If there’s one thing we love more than road tripping, it’s road tripping through unexpected scenery – and that’s exactly what happened when we set off on our Coromandel road trip.
If I’m completely honest, after being not-so blown-away by Auckland we had a few reservations about what the North Island was going to have in store for us. We had many people tell us to ‘just do a quick week and then go south because the North Island doesn’t have anything’… let me tell you now, they’re wrong.
I am so glad we didn’t listen to them because otherwise, we wouldn’t have found ourselves spending three days in the stunning Coromandel Peninsula being bowled over by its beauty.
Here’s why a Coromandel road trip is a must while you’re in New Zealand’s North!
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Getting to the Coromandel Peninsula
I’m going to assume you’re starting in Auckland and you’ve already hired your vehicle for your Coromandel road trip. From Auckland, getting to the Coromandel Peninsula is super easy. Simply take the State Highway 1 south, where you’ll swap the busy cityscapes for rolling green hills and countryside. Just past Bombay is the turn off towards the Coromandel onto SH2.
There are two ways of tackling a Coromandel road trip, going up the East or West coast first. We cut across the bottom of the Peninsula and headed up the East Coast first, that’s the itinerary we will share with you today, with some added things to do on the Coromandel Peninsula at the bottom.
Coromandel Road Trip Itinerary;
Imagine this, you’re looking for a nice place to camp for your first night on the road. You wind through the hills which eventually open up to a small harbour town, a town with one dominant feature; A dormant volcano that towers 179m above sea level. That town is Tairua, the volcano is Mount Paku.
I’m really surprised we hadn’t heard about Tairua and Mount Paku before we stumbled upon it in search of a nice place with a free camp. I actually wish we’d stayed around a little longer. One thing you need to know about the Coromandel Peninsula is that it’s all volcanic ranges. This whole area was born from volcanic activity millions and millions of years ago, the results are simply stunning.
We were even more impressed when we realised there was a hike to the summit of Mount Paku. The walk starts off following the road as it winds up the side of Mount Paku before it takes a steep incline through the trees and turns into more of a woodland walk. It’s is a mere 30-40 minutes to get to the top but as it’s 179m high it gets steep in places and there’s a lot of steps. It’s worth it though when you’re greeted with views like this.
It’s also worth noting that part of the track goes through private property, there were a couple of times where we almost retraced our steps thinking we’d misread the signs but no, keep going through the garden and you’ll get to where you’re going.
We fully recommend doing the walk during high tide so you can see all the little fishing boats heading out for the day – at low tide, most of the harbour empties out and turns into to mud-flats. Also if you’re here in winter, like us, it’s likely you’ll have the whole view to yourself… bonus!
There’s a small car park on the far side of Mount Paku but if you’re in anything bigger than a small converted campervan you’ll struggle to get around some of the corners or turn around if the car park is full so it’s best to park down by the water instead (here).
Camping at Tairua
Camping in New Zealand is surprisingly easy if you have a self-contained vehicle. There are two free camping spots in Tairua:
You can read more about the regulations here
Cathedral Cove & Hot Water Beach
Unless you’ve been under a rock forever, you will have already heard about Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach.
They’re the North Island’s most iconic Beaches and rightly so. They’ll be the busiest stop on this Coromandel road trip, especially if you’re here in summer, but that doesn’t mean you should skip them. Just be prepared to spend a little longer here if you want to get ‘that shot’ at Cathedral Cover (the one we didn’t get in the end haha)
We’ll start with Hot Water Beach. Firstly, how it got its name; You see, it lies above two volcanic hot water springs, meaning just below the surface lies boiling water, OK not quite, but 60’c+ in some spots is still pretty hot! – making it the perfect beach for you to create your very own beach spa.
During summer it’s heaving, to the point where unless you get there early you’re unlikely to find a space on the beach for you to dig your hole. Make sure you go during low tide (you can check tide times here) because otherwise, you’ll find this little spa beach under the sea.
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Just up the road from Hot Water Beach is Cathedral Cove. This will without a doubt be the busiest spot on your road trip around the Coromandel Peninsula, whatever the season.
Cathedral Cover is essentially a big natural archway that leads to another secluded beach. We didn’t love it for that though, we loved it for the unique rock formations that stick out of the shallows, they made us question what this area must have been like thousands of years ago.
There are two parking options for Cathedral Cove; One right at the start of the walking track that costs $15 and is only open throughout winter. The other is at Hahei Beach, it’s a 45-minute walk from the start of the track but it’s free in winter, in summer there’s a cost BUT they provide a shuttle bus to the start of the track for those who don’t want to walk.
The Cathedral Cove scenic walk will take you roughly 45-minutes each way but be prepared for a couple of steep inclines and a few sets of stairs. This is the Coromandel Peninsula, after all, it wouldn’t be the same without its volcano peeks. There are two additional coves along the way for you to explore too, Gemstone Bay and Stingray Bay.
These will add a further 10-15 minutes onto your walk but they’re worth the detour as not many people seem to bother. From each one, you get an alternative view out to the little islands just off the shore.
If you like Snorkelling, Gemstone Bay is a must as it’s home to a marine reserve, you’ll find a snorkelling route mapped out on a sign by the steps.
Like I said previously, this will be the busiest stop on this Coromandel road trip but we were pleasantly surprised by how small the crowd was in winter. There was just a handful of us who stuck around for the start of sunset, which made it even more special for us.
The entire Thames coastal road
I’m gutted to say we didn’t actually get any photos of the absolutely stunning scenery from this area, or the fact we had so little time to enjoy the rest of what the Coromandel Peninsula has to offer. There are very few pull-in points along this road and with a 7m motorhome, a ‘quick stop’ just wasn’t safe.
That being said, this section of road alone makes us want to go back to the Coromandel Peninsula. It reminded up of all the images you see of Komodo Island, you know the ones; pointy mountains, jagged coastline and crystal clear waters… add to that hundreds of cows, a red-gold sunset and smoke drifting from the chimneys through the winters sky and you have the Coromandel west coast.
This road is worth driving just for the views and even though we personally didn’t do ‘everything’ in the area, below we’ve included a quick rundown of other things to do in the Coromandel Peninsula.
Photo by Birger Hope
Other things to do on your Coromandel road trip;
There are still plenty of other things do while you’re on a road trip around the Coromandel Peninsula. Unfortunately for us, our motorhome rental company put a restriction on us going further north than the town of Coromandel, due to how narrow the roads can be. However, here’s a quick rundown of what else you can get up to in the area:
Walk the Pinnacles
Towering from the Kauaeranga Valley is the Coromandel Pinnacles. This walk is high on my to-do list if we ever go back to the Coromandel Peninsula. This 8-hour return hike will take you to the summit of the pinnacles and give you some incredible views over the region. You could even stay at the Pinnacles Hut if you wanted to extend your stay!
This incredible hidden gem is a must-do on any Coromandel road trip and I’m gutted I didn’t learn about it until I was on the South Island! It’s one of the unique places to visit in the North Island and well worth a visit. There are plenty of walking tracks and photo opportunities throughout this gorge that I honestly think you could spend all day there!
Trip to Donut Island
Want to experience a true hidden gem on this Coromandel road trip? Take a guided tour out to Whenuakura/donut Island. This wildlife sanctuary can only be visited with a tour guide and is only to be viewed from the water. This island is special to those who guard it so if you do decide to do a tour here, remember to take only photos and respect the nature that calls Donus Island home
Cycle the Hauraki Rail Trail
This multi-day cycle route follows an old railway route through several of the Coromandel’s cute little towns. Either do it all in once or choose a section. It’s a good option for families too as it’s relatively flat and wide all the way. Visit the Hauraki Rail Trail website for full details about the track!
Walk Shakespear Cliff
If you’re a fan of history and want to see as many of Captain Cook’s landing sites as you can while you’re in New Zealand, you need to do the Shakespear Cliff walk. This easy (short) walk will lead you along the Shakespear Cliffs to Cooks Beach – one of the many landings made by the famous captain.
New Chum Beach
There are endless options for stunning beaches on this Coromandel road trip. However, New Chum Beach has been listed in the world’s top 10 beaches several times. For that alone, it deserves a mention on this road trip itinerary.
Last but not least, Paeroa. You might not have heard of this New Zealand town before but I can guarantee you’ve heard of its iconic product; L+P Drink. This is where the kiwi pop originates from and in true Oceana style they’ve celebrated it with a giant bottle statue. This town is also heavy with history and a starting point for the rail trail. While you’re passing through make sure to stop off and spend some time in this iconic kiwi town.
The Coromandel catchphrase is ‘good for your soul’ and they’re right on the money. At first, we thought it was just the fact we were finally out of the city and back on the road but after leaving the area, we’re feeling something pulling us back. Maybe it’s the amazing sunrise/sunset locations, maybe it was the unique rocky peaks that loom down on you in every direction, or maybe it’s the fact there’s still so much to explore up there. Who knows, but one thing is certain… we’ll be going back!
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