COROMANDEL MUST DO GEMS | New Zealand

COROMANDEL MUST DO GEMS

Funnily enough, I’m actually not much of a beach goer. I love the outdoors, but I’m more of a lakes and snow capped mountains kinda girl. But hey, somehow I managed to find myself spending three months of my summer escaping to what some would say is the heart of New Zealand’s beaches, the Coromandel Peninsula. Because have you had a real kiwi summer without spending at least one of them chilling with the beach at your door step?

When I first arrived I scrolled and scrolled the inter web for places to adventure to and less well known spots to explore. Every single thing I read mentioned the Cathedral Cove and Hot Water beach, which no hate, they are mind blowingly beautiful. But I did struggle to get info on much else. So I thought why not put together a list of must do gems I’ve come across along the way, that way you can enjoy them and add them to your North Island bucket list too!

Although not yet fully converted the pristine beaches of the Coromandel have made a huge impression. I don’t care what anyone else says, New Zealand straight up has the best beaches in the world.

The Coromandel is 85 km long and roughly two hours from the city of Auckland. The Coromandel is exploding with misty Jurassic forests, the wildest of nature, friendly free spirited people, coastal scenery, bays filled with babes, hidden waterfalls, the most golden of sands AND some serious tropical vibes. My ideal summer activity is having a tent stashed in the car, little to no plans and driving until I’ve stumbled upon a deserted beach to set up camp and watch the sun go down. This place is perfect for a dose of this.

If you can handle narrow winding roads, one way bridges, some serious radio scratchiness and weak phone signal, then look no further. Choose which tickles your fancy and get exploring!

Must do gems

PORT JACKSON

DRIVE- 1 hour 15 minutes.  Coromandel Town- Port Jackson- along a gravel road
2 hours.  Whitianga- Port Jackson

I have to say this has got to be well and truly up there with my favourite beachside camping spot’s in New Zealand. You know the ideal summer activity I mentioned earlier? This is that deserted beach spot to a T. At the tippy top of the Peninsula you will find the beaut Port Jackson DOC campsite, the perfect place to lounge about and explore. The family friendly campsite is very well maintained and follows a ‘waste in, waste out’ policy, meaning the human impact is at it’s bare minimum. Tick! The campsite holds up to 450 campers and you can either book on arrival (make sure you have the correct change,) or book a spot through doc.govt.nz – something I would advise in the peak of summer. Keep note the closest store and petrol station is in Colville which is a 50 minute drive, so come prepared with snacks, a full tank and a chilly bin filled with beers. The campground is equipped with an electric bbq and kettle, perfect for cooking up those snags!

Imagine no one but your fellow campers for miles, sheltered from civilisation,
and magical views looking out onto the beach and Little Barrier Island in the distance. Waking up to the sound of birds, crashing waves and the soft morning light is absolute bliss.

At the eastern end of the camp is the 2 hour return Muriwai Walk which leads you up the headland and along the coast. Steep drops down to the ocean on one side and luscious rolling hills on the other. Name a better spot to watch in awe at the sun rising or falling.

COASTAL WALKWAY

WALK- 7 hour return/10km each way 

DRIVE- 1 hour 40 minutes.  Coromandel Town- Fletcher Bay  1 hour 20 minutes.  Coromandel Town- Stony Bay

Keen walkers listen up. While you’re at Port Jackson why not venture even further into the wilderness, where no roads will be seen for yonks. The Coromandel Coastal Walkway is a decent walk along the jagged cliffs, over trickling streams, down to rugged, isolated bays, and up and through farmlands. Watch the sheep pause and lazily start a stare comp, and listen out for native birdies singing sweet tunes. The dramatic views out onto the blues of the Pacific Ocean are to die for! About 90 minutes in from the Stony Bay end is a wee lookout that is well worth the 5 minute huff and puff up. You’Il look down the sheer cliff faces and straight out onto the hectic views of Great Barrier and surrounding islands.

I started from Fletcher Bay and walked to Stony Bay, then turned around and done it all over again! Fletcher Bay is only a 15 minute drive from Port Jackson, so if you’re already on that side this starting point is your best bet. If you aren’t keen for the full return trip, or want to make your stroll more family friendly, then you can book a tour company who will pick you up at one end or another- beware this may cost an arm and a leg!

WAIAU FALLS

DRIVE- 30 minutes.  Whitanga- Falls
14 minutes.  Coromandel Town- Falls

If you’re as hot as a nun in a cucumber patch then mosey on down the 309 gravel road to the charming Waiau Falls, the perfect swimming hole on a scorcher of a day! The road is full of twists and turns and can be a bit of a tight squeeze at times so drive carefully. Belittled by gorgeous, mighty Kauri trees, the 2 minute walk from the side of the road to the waterfall is a must. Would be rude not to!

MT PAKU

DRIVE- 8 minutes.  Tairua- Mt Paku carpark 

WALK- 30 mins return.  Car park- summit.  20 mins up- 10 mins back

Add this 7 million year old island volcano to your list quick smart. Drive up and park at the well sign posted carpark where you’ll see a small path on the park heading up hill to the short but steep summit walk. Loads of scrambling up rocks and slogging up stairs, but once you reach the trig at the top you’re rewarded with 360 degree views of pure New Zealand coastal gorgeousness. Gaze out onto the islands chilling in the sea, fishing boats anchored up in the Tairua Harbour, and spin right around to capture layers upon layers of the Pinnacles in the Coromandel Forest Park.

WENTWORTH VALLEY FALLS

DRIVE- 6 minutes.  Whangamata- Falls- semi gravel road 

WALK- 3km/45 minutes.  Carpark- falls lookout.  Extra 5 minutes to base of falls

Deep in the Coromandel Forest Park is the 50 metre high falls of Wentworth Valley. You’re not only treated to one waterfall, but two long tiers of water cascading in unison. A bloody great spot for the kids as the walk is easy and relatively smooth, with plenty of places to rest their little legs and swimming spots all over the show to jump in for a quick dip.

For the more adventurous, once you wander over bridges and emerge from the bushes you’ll reach the lookout to the falls. Directly in front of you as you look out to the falls is a slightly paved out dirt track that takes you on a steep downhill climb over roots and humungous steps carved into the cliff face. After a 5 minute slog you’ll reach the base of the falls, a hidden gem! I perched up with here with a book and quite honestly did not want to leave. Tranquillity at it’s absolute finest.

If you have time to spare there is a DOC campsite right next to the carpark which looked pretty damn relaxing if I do say so myself. Reception is at it’s minimum in the area so take note.

NEW CHUMS BEACH

DRIVE- 37 minutes.  Whitianga- carpark

WALK- 25 minutes.  Carpark- New Chums Beach

This hidden spot is in a whole other world of it’s own, and voted one of the top 10 beaches in the world for damn good reason. 7 minutes drive after turning off to Whangapoua from SH25, you’ll reach the carpark at the end of the road. TIP– If the car park is full take the short gravel road to your left around the corner and park at the William Mangakahia Lagoon Reserve (this is closer to the beach too!) From here you’ll wade through the shallow waters of the lagoon (indeed, you will get wet,) hobble around the rocky coastline, wander over the headland and through wild native bush, until you reach one of the best stretches of unspoiled beaches in the land. Take a dip in the ocean, explore the caves in the cliff, frolic along the creamy white sand, and admire the toi toi bushes and wildlife chirping about. Each time I’ve visited there has been surprisingly few people, which equals pure isolated heaven in my books! You can only access the beach by foot so I promise you won’t spot a single car or building in sight.

On your way back two minutes into the walk on your left hand side you’ll notice a rugged path up a large step in the bush. If you’re itching for some serious beach to beach views over the pristine blue ocean from above, clamber up the massive boulders in the steep rock face for roughly 15 minutes, until you reach the top of the cliff. You’d be silly not to view the beach from this angle with your own eyes!

OWHAROA FALLS

DRIVE- 11 minutes. Paeroa-Owharoa Falls   9 minutes. Waihi- Owharoa Falls 

WALK-  less than 5 minutes from carpark

If you’re travelling through the historic Karangahake Gorge and only have time for a quick pit stop, this is where it’s at. Nestled within the rich forest, look out for the ‘Owharoa Falls’ sign and turn down Waitawheta Road, just off SH2. Cross the bridge and drive for a few metres until you spot a carpark on the right hand side. From here you’ll find a track leading you on a small stroll to the tranquil staircase falls, rippling over the moss covered rocks. Don’t forget your camera!

WHENUAKITE KIWI ZONE LOOKOUT

DRIVE– 5 mins north of Tairua
35 minutes south of Whitianga

Just north of Tairua on SH25 you’ll swing by a corner with a small area to pull over and park on. Spot a little opening in the bushes paving the way to the lookout and follow the path for a couple of minutes. You’ll be delighted to never ending views across the Coromandel, and the teeniest tiniest glimpse of the 714 million cubic kilometres of oceanic water. Check out the info signs to read all about our native Kiwi bird.

SHAKESPEARE’S CLIFF LOOKOUT

DRIVE- 4 minutes.  Cooks Beach- Shakespeare’s Cliff   15 minutes.  Hahei- Shakespeare’s Cliff  35 minutes.  Whitianga- Shakespeare’s Cliff  OR

FERRY RIDE– 5 minutes.  Whitianga wharf- ferry landing 

WALK– 2.3km/ 35 minute one way from ferry landing

For sweeping panoramic views over the Pacific Ocean, Whitianga town, Cooks Beach and the surrounding islands- Shakespeare’s Cliff lookout is where it’s at! There are oodles of ways to reach the vantage point and a fair few, but not too crazy steps to climb up on the way. If you’re coming from Whitianga I’d no doubt catch the quick $7 return ferry trip over the water to the ferry landing, then walk up the hill to the lookout from there. From Flaxmill Bay there are a bunch of different paths you can take. One way or another you’ll climb up through native bush, onto a large grassy reserve dotted with Pohutukawa trees, then meet up with the gravel road, all before reaching the top of the cliff in all it’s glory. The area screams pure rustic beauty, and the info boards fill your cup with all the history you could possibly need. If you aren’t so keen on the walk you can take the side road off Purangi Road and drive right up to the carpark, only 1 minute walk away from the lookout, no worries!

LONELY BAY

DRIVE- 3 minutes.  Cooks Beach- Lonely Bay  14 minutes.  Hahei- Lonely Bay 

WALK– 5 minutes.  Carpark-  Lonely Bay  2km/30 minutes one way from ferry landing

As the name suggests, a lonely bay nestled between two sheer cliffs is what you’ll find. On the same road as Shakespeare’s Cliff, drive up towards the lookout until you see a sign for the Lonely Bay carpark on your right- Lonely Bay is a short but steep 5 minute downhill walk from here. Alternatively take the ferry from Whitianga and walk (as explained earlier.) Perch up on a jagged log of driftwood and enjoy the secluded bay, limestone boulders, shell littered sand and crashing waves. An untouched wee spot, fitting for a mellow picnic and dip in the sea.  

OTAMA BEACH AND OPITO BAY

DRIVE- 5 minutes.  Kuaotunu- Otama Beach  10 minutes Otama Beach- Opito Bay.  Both along gravel roads

Off the beaten track you’ll find the peaceful, finest white sand beach of Otama, set on the north east coast of the Peninsula. Travelling north, turn left off SH25 into Kuaotunu village and follow the narrow gravel road over the hills. The drive in it’s self is breath taking, with outrageous views at every corner over the deep blue waters. Head out for a day and explore the uncrowded lagoon, native dunes, gnarly waves and lush surrounding bushland. Roam to the far end of the beach for an epic rope swing and drive 10 minutes further around the coast to reach Otama Bay, the perfect place for a picnic under the shady Pohutukawa trees.

BUFFALO BEACH SUNSET

DRIVE– 1 hour 25 minutes.  Thames- Whitianga

Name a better way to end a summer’s day than with a stunning sunset over the ocean.
Overlooking Mercury Bay from Whitianga’s Buffalo Beach is a prime spot to capture the sun dipping below the horizon, and to search for the man on the moon in the night sky. The flaming colours of the illuminated sky blow my mind every damn time. These photo’s speak for themselves.

In New Zealand and want some more travel inspo? Check out my other posts South Island Two Week Road Trip Itinerary and Adventurers Guide to Ruapehu’s Hidden Spots.

Thanks for reading,

Briar 

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