Most visitors to New Zealand head straight for the South Island. You can’t really blame them – the South Island is home to some of the most dramatic and diverse landscapes I have ever seen. But that doesn’t mean that the North Island has nothing to offer. Quite the opposite in fact – I happen to think the North Island is completely underrated and home to some absolutely stunning places that easily rival the South. The Coromandel Peninsula is one of those places.
Only 120km South of Auckland, the Coromandel feels like a completely different World. I escaped there for a weekend earlier this year at a time when I was in desperate need of some downtime, stressed after returning to a job that I hated and worrying about the future (although that seems to be a permanent state these days). With its slogan ‘Good for Your Soul’, the Coromandel certainly promised a lot. And it delivered.
There is surely nothing more quintessentially New Zealand than spending a weekend in a bach. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, a bach (pronounced ‘batch’) is basically another word for a holiday home, generally a small, simple building which New Zealanders use for weekend escapes or longer holidays. And you can pretty much guarantee that anyone you come across here will either own their own bach or at least know somebody who does.
Our bach was in Oamaru Bay, a few kilometres North of the Coromandel Township on the West coast of the peninsula. Turning up on the first night, it was too dark to see much of anything. But in the morning we woke to the sound of waves and a small, tranquil bay with clear water and dotted with the occasional tiny green island. If I was looking to unwind then this was the perfect place to do it.
I went there with intentions of doing very little except relaxing and perhaps a bit of sightseeing and that’s exactly what I did. There were long, lazy mornings cooking breakfast and drinking coffee overlooking the bay and relaxed evenings with good food and a good film. Good for the Soul? Absolutely!
Day One in the Coromandel: Exploring the Highlights of the East Coast
Most of the Coromandel’s big attractions are located on the Eastern coast of the peninsula which is slightly busier and more built up than the Western side (to the extent that ‘built up’ even exists in the Coromandel). After spending the morning wandering around the Coromandel Township, a small quiet town full of cute cafes and fresh fish shops, we headed off to explore two of the most famous places – Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach.
As we started up the long winding, mountain road across to the other side of the peninsula I wondered if there was anywhere in New Zealand that wasn’t beautiful. We were driving through lush forest, above dramatic green valleys that stretched out for miles below us. The drive was an attraction in itself.
Cathedral Cove is located in Hahei and is arguably the Coromandel Peninsula’s most famous attraction. If you’ve ever googled the Coromandel, chances are you have seen the iconic image of the huge hole in the cliff connecting two pristine beaches. The cove is accessible only by foot, boat or kayak. The walk there is pretty impressive in itself – a 45 minute stroll (each way) along rugged coastline with panoramic views out to sea and the surrounding islands but it is when you actually reach the cove that you are really wowed.
It is undeniably beautiful – think white sand beaches, turquoise water and cliffs rising up around you on all sides. Unfortunately though, beautiful also translates into crowds and I have to admit to having pretty mixed feelings about the place when I stepped down onto that white sand only to find the entire place teeming with people.
Nevertheless, if you find yourself in the Coromandel then you kind of have to visit here. It’d be a shame not to. Just be prepared to share if headed there during the busy summer months.
Hot Water Beach
Now this is my kind of place (I’m a sucker for a novelty) – a beach with hot springs bubbling beneath the surface where you dig your own Jacuzzi? Yes please!
If you didn’t know, New Zealand just so happens to be a geothermal wonderland full of weird and wonderful volcanic terrain. And there is no more weird and wonderful a place than Hot Water Beach, where naturally heated water bubbles up through the sand. You just take a spade, dig yourself a hole and you have your own makeshift jacuzzi to sit and relax in.
Well perhaps its not quite that simple. You see, different areas of the beach have different temperatures of water. You can be digging away, congratulating yourself for finding such a perfect spot, only to find that the water in that particular area is cold, despite the fact there is an entire family sat in a warm pool right next to you. In other places it is too scalding hot to even dip a toe in it let alone lie back and relax for an hour or so.
When I first turned up I admit that my heart sank a little. Hot Water Beach was possibly even more crowded than Cathedral Cove with everyone is packed tightly into one small area of the beach. All I could see were crowds of people, digging away, all vying for the best possible spot. Despite trying numerous spots we just couldn’t find anywhere with a good enough temperature to sit down and were considering cutting our losses and leaving.
But not one to be defeated, I spotted a family getting up to leave and immediately hijacked their pre-made Jacuzzi which, to my great delight, had perfect water temperature. And that was me for the day. Once I had my spot there was no moving me. We sat there until late into the afternoon, chatting away to people whilst our fingers slowly began to shrivel.
Tip Make sure you visit Hot Water Beach within two hours either side of low tide to be able to experience the pools. Check out this link for low tide times.
Day Two in the Coromandel: Exploring the Wild Wild West
Okay, perhaps the title is a bit over dramatic but I couldn’t resist 😉 The truth is that, compared to the polished, touristy East coast of the peninsula, the West coast is a bit more wild. Especially as you begin to get towards the Northern end of the peninsula.
Our second day was dedicated to relaxation. We spent a long, lazy morning in the bach, having a lie in, drinking even more coffee, and soaking up the calm atmosphere of the little bay. There were other places we hadn’t yet seen but we instead decided to just take it easy and go for a drive along the West coast towards the Northern tip of the peninsula. We were headed nowhere in particular, just wanting to see what we stumbled upon.
It may not have the big attractions of the other side, but I found the West coast to be even more stunning than the East. It was much more rugged and unpolished – jagged cliffs jutting out to sea and rough waves crashing along the shoreline. At some points it didn’t even feel as though we were still in New Zealand. In fact, had I not known better I would have sworn we were in Southeast Asia. We drove down roads lined with palm trees and tall bamboo with the occasional Buddhist meditation centre along the way. You can certainly see why people head there to meditate. It feels somehow separated from the rest of the World.
Every now and then we would come across a village (and by village I mean a cluster of about 4 buildings) followed by entire stretches of road where we wouldn’t see another vehicle for miles.
We drove for a couple of hours, stopping at pretty much every opportunity for yet another photo before rounding it off with lunch in one of those cute cafés in Coromandel Town and heading back down the coast towards Auckland and the real world. It may have only been a weekend, but I left after those two days feeling rested, relaxed and happy.
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