. The beaches above Coromandel Township are less tidal, and the numbers of people and shops drop away. Further north, the feeling is more remote, with farmland, native forest and unspoilt beaches. At the top of the peninsula there is a 7km walkway and a separate mountain bike track from Fletcher Bay to Stony Bay, with great vistas out to Great Barrier Island, Cuvier and Mercury Islands.
Down the eastern seaboard there are fantastic beaches, coves and harbours, some remote and some buzzing with holidaymakers during summer. New Chum Beach (Wainuiototo) is a pristine sweep of white sand, edged with pohutukawa and coastal forest, accessible by walking 30-40 minutes from the north end of Whangapoua Beach.
The sea is celebrated in annual events such as the Whitianga Scallop Festival in September and the Whitianga Dive Festival in November. Whitianga is a popular holiday spot, with sandy beaches nearby, a marina, attractions and restaurants. It’s the hub for Mercury Bay activities, including walks, fishing and boating trips, small plane or helicopter flights, horse riding and more.
Hahei is a gorgeous spot, with a lovely white sand beach looking out to islands. From here you can walk to Cathedral Cove, a gloriously photogenic place accessible only by foot, kayak or boat. Te Whanganui-A-Hei (Cathedral Cove) Marine Reserve offers spectacular scenery, walking tracks, pristine beaches and a snorkel trail.
Cathedral Cove, photo: Destination Coromandel
Whangamata is a popular beach holiday town. The white sandy beach has views out to islands, and the marina serves as a base for fishing and boating. There’s a beach break that suits those learning to surf, and a break off the bar for more expert surfers. Crowds flock here in March for the Whangamata Beach Hop in March, a celebration of 50’s and 60’s culture, rock’n'roll and classic cars. Read our Whangamata Guide for more detail.
Children’s attractions around the Coromandel
Driving Creek Railway, photo: Destination Coromandel
If you’re looking for something to entertain children, there are lots of family attractions around Coromandel. Driving Creek Railway will delight young train enthusiasts. You’ll find it on Driving Creek Rd, 3km past Coromandel Township. Driving Creek Railway combines NZ’s only narrow-gauge mountain railway with a working pottery and native forest restoration project.
The Waterworks is a quirky theme park near Coromandel Town, where visitors can take a picnic, stroll through the grounds filled with water-powered contraptions, and take a dip in the swimming hole. Bullswool Farm Park, lies in the Karangahake Gorge, between Paeroa and Waihi. Visitors can feed the animals, clamber about in the play paddock, or learn about native birds, plants and local history in the Gold & Kauri Heritage Museum and Bush Discovery Reserve.
Funzone Whitianga is an adventure park with laser tag, archery, Argo rides, kids’ quad bikes, soccer, golf, clay bird shooting, paintball and more. For a weeny tiny round of golf try Birdwood Springs Mini Putt. At Mill Creek Bird Park near Whitianga there are oodles of birds, a miniature train, animals to pet and space for a picnic.
Photo: Biking Owharoa Falls, Destination Coromandel
The Coromandel Peninsula offers lots of great opportunities for mountain biking, so take your bike or hire one. The 80km Hauraki Rail Trail is very scenic, and is easy enough for all the family to cycle. The trail runs from Thames to Paeroa, and on to Te Aroha, while another section runs from Paeroa to Waikino. and from there to Waihi. Pick off a portion for an easy day ride. The Karangahake Gorge is a highlight, with gold mining history, and a 1.1km tunnel to ride through, so bring a light. There’s a cafe at Waikino, and you can choose to catch the vintage train from Waikino on to Waihi, or ride. The Owharoa Falls in the Karangahake Gorge is a good spot for a picnic stop.
Gourmet Food, Wine and Craft Beer round the Coromandel
The Coromandel has long been famous for its wonderful seafood. There’s a tradition of organic growing, orchards, honey and artisan production here too. There are lots of good cafes in Thames, and great cheese at the Cheese Barn in Matatoki. Wend your way up the coast towards Coromandel Town and Colville and make sure to try succulent mussels and Coromandel oysters. You can bring your own fish to be smoked at the Coromandel Smoking Co, or buy their lovely smoked mussels, salmon and more.
Down the east coast, Luke’s Kitchen at Kuaotunu is a favourite for pizza, with live music often too. You could sample wines at Mercury Bay Estate, and craft beer at the Hot Water Brewing Company, or The Pour House in Hahei. You might want to buy some Cathedral Cove Macadamias to take home. The Coroglen Farmers’ Market is held on Sundays 9.30 am -1pm from late October til April. Download the Coromandel Food Guide and you can work your way around the peninsula’s top gourmet spots.
What to do
- surf the left hand break at Whangamata
- kayak to or walk to Cathedral Cove, where Prince Caspian was filmed
- hike the coastal walkway from Fletchers Bay to Stony Bay
- dig your own hot pool in the sand at Hot Water Beach
- explore old mining tunnels in the Karangahake Gorge
- bike the Hauraki Rail Trail
- go bird watching on the way to the Coromandel, at the Miranda Shorebird Centre
www.thecoromandel.com - Coromandel Tourism Site: Guide to mountain-biking trails
www.doc.govt.nz - Department of Conservation: trails, activities and attractions on the Coromandel
Coromandel Food Trail Guide