The Coromandel bills itself as ‘good for the soul’ and it’s easy to see why - stunning coastal scenery filled with peaceful blue coves and white sandy beaches - and a laidback welcoming holiday vibe, making for a great escape.
And being within easy reach of Auckland it is indeed a haven for city-dwellers and holidaymakers looking to get away from the hustle and bustle.
Nature is the architect of this extraordinary peninsula playground with rolling hills of lush green rain forest plunging down into impossibly picturesque coves and beaches framed by pohutukawa trees.
It is a remarkably unspoilt environment with 400 kilometres (250 miles) of coastline lending itself to every form of recreation, from concentrated idleness to seriously energetic sports and experiences.
Exercise can also be combined with history with walking tracks through the Coromandel’s interior rain forests revealing stories of gold-mining and kauri tree logging.
And to satisfy the appetites that have been worked up, there’s the seafood – oysters, mussels and scallops – a Coromandel specialty.
The earliest settlement by Polynesians is denoted by ancient Māori village sites along the Coromandel coast.
British explorer and navigator Captain Cook arrived in 1769, to observe the transit of the planet Mercury across the face of the sun. His mission gave Mercury Bay its name along with neighbouring Cook’s Beach. Mercury Bay will play a significant role in celebrations to mark the 250th anniversary of Cook’s first landfall in New Zealand. His ship, Endeavour and its crew, spent 12 days forging relationships with the local Coromandel tribe Ngati Hei, who took Cook and his men to their pa on the headland at Wharekaho, Simpsons Beach. This was the first time that a European had been shown a Māori pa, and it was documented in journals with drawings and explanations from Cook’s journey.
Cook’s descriptions of the towering kauri trees drew the earliest European settlers who came to mill the forests. Gold was the next drawcard in the late 1800s. It was New Zealand’s first recorded gold discovery and in the subsequent gold rush the Coromandel yielded 16 million tonnes of gold ore between 1862 and 1952.
Nature and Wildlife
With 34% of the land under the protection of the Department of Conservation (DOC), the Coromandel Peninsula has been the starting point for many conservation projects involving its flora and fauna, with kauri and kiwi among the beneficiaries.
One of the first safe havens in New Zealand for the flightless bird is the Moehau Kiwi Sanctuary, in the heart of which is the Tangiaro Kiwi Retreat. Here, in a luxurious bush hut visitors can sit on the deck at night and hear kiwi calling to each other.
The success of such conservation work can also be seen at Te Whanganui a Hei marine reserve where the marine life is thriving thanks to a community-led project that created a ‘no-take zone’ 20 years ago. Now, from glass-bottomed boats, visitors can see all manner of sea creatures from seals, crayfish and stingrays to blue penguins, orca and dolphins.
Coromandel is also home to some of rarest frogs in the world and a colourful abundance of other rare wildlife found at Papa Aroha just north of Coromandel town. The area is now protected by the New Zealand Government Natural Heritage Fund to preserve the habitats of Archey's and Hochstetter's frogs.
Adventure and Outdoors
The Coromandel’s menu for adventurers puts the great into the great outdoors with a smorgasbord of activities on land and sea, by foot, bike or boat.
On foot many of the walking tracks are steeped in mining and logging history. In the Karangahake Gorge, the ‘Windows’ walkway follows the old Paeroa to Waihi railway line with its gold-mining relics and riverside scenery.
For the more adventurous, there’s the ‘Pinnacles’ overnight walkway through the Kauaeranga Valley which was originally constructed for horses carrying supplies for kauri loggers, gum diggers and gold-miners in the early 1900s. Walkers stay in a DOC hut where early-risers enjoy 360-degree views and dawn breaking over the Pacific Ocean.
Up north there’s the Coromandel Coastal Walkway, which, like some of the forest treks, also provides a challenge for mountain-bikers. Easier-going on two wheels is the Hauraki Rail Trail, 82kms (50 miles) of nice flat cycling with various stages for rides of up to three days.
Two of the Coromandel’s most popular icons are to be found at sea level. Cathedral Cove is accessed by a two-hour return walk or a guided kayaking trip. The limestone archway and pristine golden beach featured in the film ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian’, and the cove is an idyllic location for swimming, snorkelling and picnicking.
And further down the coast is Hot Water Beach where underground thermal activity provides bubbling hot water. Visitors can pick up a shovel at low tide and dig themselves their own natural jacuzzi.
In summer Kiwis flock to the Coromandel to stay in baches (holiday homes) and camping grounds. But regular events and festivals through every season make it a year-round holiday destination for visitors who can experience the region’s unique way of life and environment.
The Coromandel locals are famously laidback, offering a warm and relaxed welcome. Inspired by the lifestyle and the natural beauty around them, the region’s artists contribute to the quirky, creative vibe.
In autumn, artists and artisans open their studios for the Mercury Bay Art Escape and the Coromandel Arts Tour.
And in winter, the Coromandel celebrates the scallop harvest at the Whitianga Scallop festival which combines local food, wine, entertainment and family activities
And by the way…
- Thames, the gateway to the Coromandel Peninsula with a population of 7,000, was once New Zealand's biggest town. It boasted more than 100 pubs and was proposed as the country's capital city.
- Thames' colonial architecture goes back to its gold-mining heritage.
- The name Coromandel has an Indian origin. HMS Coromandel, the first European ship to bring settlers to the region, was named after India’s Coromandel Coast.
- Foodies consume about 100,000 scallops in a single day at the Whitianga Scallop Festival.
- Archey's frog is New Zealand’s smallest native frog, growing to only 37mm in length, and is also one of the world's oldest frog species: fossils show it has hardly changed in 150 million years.