“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 will one day arrive again. With the weather warming, we thought a trip to the Coromandel Peninsula’s beaches was a perfect Labor 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 Firth of Thames 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
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. This beach 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.
While the beach is small, there are so many rock formations, caves, and waterfalls to explore
The kayaks provided an opportunity 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.
Just a bit further up the road from Cathedral Cove is the small community of Cooks Beach. Mercury Bay Estate Vineyard is an excellent place to stop for lunch offering yummy pizzas, variety of wine, and sweeping views of the coast. The small cove beach here shares the same white sand, but not as impressive rock outcroppings as Cathedral Cove keeping most people away. If are looking for a quieter, easier to reach beach, look no further than Cooks Beach.
Hot Water Beach
We made a small detour south to Hot Water Beach to spend our evening soaking in the coastal hotsprings. At low tide, bring a shovel and dig your own personal spa, but prepare to make friends as this beach can get quite crowded. 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
You will find more white sand beaches framed by pōhutukawa trees at Otama Beach and Opito Bay. There is a small community of baches (NZ holiday homes) between these two beaches. Otama Beach is known for its beauty and Opito for its access. Here, the entertainment is watching the residents push their boats out to sea by tractor.
There is a small hike through a nearby paddock at the eastern end of Opito Bay that leads over a saddle to remote rocky cove. From here you climb up another hill for sweeping views of the sea and bay below.
This bay is quite rocky and not ideal for lazy beach lay. We wandered back towards Otama, finding a little neighborhood beach framed perfectly by the pōhutukawa.
Lukes Kitchen and Cafe in Kuaotunu Bay is an excellent lunch stop in the area. The green lipped mussels are delicious.
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 or simply walk knee deep in the water. This beach is considered to be another Coromandel ‘must see’. Make sure to take the detour climb to view the beach from above.
Fantail and Fletcher Bay
Coromandel Town is known for its Victorian architecture established during its 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, but 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 frequented by a handful campers and surfcasters who gather at sunset to enjoy the view over the firth
We were off the next morning to hike the Coromandel Walkway, a 10km hike between Fletcher Bay and Stony Bay. Without transport we hiked just past halfway to a bluff overlook 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, the highlight being a pod of dolphins that followed us along the coastline.
Somewhere near Thames
Thames is one of the more developed areas on the peninsula’s southwest edge at the bottom of the firth. This area is popular with local fisherman and shellfish gathers. We scored a great 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, just the time with awesome people who shared it.
I can see why people flock to this lovely little slice of land of bush, beaches, and birds. We look forward to our return to check out the interior forests and mining relics.