We recently completed our 2 1/2 month road trip around New Zealand, and I miss the quiet beauty already. Compared to other places we’ve lived, however, I think we actually felt pretty satisfied in leaving New Zealand because we saw so much of it – the mountains, the lakes, the waterfalls, the beaches and rivers, the weird Chinese takeaway + fish ‘n chip + meat pie combo cafes, you name it. And while we absolutely won’t miss paying more than $5 per gallon of gas or absolutely butchering the pronunciation of every available local town, we will miss the van, the views, and our carefree life on the literal road.
One of our last road trip adventures was through the Coromandel Peninsula, an area I highly recommend located northeast on New Zealand’s North Island and well known for its golden sand beaches (with actual warmish, swimmable water temps), hiking trails, jungle scenery, and winding roads with panoramic views of the surrounding farm land. It’s touristy, sure, but because the Coromandel’s most popular spots are fairly spread out, it’s also a nice mixture of small town life and serene nothingness.
Road Tripping the Coromandel Peninsula
Here’s the thing about the Coromandel, and the majority of areas around New Zealand for that matter – there are a shit ton of outdoor activities and ‘must do’s’ listed on every blog and in every book, and it can be a little overwhelming unless, unlike us, you are an above average organizer of your own time and itinerary. Because we live in New Zealand and see the country everyday, perhaps, we feel less of a need to see and do absolutely everything on these ‘must do’ lists. Instead, we prefer to take our time, and besides making note of a few places suggested to us along the journey, just kind of wander and see what’s cool as we go.
First off, the drive is wonderfully radical. Passing through the steep cliffs of the Karangaheke Gorge and quiet town of Thames, it’s the drive just beyond to Coromandel Town that’ll make you realize why this area is so popular with locals and tourists alike.
While we did our fair share of freedom camping in the Coromandel Peninsula, we also treated ourselves to 2 nights of much needed hot tubbing bliss at Koru Retreat, a two story private jungle cottage with its own swimmable section of river, lounging hammocks, and best of all, especially for those of us accustomed to living full time in a Hyundai van, multiple bathrooms and a shower! What a sexy friggin’ treat, my friends.
Coromandel Town is only a quick 10 minute drive away should you need to restock your booze and food supply, and you can even see glowworms in the driveway at night! We spent our time doing things you simply cannot in a van… watching Netflix on a couch, making foods that require more than one pan, sleeping on a mattress not made of thinning foam, consuming refrigerated beverages whilst being naked outdoors, and peeing at our leisure. Lovely.
This property is finer than wine, y’all, and I happen to believe wine is pretty damn fine on its own. There are jungle views from every window, and the privacy of the location, as well as its convenient starting point for exploring some of the coolest spots of the Coromandel, is a highlight.
New Chums Beach
Also known as ‘Nude Bums Beach’ by locals, New Chums – or Wainuiototo Bay in Maori – is reached by a 25-30 minute hike through a waist-deep section of ocean (during high tide), over rocks and through a section of muddy jungle. Pack and prepare accordingly. Though we went on a day when the weather couldn’t decide if it wanted to pour down rain or burn us alive, there were thankfully not many people on the beach once we got there.
On the hike back, we saw an offshoot leading straight uphill, so followed the trail until we hit the scenic lookout point. Holy beautiful beach of wonder!
Whitianga & Cathedral Cove
Continuing our drive, we spent two nights in the cute seaside town of Whitianga – the Buffalo Street Car Park is your best bet for freedom camping, but get there early as there are only 3 available spots – relaxing in the sunshine, doing laundry and lounging to our heart’s content in between rainbow spotting and glasses of wine.
Having heard about a cool cave and white sand beach at a nearby area called Cathedral Cove, we decided to check it out ourselves the next day, making the short drive over and skipping the previously recommended $5 bus ride in favor of walking an extra 20 minutes from the Hahei Beach parking lot.
Cathedral Cove Tip #1: The hike to get there takes about an hour, assuming you keep a somewhat steady pace. There are a few steep areas, and while it’s not a particularly hard hike (we saw several small children and older folks do it just fine), there is also a boat available to take you there and/or back for $15 per person, one way, should you be short on time or want to make the most of a possible narrow window of nice weather.
Cathedral Cove Tip #2: This is absolutely the most touristy stop in all of the Coromandel Peninsula, so if you can, try to go early on a weekday. We accidentally found ourselves there on a Saturday afternoon, and there were easily 200+ people on the beach. Still, Cathedral Cove was easily in my top 5 swimming spots in all of New Zealand.
The majority of people are on such a mission to make it to the cove that they don’t bother stopping at the first two bays on the way there, including Gemstone Bay and Stingray Bay. Gemstone Bay, located down a set of steep steps, is a rocky area known for its abundance of fish and nice snorkeling. Take a dip – or don’t – and enjoy a few sunny minutes on the rocky shoreline gazing out at the offshore islands.
A little further down the trail, Stingray Bay is the perfect spot to post up and enjoy a mid-hike snack in the sand, or go for a snorkel in the crazy turquoise water with the many, many stingrays in the aptly-named area. Just watch your feet. And heart, apparently (RIP Steve Irwin).
Underwater photos by the talented boyfriend.
Te Whanganui-A-Hei (Cathedral Cove)
After completing the final portion of the hike, we made it to the unreal looking Cathedral Cove in time for a refreshing dip. The steep dark walls of the cave paired with the white sand and crazy blue water is every bit as gorgeous as it looks in photos, and definitely has a right to be as hyped as it is. 10/10 would recommend.
While we sadly didn’t make it to Hot Water Beach, an area where you can dig your own hot pool in the sand only a few miles away (I had too much writing to do, and Peter was eager to get back to the surf in Raglan), I count our Coromandel Peninsula road trip a sweet and salty success.