“The beach is calling and we must go” – unknown
Labor weekend is one of my favorite long weekends in Aotearoa New Zealand. It is the first holiday after the long bleak winter and the clock springs forward giving us more light and hope that summer that summer will arrive. With the weather warming, we thought a trip to the Coromandel Peninsula’s beaches was a perfect long weekend getaway.
The Coromandel Peninsula is just east of Auckland and although it is relatively close, parts of the peninsula can feel isolated during many times of the year. The peninsula is bound by the Pacific Ocean to the east and the Hauraki Gulf to the west, with a long mountainous spine that forms two very distinct ecosystems. The white sand beaches and steep cliffs of the east attract far more tourists than the stony bays and gold-mining towns of the west. The craggy Pinnacles, central to the peninsula, rise above the coastline and the surrounding nikau palms and rata tree forests.
Our journey would start on the east coast in Hahei near Cathedral Cove and Cook’s Beach, with a quick detour south to Hot Water Beach before traveling north to Opito Bay and Kennedy Bay. We then headed to the west coast via Coromandel Town and north to reach the tip of the peninsula near Fletcher Bay.
Cathedral Cove Te Whanganui-A-Hei & Hot Water Beach
Cathedral Cove is small white sand beach surrounded by massive white ignimbrite rock produced by volcanic eruptions and erosion. The cove, named after the cathedral shaped triangular cave in the center, is dotted with towering rock outcroppings along its coastline. The cove is reachable by foot or boat. We wanted to get out on the water, so we chose to kayak there. The cove is a “must see” destination, making it quite crowded in the summer months. Very few people were visiting in the early spring.
Although the cove is small, there are so many little caves and waterfall coves to explore, while looking out at the rock formations in the sea.
The kayaks provided an opportunity for us to reach nearby coves filled with stingrays, travel through rock archways, and circle Motueka Island, first claimed by Hei via waka in 1350. Hei proclaimed ownership of the island by referring to it as “Te kuraetangao-taku-Ihu”, or the outward curve of his nose.
Not much further up the Coast we stopped for lunch at the Mercury Bay Estate Vineyard and quick stop at Cook’s Beach, another sheltered white sandy beach on the east coast.
We then made a small detour south to Hot Water Beach to spend our evening soaking in the coastal hotsprings. This area can get quit crowded so bring a shovel to dig your own personal spa and prepare to make friends. Even with heaps of people you can still find uninterrupted views of the sea. We had so much fun laughing with others as the hot springs shifted from lukewarm causing people to frantically dig deeper to warmer water – to scolding hot bringing playful screams – to just right for ultimate relaxation.
Otama Beach, Opito Bay and New Chums Beach
Otama Beach and Opito Bay are…yip, you guessed it, more white sand beaches. There is a small community of baches (NZ holiday homes) between these two beaches. We didn’t stay long at either, enjoying a cup of coffee at Otama Beach and watching the residents push their boats out to sea by tractor at Opito Bay.
We chose to hike through a nearby paddock at the eastern end of Opito Bay that leads you over a saddle to remote rocky cove. From here you climb up another hill for sweeping views of the sea.
Afterwards we headed west to find a small little remote neighborhood beach. It was (as most beaches are) lined with Pohutukawa trees. This peninsula must be absolutely stunning when the red blossoms arrive during the Christmas season.
We enjoyed a yummy lunch on Kuaotunu Bay before heading to one more east coast beach.
New Chums Beach
New Chums Beach is hidden away from the masses, reached best during low tide. There is a sliver of rocks that can be hopped if you want to keep your feet dry during higher tides. This beach is considered to be another ‘must see’. Make sure to take the detour climb to see the beach from above.
We enjoyed a nice little swim here before returning as the tide was rolling in. This was our last east coast beach…we were heading west via Coromandel Town.
Fantail and Fletcher Bay
Coromandel Town is known for its victorian architecture established during the gold rush settlement. It is a fairly populated town with ferry access to Auckland and many shops and restaurants. This is a great area for gold mining tours and forest walks, for us it was simply a place to stock up on supplies before heading north for a night at Fantail Bay. This quiet little bay is a great place to enjoy the sunset and watch local surfcasters reel in their catch.
The next morning we were off to hike the Coromandel Walkway, a 10km hike between Fletcher Bay and Stony Bay. Without transport we hiked just past halfway and returned to our Fletcher Bay start. This hike takes you through paddocks, beaches, secret coves, and up and over scenic overlooks. You can mountain bike this track, but the few bikers we saw were walking their bikes and looked miserable. The walk is lovely though.
Somewhere near Thames
Following this hike we drove all the way south to Thames, one of the more developed areas on the peninsula’s southwest edge at the bottom of the Hauraki Gulf. This area is popular with local fisherman and mussel gathers. We found a campsite next to some lucky fishermen who insisted on giving us one of their catches. I can’t remember what kind of fish we ate…the southern hemisphere fishes confuse me. For those of you that know me as a vegetarian, I do make some exceptions when gifted locally (non commercially) caught fish. It was yummy!
We would leave the peninsula along with the sunshine the next morning. I can see why people flock to this lovely little slice of land. We look forward to our return to check out the interior forests and mining relics.